You will find music everywhere in Corfu. The locals love it and because of the fact that the island never occupied by the turks (like in mainland) they had the chance to have music schools, opera etc San Giacomo theatre housed several popular operas during the 19th century.
Many local musicians became famous, especially Nikolaos Mantzaros(1795-1872) that we all know that wrote the music of the greek national anthem (based on a poem of Dionisios Solomos) that also lived in Corfu.
Every one knows about the Philarmonic Orchestras of Corfu. There are 18 different orchestras (!) and all the families have a member at one of them. You can hear them practicing somewhere in the Old Town, several times as we walked among the tiny alleys we stopped of a trompon etc. We looked up and listed to the music that were coming from the open windows (pic 4), it was another old house that has turned into the place that houses an orchestra. You can also see them live on several stages, in Spianada etc
Of course the best time to see the orchestras is during the Holy Week when they accompanying the litanies. Until 1837 this was responsibility of the british army but after their denial to do it the locals created their own orchestras. The first one was founded in 1940. It is called Filarmoniki Eteria Kerkyras-Palea(Old) and has blue and red colors. The locals call the orchestra “kokkini” (the red one)
The other two major orchestras are:
the Filarmoniki Eteria Mantzaros. It was founded in 1890 and has dark blue colors.
The Filarmoniki Eteria Kapodistrias. It was founded in 1980 and has red colors.
The Easter is by far the most important celebration for the greek orthodox church but Corfu’s celebration are popular due to several unique local customs. People from all over Greece (and abroad) are coming to enjoy the polyphonic church choir and music.
The customs usually begin on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before the Easter Sunday) when is the celebration of the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.
If you are in Corfu you can follow the litany of Agios Spiridon’s lodge. It starts at 11.00am. This custom goes back to 1630 when they started to do it to commemorate the island’s discharge from the deadly epidemic of plague, which in 1629 reaped the locals. This is the longest in track of the litanies, it goes through several districts along the imaginary line of the old Venetian city walls but sas in the old times it skips the Jewish quarter! The most amazing thing is that it’s accompanied by the 18 philarminic orchestras of the island to honor the patron saint of Corfu.
During the Holy Week the Liston famous white lies are turned into the melancholic purple (pic 1). The people usually visit the numerous churches, you will definitely see many different masses that week. On Holy Tuesday (21.00) you can listen at the Palace the Music-Poetic Night which is called From Golgotha to Resurrection.
The Municipal Theatre of Corfu (pic 2) replaced the San Giacomo Theatre(the town hall in old town) in 1902. You can go there a watch some theatrical plays but as we visited Corfu during Easter we went on Holy Wednesday because it’s always this day that the Municipal Choir gives a concert of ecclesiastical music with an aim to approach through music the holy drama of the Easter period.
The concert started at 21.00, it was divided in two parts, greek and international. I liked it a lot and it was a nice surprise that they were accompanied by violins and piano in the second part, so the sense was more impressive. You can see a sample from the first part here (video) Outside of the theatre stands a statue(pic 4) of Spyros Samaras(1861-1917), the composer of the Olympic Games anthem. You can buy your tickets in advance or just show up a few minutes before the beginning. The ticket costs 10 euros.
On Holy Thursday the churches are full of people that listen to Twelve Gosperls while at the catholic cathedral you can see the 12 candles. They extinguish one candle when each Gospel’s reading is finished. As elsewhere in Greece, it’s this day that every house paints the eggs red, a prochristian custom that symbolize the renewal of life. Of course of the Christians do it to honor the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I can remember as a child that we wanted several different colors but our parents always tried to explain that Easter isn’t a circus :)
You have to wake up early to catch the customs of this day! At 06.00am (I know it’s cruel) there is the custom of the representation of the earthquake described in the Bible! It takes place at Panagia Ton Ksenon church, with the believers hit the wooden stands of the church.
3 hours later (come on, now you are wake, aren’t you?) you may see the Epitafios of Agios Spiridonas again. The area around the church will be packed with people though so be patient. In 1574 the Venetians, for safety reasons, prohibited the Orthodox to the epitaph procession on Good Friday and allowed only the procession of the Holy Saturday. So the locals do it together with the litany of Agios Spiridonas that in this litany has the Bishop’s place. It’s definitely the most evocative litany and while it crosses the streets the people through flowers from their windows (pic 1) while the orchestra plays the sad tune of Faccio’s Amlet., Micheli’s Marcia Funebre etc
At 11.00am you may go to the old commercial center and see another custom, the custom of Mastela. It’s huge barrel (pic 2) full of water. Everyone that passes from there throws coins inside and when the bells announce the first Anastasi(Resurrection) someone dives inside and takes the money! :) We could be there as we wanted to watch another custom though.
While the church bells beat joyfully you can also watch the most popular custom of the local easter, the botides. First of all check the balconies, if you see some of them decorated like in pic 3 with purple clothes stand away from there! It means they will throw the botides (clay pots, small or huge) full of water on the street! The best spot to enjoy this is at the beginning of Liston at the open square. Of course thousands of visitors will be there with you :) So, when the bells will be heard the people will start throw the mpotides (pic 4), some of them are really huge and the splash is impressive. The police try to keep the people in safety distance of course. After some minutes you may go and keep a piece of the broken pots as the locals do, it suppose to bring you good luck for the rest of the year. The Venetians used to do this during new years eve when they were throwing old items hoping the new year will bring new ones (try it at home with your old laptop, hahaha) See my video here
After the breaking, the philharmonic orchestras play allegro tunes, check pic 5 to see how crowded it gets that time! It’s like a huge demonstration (that we love in Greece anyway)
This is probably a nice day to visit the Old Town. Before noon the churches are full of believers. It’s the day that the Epitafios goes through the streets of its parish like a litany/parade. After 14.00 some of the churches (Panagia Spiliotissa, Pantokratoras, Agios Georgios, Catholic cathedral) put their epitaphios out on the streets, with the believers behind them. Epitafios symbolize the funeral of Jesus Christ. Each church has one which is decorated by young girls (elsewhere by old women), some of them are small, others more impressive.
One after the other all the churches do the same so the streets are full of them and the believers that follow behind. The unique custom in Corfu is that they are accompanied by the philharmonic orchestras that play sad tunes while the bells of the church are in funeral tone too and the whole atmosphere is more emotional. Most of them are also accompanied by choir, tortses(big candles), manoualia (venetian lamps), skoles (flags) etc Small girls (pic 3) that hold baskets full of colorful flowers (Corfu is full of them this seasom) and students are also part of the ceremonies.
I found a map that was showing the routes of them, it’s very useful if you want to find a specific spot (like a café) and watch from there several of them.
The biggest one is during the night (pics 4-5) when the people gather for the one of Cathedral, actually the people are packed in Liston, the best spot for us was behind the Palace. From there we could see the whole ceremony, and enjoyed the Albinoni’s Adagio by the PALEA orchestra, the Verdi’s Marcia Funebre by MANTZAROS orchestra and Mariani’s Seventura by KAPODISTRIAS orchestra.
See a video of the day here (video)
One of my fondest memories from Corfu is walking at Campiello and see the clothes hanging out to dry in the narrow streets of this part of Old Town. This is very typical in Corfu, due to the venetian architecture of the Old Town where the narrow space in front of the windows leaves no space for the wet clothers so they found this solution of hanging the clothers from one house to the house across the street!
And yes, it’s exactly the same like in Venice, no surprise of course. Pic 3 is different though because the rope goes over a square and not just a short alley.
It seems the locals after so many customs during the Holy Week they have to rest! So, there isn’t any big festival like in mainland this day. We didn’t know that so we just choose a meat restaurant to go. The locals stay at home and do the popular greek custom of roasting lambs. As we couldn’t do at the hotel, the tavern was the closest we could get :) Earlier in the morning we drove to some villages and we saw some locals having their own at the front yard, when we stopped for greetings we were invited to go inside and taste it :)
So, at noon we found a good tavern at Corfu Town (see my restaurant tips) where we enjoyed the meat we’ve missed the previous week :) I’ve leeart by locals that in Corfu they didn’t have this custom anyway and it’s only the last years that they do it, probably due to the thousands of visitors.
The believers go to the church in the afternoon too. On Monday they have some festival in some of the villages while on Tuesday do the “mpasmata” which is the repositioning of Agios Spyridon’s relics in the shrine.
As elsewhere in Greece, the Resurrection’s mass takes place in the night of Holy Saturday. In catholic church you may watch it with the church organ. It ends at 11.00pm so the people to attend the orthodox one too.
The best spot is the Spianada square. The ceremony comes from the near by Agia Paraskevi church with the participation of the bishop, the philharmonic orchestras, the authorities and thousands of people. You can see the people holding candles (pic 4) while watching the ceremony.
Then at midnight the fireworks fill the sky (pics 1-2), a spectacular show, after some minutes the philharmonic orchestras start to play in the streets again, cheerful marches now and people go behind them, we did the same trying to find a night club that we could go inside as most of them were packed. Some other people go to the restaurants where they have the traditional special dinner of the day. We eat the same special foods back home but when on holidays we prefer to go to a club. Have in mind that all the fast food spots and most of the cafes will be closed at that time.
Because the sewerage system is not as good as you would come to expect you have to put your soiled toilet paper into a basket next to the toilet. At first this was a bit strange but after a fornight it became second nature, I had some funny looks when I got back home and tried doing the same.
Bright figure of the modern Greek history is John Capodistria who was born in Corfu. On the photo you can see the house (with the Greek national flag). Count Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias (in Greek Ιωάννης Καποδίστριας - Ioannis Kapodistrias, in Italian Giovanni Capo d'Istria, Conte Capo d'Istria, and in Russian граф Иоанн Каподистрия - Graf Ioann Kapodistriya) (February 11, 1776 – October 9, 1831) was a Greek diplomat of the Russian Empire and later first head of state of independent Greece.
This house was built in 1835 by the Corfiot architect John Chronis, the old prefecture is a characteristic example of neo-classical architecture. It is situated in the upper part of the Spianada - northern end of Capodistria Street. The old prefecture stands on the site of the house which is the birthplace of Ioannis Capodistrias, the first governor of Greece.
Kapodistrias is greatly honoured in Greece today. The University of Athens is named "Kapodistrian" in his honour; the Greek euro coin of 20 lepta bears his face, as did the 500 drachmas banknote before the introduction of the euro, and a local re-organisation programme that reduced the number of municipalities in the late 1990s also carries his name. The fears that Britain, France and Russia had of any liberal and Republican movement at the time, due to the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, led them to insist on Greece becoming a monarchy after Kapodistria's death.
see more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Capodistria
During the season, Corfu is a something like a party island with a lot of festivities and celebrations. As an Cristian Ortodox country Greeks and Corfiots celebrates the days in hounour of the saints. Often, entire villages turn out – with parades, a street fair, and church services – to honour a saint. I take a few photos from the small village Sinarades (middle-west part of the island, near the Agios Gordis resort), where the local people in a wonderful way keeping their tradition.
August 15 - The Dormition/Assumption of The Virgin Mary: national holiday with festivities the length and breadth of Corfu.