Monday, April 1, 2024


This month I am going to research about the italians in the island of Corfu' (called Kerkyra in Greek), specially during the years of the italian irredentism for the "Corfu' italiana".

The censuses of the populations living under the Venetian rule in the Greek regions -like the island of Corfu- are incomplete and fragmented both in quantity and quality, historians of demo- graphy think. We know only that around the year 1200 AD some families from Napoli's area and Puglia in southern Italy moved to live in Corfu, when the island was occupied by the italian Normans and their successors (but we don't know how many they were). Even relatively recent XVII, XVIII & some early XIX century documents lack a complete and continuous series of statistical data. I found only that in 1500 there were nearly 70,000 inhabitants in this island, but only 16,360 in 1580 (according to "sindici" Zuanne Gritti and Giulio Garzoni who did the first "official" census): a huge reduction due to the bloody attacks done by the Ottomans in 1537/1571/1573, who tried to conquer the Venetian Corfu'.

Map of Venetian Corfu in 1720.

We know that before the XVII century the island was populated by greek speaking inhabitants in the country & the villages, however the capital (Corfu city) was nearly fully venetian speaking. But this changed when the Turks wanted to conquest the island: the Ottomans in 1537 were not able to conquer the capital (and so most of the venetian speaking citizens survived the war) but did terrible massacres in the island's hinterland - while deporting as slaves nearly all of the christians living there (some estimates think that the enslaved were more than 22,000 and so the Greeks were reduced to a minimum of survivers).

They repeated the tentative in 1571 and 1573 (doing some additional massacres and enslavements, however not at the same huge level), but were again defeated by the Venetians: Will Durant, an American historian, claims that Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the Muslim Turks.

Researcher Mancini thinks that in the 1580 census nearly 80% of the island inhabitants were venetian speaking, concentrated in Corfu city - while the other areas of Corfu were nearly totally depopulated.

But the Republic of Venice welcame -after the 3 attacks- many refugees from the continental Greece conquered by the moslem Ottomans and so the island was soon "flooded" by Greek christians. Already in the third census done in 1596 (according to Gerassimos D. Pagratis in his "LA POPOLAZIONE DI CORFÙ NEL CINQUECENTO") Corfu had a population of 23,748 inhabitants, an increase due mainly because of greek refugees from Lepanto, Modone, Corone and Navarino. And in the following centuries the greek population in the island increased further in percentage, while the venetian speaking remained at the same level - concentrated mainly in the capital and in some minor localities.

When disappeared the Republic of Venice at the end of the XVIII century, only Corfu city was mostly venetian speaking (and also it is noteworthy to pinpoint that inside the city there was a growing minority of Greek speaking inhabitants, relocated from the country nearby: according to french historians probably they were nearly 35% in 1800 Corfu city).

Then the "Corfioti italiani" (as were called) in the XIX century started to disappear. But their reduction originated the so called "italian irredentism" in the capital city (indeed during the XIX century the Corfiot Italians were mainly concentrated in the city of Corfu, which was called "Città di Corfù" by the Venetians).

Furthermore we must remember that the signatories of the creation in 1815 of the "United States of the Ionian Islands" (the first greek independent state of modern times) were nearly all Corfiot Italians:

B. Theotoki, president. - Cav. Calichiopulo. - Alessandro Marietti. - Niccolò Anino Anas°. - Vettor Caridi. - D. Foscardi. - D. Bulzo. - Felice Zambelly. - Basilio Zaro. - Valerio Stai. - Giovanni Morichi. - Stefano Palazzuol Scordilli. - Anastasio Battali. - Anastasio Cassimati. - Giacomo Calichiopulo Manzaro. - Spiridione Giallina Ym Anastasio. - An.° Tom.° Lefcochilo. - Cav. Niccolò Agorosto. - Marino Veia. - Niccolò D. Dallaporta. - Spiridione Metaxa Liseo. - Pietro Caidan. - Sebastiano D Schiadan. - Daniele Coidan. - Paolo Gentilini. - Spiridione Focca Gio. - Demetrio Arvanitachi. - Dionisio Genimata. - Giulio Domeneghini. - Francesco Mazzan. - Angelo Mercati. - Giovanni Melissimo. - Marino Stefano. - Angelo Condari. - Niccolò Cavada. - Pietro Petrizzopulo. - Gio. Psoma. - Niccolò Vretto. - Giorgio Massello. - Stefano Fanarioli. - Riccardo Plasket, secretary. - Dom. Valsamachi, secretary.

As can be seen, only the president & another two had Greek surnames, while all the others have Italian family names: this simple evidence shows the influence of the Corfiot Italians in the History of Greece! And we cannot forget that Ioannis Capodistrias (considered a founder of the modern Greek state and the architect of Greek independence) was born in Corfu city in a venetian family emigrated to Corfu in the XIII century from Istria's Capodistria: his family's name in Capodistria had been Vitori or Vittori

But the re-emergence of Greek nationalism, after the Napoleonic era, contributed to the disappearance of the Corfiot Italians. Corfu was ultimately incorporated into Greece in 1864 and the Greek government abolished the use of italian in the Ionian islands in 1870.

It is important -however- to pinpoint that the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1947) expanded Italian influence and control on some islands of Greece: in the first half of the XX century there were also a few tentatives to create some "italian provinces" in those islands ( "Provincia di Corfu", "Provincia di Rodi", "Provincia delle Cicladi" and "Provincia delle Sporadi").

Initially these tentatives were due to some ideals linked to the "Italian Irredentism", like as happened with Corfu and the Ionian islands. Those islands (mainly Corfu, actual Kerkyra, please read also in the beginning of the XIX century had a huge community of venetian speaking inhabitants (the island of Cefalonia -actual Kephalonia- was nearly totally venetian speaking in the XVIII century, according to: Kendrick, Tertius T. C. (1822). "The Ionian islands: Manners and customs"; p. 106 ), as a consequence of the Republic of Venice "dominions" in this region since the Middle Ages. For example one of the Italian "Risorgimento" fathers was Ugo Foscolo, born in Zante (actual Zakynthos).

Festa di San Spiridiano in "Citta di Corfu" (Corfu city) in early summer 1942, showing some of the nearly 2000 Corfiot Italians of the island. The city was proposed to be the capital of a possible 1943 "Provincia di Corfu", but WW2's Italian defeat blocked this project

In Corfu, the "Corfiot Italians" were helped by Mussolini, when he took control of Italy in the 1920s (read, if interested in further information, the article I created in wikipedia and named "Corfiot Italians" or see:

Additionally it is noteworhty to pinpoint that the island of Corfu was "administratively" separated from Greece, when was occupied by Italy in spring 1941, while the Corfiot Italians welcomed the Italian troops in those 1941 days: see There were -also- some comments from the same Mussolini in order to create a "Provincia di Corfu" in late 1942.

Pugliese and Neapolitan fishermen (the latter engaged in the activity of coral extraction since the eighteenth century) were the backbone of the Italian community of Corfu island, estimated at 1,300 by a census promoted in 1928 by the Greek authorities: they reached the quota of 1,500 people during the first year of the second world war, when they welcomed the arrival of the Italian troops in April 1941 (video showing groups of Italian Corfiots throwing flowers to Italian soldiers:

In fact, the Italians of Corfu, even if reduced to a thousand in the late thirties of the XX century by the Greek authorities, were strongly supported by fascist propaganda and in the summer of 1941 (after the Italian occupation of all the Ionian islands) Italian schools were reopened in the city of Corfu. In autumn 1942 the Italians of Corfu became almost 2000, concentrated mainly in Corfu city.

And Mussolini continuously declared -during 1940/1941/1942- that Corfu's urban architecture influence derives from Venice, reflecting the fact that from 1386 to 1797 the island was ruled by the Venetians. Indeed the architecture of the Old Town of Corfu along with its narrow streets, the "kantounia', has clear Venetian influence and is amongst the actual World Heritage Sites in Greece. Another notable Venetian-era buildings include the "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù", the first Greek opera house.

After the defeat of Italy in WW2, the greek government "exterminated" the italians of the island: actually not one single member of this 2000 persons community remains in Corfu!

The following are excerpts from the article about the "Corfiot Italians " that I wrote in wikipedia some years ago:


Foto of Old town of Corfu city


The origins of the Corfiot Italians can be found in the expansion of the Italian States toward the Balkans during and after the Crusades. The Kingdom of Naples sent in the XII century some Italian families to Corfu to rule the island conquered, and the same transfer - but in larger scale - was done by the Republic of Venice in 1204 and later. Those families brought to Corfu the Italian language of the Middle Ages.

When Venice ruled Corfu and the Ionian islands during the Renaissance, all the nobility of the islands was Venetian and the dominant presence of this community lasted until the first half of the XIX century.

Under Venetian rule, most of the Corfiote upper classes spoke Italian (or Venetian in many cases) and converted to Roman Catholicism, but the mass of people remained Greek in language and religion mainly after the Ottoman sieges of the XVI century.

In the main city of Corfu, called "Cittá di Corfu" by the Venetians, were concentrated the Corfiote Italians of Corfu. More than half of the population of Corfu city in the XVIII century was venetian speaking. The development of the Greek nationalism, after Napoleon times, created a process that assimilated in the next century the community of the Corfiot Italians (in 1870 the Greek government abolished all the Italian schools in the Ionian islands, just incorporated to Greece in 1864).


The Republic of Venice dominated Corfu for nearly five centuries and many Venetians moved to the island. By the end of the XV century, the Italian language and culture -- including in some ways the Roman Catholic church -- came to predominate.

Kerkyra (the Greek name of Corfu) remained in Venetian hands till 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to four notable sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time. The effectiveness of the powerful Venetian fortifications of the island was a great factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek and Christian civilization in the southern Balkans after the fall of Constantinople.

Will Durant, a French historian, claims that Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the moslem Turks. The Turks occupied the other Ionian islands, but were unsuccessful with their four sieges of Corfu. This fact gave Corfu and Malta the title of Bastions of Christian Europe during the late Renaissance.

The "New Venetian fort" in Corfu city

Corfu Town looks very different from most Greek towns because of Corfu's unique history. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility: much of the town reflects this era when the island belonged to the Republic of Venice, with multi-storied buildings on narrow lanes.

Before the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans most of Corfu population spoke the "Veneto da mar" dialect as first or second language. But a hiuge influx of Christian refugees from Greece and Albania along with the mortality of the Black Death and the Turkish deportations of the original Corfiotes from Corfu (when they tried unsuccessfully to conquer the island for three times), changed the ethnic-linguistic-religious composition of the island population. From predominantly Venetian-catholic before the XIV century the island of Corfu became Greek-orthodox by the XVII century, with the exception of Corfu city that maintained a majority of venetian speaking population (with the Italkian of the Jewish community). This was a process, provoked mainly by the Ottoman invasions, similar to what happened in the venetian Dalmatia (where only the cities -like Zara, Spalato and Cattaro- maintained a majority of venetian speaking people).

The island served even as a refuge for Greek scholars, and in 1732 became the home of the first Academy of modern Greece. Many Italian Jews took refuge in Corfu during the venetian centuries and spoke their own language (Italkian), a mixture of Hebrew and Venetian with some Greek words.

The Venetian influence was important in the development of the Opera in Corfu. During Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, and many local composers, such as the Corfiot Italians Antonio Liberali and Domenico Padovani developed their career with the theatre of Corfu, called Teatro di San Giacomo. Indeed, the architecture of Corfu remains much more Italian than anywhere else in Greece.

Venetians promoted the Catholic church during their four centuries rule in Corfu. Even if today the majority of Corfiots are Greek Orthodox (following the official religion of Greece) there is however a percentage of Catholics (5%) who owe their faith to their origins. These contemporary Catholics are mostly families who came from Malta, but also from Italy during the Republic of Venice. Today the Catholic community consists of about 4000 people, (2/3 of Maltese descent) who live almost exclusively in the Venetian "Citadel" of Corfu City, living harmoniously side-by-side with the Orthodox community.

Venetian domination influenced extensively the way of life in the island in many ways: the local cuisine, for example, was influenced at a great degree by the Venetian cuisine. Today, Corfu's cuisine maintains some Venetian delicacies, cooked with local spicy recipes: "Pastitsado" (the most popular dish in the island of Corfu, that comes from the Venetian dish Spezzatino), "Strapatasada", "Sofrito", "Savoro" , "Bianco" and "Mandolato". Even the Corfu tradition of the Carnival (Ta Karnavalia) was introduced by the Venetians.

The Italian influence is evidenced even in Corfu's spacious squares such as the popular "Spinada" and its narrow cobblestone alleys known as "Kantounia". The Italian Renaissance is best represented on Corfu by the surviving structures of the old "Fortezza Vecchia" on the eastern side of the town and created by the Veronese military engineer Michele Sanmicheli and the Venetian Ferrante Vitelli, who designed the later fortress on the west, the "Fortezza Nuova".

In the Venetian period the town of Corfu began to grow on a low hillock situated between the two forts. In many respects Corfu typifies the small Venetian town, or borgo, of which there are numerous other surviving examples in the former Venetian territories of the Adriatic Sea, such as Ragusa and Spalato in Dalmatia. As in Venice itself, the "campi" developed haphazardly in the urban fabric where it was natural for residents to congregate, especially around churches, civic buildings, fountains, and cisterns. The best example of such a space is Plateia Dimarcheiou, or Town Hall Square, overlooked on its north side by the seventeenth-century Loggia dei Nobili (which today serves as the seat of local government) and on the east side by the late sixteenthcentury Catholic Church of St. Iakovos, or St. James.

Actually the Corfu City Hall was the original "Teatro di San Giacomo": during Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, which was the real source of the extraordinary (given conditions in the mainland of Greece) musical development of the island during that era. The opera house of Corfu during 18th and 19th century was that of the "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo", named after the neighbouring catholic cathedral, but the theatre was later converted into the Town Hall. A long series of local composers, such as the Corfiot Italians Antonio Liberali and Domenico Padovani contributed to the fame of the Teatro di San Giacomo.

Cafe (Italian style) in Corfu city


The Italian Risorgimento was initially concentrated in the Italian peninsula with the surrounding continental areas (Istria, Dalmatia, Trentino, Nizzardo, etc..) and did not reached Corfu and the Ionian islands. One of the main heroes of the Italian Risorgimento, the poet Ugo Foscolo, was born in Zante from a noble venetian family of the island, but only superficially promoted the possible unification of the Ionian islands to Italy.

Consequently, the small communities of venetian speaking people in Corfu were mostly assimilated by the Greek government after the island became part of Greece in 1864, mainly after all the Italian schools were closed in 1870. But the Italian language maintained some importance, as can be seen by the fact that poets like Stefano Martzokis (Marzocchi was the surname of the father, an Italian from Emilia-Romagna) and Geranimos Markonos, the first from Corfù and the second from Cefalonia, wrote in Italian some of their poems in the second half of the XIX century.

The island of Corfu was the refuge for many Italians in exile during the Wars of Independence of Italy, like Niccolò Tommaseo (who married Diamante Pavello-Artale, a Corfiot Italian). It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the greek government closed the italian school of Corfu city in the second half of the XIX century and this fact reducrd the importance of the Corfiot italians in the Corfu society.

Initially the italian government did not react to the slow disappearance of the Italians of Corfu, but after WWI the Kingdom of Italy started to apply a policy of expansionism toward the Adriatic area and saw Corfu as the gate of this sea. Mussolini developed to the extreme nationalistic positions the ideals of the Italian irredentism and promoted actively the unification of Corfu to Italy.

Consequently, the Corfiote Italians, even if reduced to a few hundreds in the 1930s, were strongly supported by the fascist propaganda and in summer 1941 - after the Italian occupation of the Ionian islands - Italian schools were reopened in Corfu city.


Italy occupied Corfu two times: the first for a few months only in 1923 by Mussolini, after the assassination of Italian officers; the second during WWII, from April 1941 to September 1943:

The first) The Corfu incident was used by Italy to occupy temporarily Corfu from august to September 1923.
The second) During the Greco-Italian War Corfu was occupied by the Italians in April 1941. They administered Corfu and the Ionian islands as a separate entity from Greece until September 1943, following Mussolini's orders of fulfilling the Italian Irredentism and make Corfu part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The following is the detailed chronology of the two occupations:


At the end of December 1915, Italy sent a military force to Corfu under the command of General Marro. They established Post Offices with the French occupation troops there. In 1915-1919, the Italian and French forces (as well as Serbian forces) remained on the island of Corfu. The Italians did not have any intention to pull out in 1919, but the British and the French government forced them to displace.

In 1923, the Italians tried to occupy Corfu again. The morning of the 27th of August 1923, unknown people (probably Greeks) murdered the General Enrico Tellini and other three officers of the Italian engrave deputation on the Greek – Albanian border.

Italy made an announcement asking within 24 hours the following demands: the apology of the Greek people; the commemoration of the dead in the Catholic Church of Athens, with all the members of the Greek government to participate; the honor of the Italian flag in the Italian naval squadron, which would have shipping in Faliro; the investigation of the Greek authorities adjoined by the Italian military attendant carnal Perone di San Martino, which should end within 5 days; the death penalty of the guilty people; the Greek government should pay the amount of 50 million Italian pounds in 5 days, as a penalty; the dead should be honored with military honors in Preveza.

The Greek government responded accepting only the following demands: the Greeks accepted to present the apologies; the commemoration; the honor of the Italian flag at the Embassy; the honor of the dead in Preveza.

Consequently on 31st of August 1923, the Italian Army suddenly attacked Corfu. The commander Antony Foschini asked from the Prefect of Corfu to surrender the island. The Prefect refused and he informed the government. Foschini warned him that the Italian forces would attack at 17:00 and the Corfiots refused to raise the white flag in the fortress. Seven thousand refugees, 300 orphans plus the military hospital were lodged in the Old Fortress, as well as the School of Police in the New Fortress. At 17:05 the Italians bombarded Corfu for 20 min.

There were victims among the refugees of the old Fortress and the Prefect ordered the raising of the white flag. The Italians besieged the island and set the forces ashore. From the beginning of their possession, they started to inflict hard penalties on the people who had guns, and the officers declared that their possession was permanent. There were daily requisitions of houses and they censored the newspapers. Greece asked for the interference of the Society of the Nations, in which Greece and Italy were members, and demanded the solution of the problem through arbitration. The Italian government of Mussolini refused, declaring that Corfu will be possessed until the acceptance of the Italian terms. On 7th of September 1923, the ambassador’s conference in Paris ended with the evacuation of the Italian forces from Corfu, which finally happened on the 20th of September 1923 and ended on the 27th of the same month.

Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù (now Corfu City Hall)


During the Second World War Mussolini wanted to possess the Ionian Islands, which he succeeded with the help of the Germans during the Greco-Italian War. The Italians occupied Corfu from March 28, 1941. They implemented a process of italianization, with creation of Italian schools, centered around the small surviving community of the Corfiote Italians, who still spoke the venetian dialect.

The first reaction to the Italian occupation happened on the first Sunday of November 1941. During the procession of the Saint Spyridon, the fascist young Corfiot Italians participated and provoked the students of the Greek high schools. When the procession arrived in the Upper Square, the students started to leave whilst singing the national Greek songs. The “Carbinaria” and the “Finetsia” fascist groups attacked and arrested many Greek students, beating them and exiling some of them to the island of Othonous. After that episode there was a relative calm in Corfu until the surrender of Italy in September 9, 1943.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the island of Corfu was one of the few areas of Greece without famine in 1942, thanks to the food help from the italian government.

The small Corfiot Italian community numbered more than 1500 people, living mainly in Corfu city, when Mussolini occupied the island in 1941-1943. They increased to nearly 2000 in summer 1943, because the italian schools were reopened attracting personnel from Italy and a few descendants of some Corfiot italians (who refugiated in Italy in the XIX century) moved back to Corfu city. Furthermore it is noteworthy to pinpoint that the community of "Corfiot Maltese" (numbering around 5000) was initiating in those years an italianisation process, because also Malta was considered by the Fascists as an irredent island that should be belonging to the kingdom of Italy.

From the 10th to the 14th of September of 1943, the Germans tried to force to surrender the Italian garrison in Corfu, while the political prisoners were set free from the small island of Lazaretto. The morning of 13th of September, Corfiots woke up to the disasters of the war. The German air raids continued the whole day bombarding the port, the Fortresses and strategic points. During the night of 14th of September, huge damages happened in the Jewish parts of Saint Fathers and Saint Athanasios, the Court House, the Ionian Parliament, the Ionian Academy, -in which the Library was lodged-, the Schools of Middle Education, the Hotel "Bella Venezia", the Custom Office, the Manor-Houses and the Theatre. Finally the next week the Germans occupied the island with huge losses between the Italians, forcing successively the nearly 5000 Jews (speakers of the "Italkian", a language made of hebrew, italian and a few greek words) of the island to concentration camps in Germany.

Actually there are no more Corfiot Italians in the island: the last peasant speaking the "Veneto da mar" local dialect died in the 1980s.

Magazine front-image showing Italian troops landing in Corfu city in April 1941

However something remains of the Italian presence in the island: the long Venetian domination left not only architecture masterpieces but also:
1) a very strong influence on local Greek language, which absorbed a wide range of Italian words - more than one third of the words in the local greek dialect of Corfú city are loanworded from the Italian language;
2) the fact that the Corfu's cuisine also maintains many Venetian delicacies, cooked with local spicy recipes. Dishes with italian roots include "Pastitsada" (the most popular dish in the island of Corfu, that comes from the Venetian dish "Spezzatino"), "Strapatsada", "Sofrito", "Savoro", "Bianco", "Poulenta", "Mandola", "Fogatsa", "Bourdeto", "Stifado" and "Mandolato" (to name the few most famous);
3) some important traditions in Corfu that were introduced by the Venetians, such as the Carnival (Ta Karnavalia) and the passion for "opera".
4) The "Liston": this elegant promenade of Corfu city is lined with cafes and restaurants and has the same "way of life" (for the local people) like in any italian beach town.