The island of Corfu is famous worldwide for its natural beauty but it also has a long and varied history. Two major historical periods – Byzantine and Venetian – can be witnessed in its five (5) castles. There are three Byzantine castles which used to form a defensive triangle on the north-west, north-east and south-west coasts and the Old and New Venetian Fortresses in Corfu Town itself.
The Old Fortress was built by the Venetians on a promontory at the edge of Corfu Town and is one of the most important Castles of Corfu. They then separated it from the town with a moat (Contrafossa) which converted the citadel into an artificial island. The fortress was strong enough to repulse sieges from the Ottomans in 1537, 1571 and 1716. Conveniently located next to Corfu’s main square and the esplanade, this is a sight not to be missed when visiting the island. The fortress contains various buildings – the small church of St. George, the British Barracks and a military hospital. There is also a library with historical archives collected over more than 6 centuries plus the Corfu Byzantine Collection with icons, sculptures and paintings from the Byzantine period. Visitors can relax in the café and restaurant, enjoying the stunning sea views, and the fortress is also a popular venue for large cultural events.
The New Fortress, another beautiful Castle in Corfu, was built on the hill of St. Mark in Corfu Town. The original architect was a Venetian but the current buildings within the fortress were built by the British when they ruled the island (1815-63). The Venetian fortifications were also expanded by the British and the French. The fortress is set above the old port and affords wonderful views from its highest point. Underground there is a series of tunnels running to the Old Fortress and Corfu Town.
The three Byzantine castles in Corfu are Angelokastro, Kassiopi and Gardiki.
Angelokastro is located near Palaiokastritsa in the north-west of the island atop the highest peak on the coastline. It occupied a strategic vantage point and surveyed the region as far as the southern Adriatic Sea as well as Corfu Town and the mountains of mainland Greece to the south-east. The castle was reopened to the public in 2009 following excavations and reconstruction work and is well worth a visit despite the 305-metre climb up the steps. There is a church at the highest point of the acropolis dedicated to Archangel Michael and a Circular Tower protecting the main gate to the north.
Kassiopi Castle is set above the village of Kassiopi on the north-eastern coast and again held an important vantage point over the Corfu Channel separating the island from the mainland. The castle was abandoned for a long time and is now in a state of ruin. Access to the castle is mainly via a narrow path on the south-east side.
Gardiki Castle is a 13th-century castle on the south-western coast of Corfu located on a low hill near the village of Agios Matthaios. The walls form an octagon and the structure features eight strong towers decorated by rows of tiles. The entrance is preserved but the interior is in a state of ruin. Visitors to the castle also have the opportunity to visit nearby Grava Cave, located on the southern side of a small hill overlooking the area below. Tools, bones and other artefacts dating from around 20,000 BC were found in the cave.