Corfu in the Stone Age

“Drepani” – sickle – is one of the oldest recorded names for Corfu. “Korkyra” is how the Corinthian settlers in 734 B.C. baptised the island, probably after a mythological nymph (although the word also meant something lik “tail”). “Korkyra” of course seems to echo in modern Greek: “Kerkyra”. “A peninsula nipped off while red hot and allowed to cool into an antarctica of lava”, was the rather romantic observation by Lawrence Durrell in the first lines of his Prosperos’s Cell (1945). A fact is, if you would look downwards from high altitude the island – sickle – tail – looks like a mere splinter torn off of the massive mountains of Albania and Epirus.

And it’s true the mainland is never far away: no more than two kilometres of sea divide Cape Agios Stefanos in the northeast from the Albanian coastline and a mere eight kilometres Kavos (Cape Koundouris) at the southeastern tip and Sivota in Epirus. With this broader picture in mind it is a small step to see that the 593 km² of Corfu island and the vast mainland were once connected. A dramatic change set in some 10.000 B.C. when ice started to melt and sea levels rose in the Mediterranean.

The western coast of the island more or less follows a fault, and the sea-floor drops rapidly to over 1000 m. The oldest rocks are hard, gray limestones (250–145 million years old), which crop out in the north (Mount Pantokrator, 906 meters). Further south, the rocks are younger and softer and have developed thick, red soils. Paleolithic tools have been found in this soil, dating back to the period that the fertile island was in fact an outer region of the mainland.

Cave Grava Gardiki
Tools made of flint, bones of boar and deer and other objects were unearthed in Cave Grava Gardiki (Halikounas). The cave is to be found in an olive grove at an altitude of 60 metres, near the 13th century Byzantine Fortress in Gardiki. The cave has two entrances, is about 20 meters long and wide and 13 meters high. It is accessible, even for children with adults, but some climbing is involved. For those who know where to look the geological history of the region can be traced in the cave’s inside. Many of the cave finds are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Corfu. They have been dated to the Late Paleolithic Age (between 30.000 and 9.000 B.C.).

From the Neolithic Age (circa 6.000-3.000 B.C.) – after the rising sea levels had turned Corfu into an island – are the finds from the earliest human settlements: near Sidari, and on the small islet Diaplo, just off the northwest coast. While on the coast itself the traces of prehistoric villages were discovered in Aphionas, Kephali and Ermones. Objects of stone, clay and – in the latter stages – copper tell a tale of agricultural communities. Closed societies, trading mainly with tribes on the Epirote coast, to whom they seem to have been related. A relation that dates back to the days before the flood?


Anthony Quinn, how Greek can you get?

Mexican actor Anthony Quinn (left) playing ‘tavli’ with a villager in Corfu’s Pelekas, during a break while shooting The Greek Tycoon in 1977

In 1964 the movie Zorba the Greek (and the soundtrack!) stormed and conquered the hearts of film fans around the world. ‘Zorba’ – based on a novel by Greece’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature Nikos Kazantzakis – won three Oscars. While much appraised leading actor Anthony Quinn had to satisfy himself with a nomination. Although surely his role as Alexis Zorba added enormously to his popularity.

Mexican born Antonio Rudolfo Quinn Oaxaca had played Greek characters before, like in Ulisse (1954) and in the hit The guns of Navarone (1961). Now by his acting and dancing (sirtaki!) in ‘Zorba’ he convinced many cinema visitors that he was at least partly Greek. More Greek in looks and behaviour than some Greeks anyway.

The Greek Tycoon
Still we would have to wait until 1978 to see multitalented Quinn (also film director, painter and sculptor) in his next Greek role. In The Greek Tycoon he is Theo Tomasis, a character based on Aristoteles Onassis. British actress Jacqueline Bisset plays Liz Cassidy, the beautiful widow of the assassinated president of the United States. So we are looking at a romanced account of the courtship and marriage of Onassis and Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy. A relation that begun even before John F. Kennedy became president and lasted for almost two decades.

Negative reviews
The Greek Tycoon (budget 6,5 million dollars, running time: 107 minutes) was met with a lot of critical reception: “As witless as it is gutless” (The New York Times); “You have watched the headlines, now you can read the movie” (Variety). TV Guide rated the movie one star and had only one favourable comment: “If scenery, greenery and lavish living are what you like to see, you may enjoy The Greek Tycoon.” An positive exception is made for the final scene, in which Anthony Quinn’s once more shows his great sense for dance.

The scenery of Corfu
“The scenery” and “the greenery” was shot on location in Corfu and Mykonos. The Corfu landscape gets a fair and lavish share. And is anyone familiar with the the background of the photo above? It shows Anthony Quinn in a corner of the village square of Pelekas, entertaining himself during a break in the filming. In The Greek Tycoon you might recognize this setting when Tomasis gets out of a car and slowly walks towards the door of a café on the other side of the square. This café was no more than fifteen meters from Anthony’s playing table. In 1980, some three years after this scene was shot, the café was turned into a bar, known as the ‘Zanzibar’.

Today the Zanzibar is a bar with a both local and international clientele. It’s cocktail menu today proudly shows the photograph above. If even a footnote in the life and times of Anthony Quinn (1915-2001), an icon in the film industry, who twice won the Oscar for supporting actor but never for best actor. And who for a wide audience was more Greek than some Greeks. See for yourself in the final scene from The Greek Tycoon.

A Black Sun

The shrine for Odysseas Grekousis, by the side of The Corfu Trail between Pelekas and Sinarades.

Of the many roadside shrines that once adorned the Corfu landscape, in Pelekas too only a few stood the test of time. Some were erected honouring a saint, others remind of tragic events: a traffic accident, a sudden death in a nearby field. More and more the shrines’ windows will be broken and icons fallen over or faded from the light of the merciless sun and the smoke of the small oil lamps. If the lamps are intact they are now seldom kept alight. One of the miniature chapels however that is honoured to this day can be found right on the route of Corfu’s long-distance footpath ‘The Corfu Trail’.    

Coming from Pelekas you will stumble upon it about a hundred meters before the path meets the asphalt road from the village of Sinarades to the – long ago shut down – hotel Yaliscari Beach. From the centre of the shrine a sepia photo portrait in a frame of a melancholic looking boy stares at the passing walkers. The marble plaque at the foot of the monument reads in ruthless katharevousa: ‘Born 2-11-1977, murdered 4-6-1994’. Seventeen years old was Odysseas Grekousis, according to the partly erased lettering. From the dates I gather he was just sixteen, but the intention will be that he was in the seventeenth year of his life.

Wreaths and withered flowers
Every time we pass here we pause for a moment. But on a rainy day in the Spring of 2017 we somehow had to halt a little longer. Perhaps our attention was drawn by the wreaths and withered flowers laid in a rectangle of white stones at the right side of the shrine. Or because the oil lamp in the niche with the icons flickered as if the wind could extinguish it at any moment. It was then it dawned on me yesterday had been the day the young lad met his death. I crossed myself instinctively, only just remembering the orthodox rite: touching the forehead with two fingers, then the right shoulder, the left shoulder and finally the belly. It can’t do any harm and it may do some good.

A few steps behind the small monument a ravine unfolds. For tens of meters on down we see a stream of spring mattresses, rusty fridges and washing machines, wrecks of mopeds and plastic bags with garbage. Sticking out like sore thumbs against the dripping fresh green of the fir trees and pines. Would he have crashed down there, somewhere, young Odysseas? And was he now buried beneath that neglected rectangle besides the monument?

One ominous day
An hour and a half’s walk down the road we gratefully positioned ourselves beneath the roof of the terrace of a taverna. Watching the wind and the rain reigning over beach and sea. Sun beds remained empty, waves were white-crested. Before we ordered our beers I asked our friend, host of the taverna, about the history of Odysseas. He gazed out upon the sea for some time before he got himself to respond.
“Yesterday I could hardly think of anything else,” he started off. “Why? you may ask. Because I am in some way guilty too.”
There was no way we could hide our surprise.
   “Odysseas took part in a boys gang, stealing mopeds and motorcycles. One ominous day he decided to quit. May have even threatened to tell his parents. Whatever, the lad that threw him down the ravine was his age. This boy went to my school, a few classes behind me. Never will I be able to forget that one day I passed the open door of a class room and his teacher called me inside. If I wanted to have a look at a drawing the boy had painted. It was a seascape with a black sun. A black sun… I recall it as if it were yesterday. Both the teacher and I had a loss for words. A few years later, after the killing and the trial, the teacher addressed me and spoke in a rather melancholy way: ‘But who is to punish us’?”
“Punish you? How could you have seen this coming?” I reacted, trying to somewhat cheer him up.      
“That is not what it is about, both of us still felt guilty. We had looked at that frightful sunset and had done nothing at all.”
“So did the teacher never speak to the parents?”
“The boy was from a poor family. Strange people, who kept to themselves. They lived at some distance from our village, always busy with their chicken, goats and sheep. You wouldn’t see any of his parents near the schoolyard. When we were children we didn’t dare to even approach their house.”

Everybody deserves a second chance
A seagull landed on top of a folded parasol, right before our eyes.
   “What happened next?” I inquired. “Surely he was too young for a jail sentence?”
“I never laid eyes on him again. After serving a long term in the underground prison near town he vanished from the island. He’s living on the mainland now, married, children. I am happy for him.”
I hesitated, only too aware that my friend had no wife or children.
  “Everybody deserves a second chance,” he went on. “When this lad’s grandmother had died he secretly sneaked back to the island during the night just to sea his beloved dead one more time and bid his farewell to her. Now you tell me: a person paying his respect in such way cannot be thoroughly bad, can he?”
“Will we see at least any sunshine today?” I said, in an attempt to change our moods. He shrugged his shoulders. The seagull had flown off while we were unaware of it. I am sure in that moment we were all thinking of one and the same thing. How a sixteen year old boy briefly hang in between us. Just before he started his gliding flight down to the garbage in the abyss.

Paul and Linda McCartney in Benitses in 1969

Half a century ago, from May 16th till June 17th 1969, Beatle Paul McCartney, his wife Linda and her daughter Heather holidayed in the village of Benitses. During their stay on Corfu’s east coast Paul seems to have completed his song ‘Every Night’, an early version of which he had performed in January 1969 during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. The song was finally released in april 1970 on McCartney’s solo album.

Paul and Linda were not the only celebrities that discovered the traditional fishing village in the Sixties. Apparently Beatle John Lennon stayed there too, and Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman. Soon however the tourist trade set in and changed the unspoilt scene in many ways, not always for the better.

Over the last years Benitses is picking up and has witnessed the opening of a new marina, new tavernas and cafes. It is unknown wether Paul, now of course Sir Paul McCartney, has ever visited the island again. Soon after his return from the holiday in Benitses the Beatles started going separate ways.

Kaiser Wilhelm II postcard

Postcard showing Kaiser Wilhelm II (black hat and binoculars) and Prince zu Fürstenberg at the Kaiser’s Throne, Pelekas

The undated postcard above shows the German Kaiser Wilhelm II (left) and Prince zu Fürstenberg. The kaiser is checking out the surroundings with binoculars. The two men are stood a little below the actual ‘Kaiser’s Throne’ where Wilhelm would often sit to admire the sunset. Today this spot would be found under the metal construction that accommodates the thousands of tourists that visit the summit of Pelekas Hill every year to check out the 360 degrees view. The photograph is taken in the direction of the mountainside of Pantokrator.

Kaiser Wilhelm (1859-1941) had a Corfu summer residence in the Achilleion Palace, that he purchased in 1907 from the daughter of Empress Sisi of Austria (1837-1898). Until the start of World War I in 1914 he would come and stay in the Achilleion every spring. In 1911 he was in charge of the excavations by archeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld of the famous Artemis Temple in Garitsa.

Who knows more?
Anyone who can shed light on the occasion or date when the photograph for this postcard was taken is kindly asked to leave me a message!

Warren Curry’s 22nd (!) Corfu Painting Holiday


Very few contemporary artists will have enhanced the reputation of picturesque and dazzling Corfu more than the Australian painter and sculptor Warren Curry. In May 2020, for the 22nd year in a row, he will be treating a group of aspiring artists and non-artists to his Corfu Painting Holiday.

For 15 days he will offer the tour company sketching and painting tutelage, balanced with sight-seeing, swimming, wandering around villages and Corfu Town, and enjoying meals together at the gorgeous Levant Hotel, where tour members stay. 

Second home
After Warren Curry spent three months painting in the village of Liapades in 1981 he returned in 1998 to make Corfu his second home. He bought a house in the old village of Pelekas, where he spends part of the year painting in his studio. Living on Corfu he explored the natural wonders, fascinating villages and the grand, historical architecture of the island. He dug deep into its intriguing history and culture and is more than happy to share his knowledge and understanding with the members of his tour company.

Corfu Discovery Tours has not only attracted keen artists looking to draw on Warren Curry’s expertise and fine tuned, personalised tutelage for guidance, but has regularly included a varying proportion of non-artists just for the magic of the Corfu experience. Greek dancing has become a component of the Tour agenda with the opportunity to perform in a local village dancing festival.

The Tour group enjoys the convenience of its own bus which ferries the artists to their destination each day: villages, beaches, cruising, historic sites, enchanting tavernas, an evening in Corfu Town. Optional extras for participants are a one day cruise to Paxos and Antipaxos and a one day tour to Albania.

Major art awards
Warren has held thirty eight Solo Exhibitions in Australia and won over thirty major art awards. His work is represented in Australian Government (Art Bank) Regional Collections, Corporate and overseas collections. In Australia, he works from his studio located in the small fishing village of Port Albert in South Gippsland, east of Melbourne.

For more information: http://www.warrencurry.com and www.corfudiscoverytours.com

Locandiera: tranquility in vibrant, historic Corfu Town


The old town of Corfu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007 on the grounds of ‘outstanding universal value’. Visitors and tourists can find hostels, B&B’s and hotels in all classes. My fondest personal memory goes back to a weekend many years ago in the classic Hotel Konstantinoupolis, opening the Venetian blinds in the morning overlooking the square, the old port and the magical blue of the sea.

But here is a tip for a quite different accommodation.

Guest house Locandiera advertizes itself as a ‘mini hotel with personality’. You can find this hidden gem at 8 Ioanni Gennata Street, a quiet side street in the historical centre of Corfu Town, between picturesque Guilford Street with its art shops and Kapodistriou Street, bordered by beautiful Spianada Park & Square, near the Old Fortress.

Locandiera – based in a carefully renovated originally Venetian building – provides six single/double rooms with kitchenette, each with its own individual and artistic identity and style. The ground floor offers a cosy open living room and kitchen area, where you can enjoy your breakfast or drink a coffee. There are regular exhibitions of paintings and photography. 

The accommodation blends traditional architectural elements (a centuries old well!) and modern comfort. Quality products (breakfast is included) and reliable and friendly services (free WiFi, iMac, music, books, games, fax, postage, photocopying, bicycles to ride the town!) add to your tranquility, relaxation and wellbeing.

Andreas Monopolis (who learned the art of hospitality in his father’s Jimmy’s Restaurant in Pelekas) and his business partner went out of their way to design and fabricate unique furniture as well as the interior and exterior of the historical building. They even upgraded the street by painting several neighbouring buildings.

Tripadvisor: ‘Great boutique hotel in fabulous location’ (14 October 2019). 

For more information and bookings: www.locorfu.com E-mail: info@locorfu.com. Phone: +30 26610 39035.  

…still summer out there

The view from Pelekas village towards the west, Friday morning October 18th 2019 (photo: Andreas Monopolis)

And of course, while in the Northwest of Europe we are well on our way in autumn, collecting chestnuts and mushrooms, on Corfu it is summer as ever. Temperature today was 25 Celsius and Andreas who sent me this picture said the village of Pelekas this morning was very quiet and peaceful.

The Ortholithi of Agios Gordios

The Ortholithi at Agios Gordios, captured from the sky (photo: Tassos Dukakis)

There is no doubt the ‘Ortholithi’, the famous ‘standing rock’ at the southend side of Agios Gordios beach and below the village of Pentati is one of the most photographed parts of the landscape in this popular holiday resort. On thousands and thousands of snaps tourists bring home every season it appears somewhere in the left corner, standing tall in its pride, after being torn off from the cliff probably long before humans ever set eyes on it.

So now Tassos Dukakis – whom many may know as the co-owner and wonderful host of Taverna Theodoros at the Agios Gordios beach – has put it all in a completely new perspective. Only some lucky paragliders have ever seen what he offers us in this splendid image. I must admit that I usually get annoyed when drone fanatics hover their cameradevices over your head on al lazy afternoon on the beach. But if you are able to open our eyes and create such beauty, keep up the good work and thank you so much!

Tassos has let me know that photography and video are ‘his hobby’. But it seems as professional as his real job. See more of his hobby on http://www.hobbyteam.gr (featuring a 4×4 trip through Epirus) and on the Facebook page Corfu Images.

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