Nov 17, 2015

Ionian Islands under the Venetian Rule

Nov 17, 2015

When one first visits Corfu he (or she) is immediately reminded of Italy and Venice. How couldn't he, since for a period of over 400 years (1386 - 1797) Corfu, as part of the “Eptanisa” complex, belonged to the “Republic of Venice”, thus reflecting this influence in all aspects of life. The Old Towns of many of these islands, like Corfu, one of the World Heritage Sites in Greece, were built during this period, housing many of the ruling Venetian nobility who chose to settle on the islands. Unfortunately consequent earthquakes heavily damaged most of the old Venetian buildings, leaving only ruins behind them, with the exception of Corfu.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the islands of the Ionian sea changed rulers a handful of times, but it was the Venetians who prevailed and helped the islands remain unoccupied, for most part, by the muslim Ottomans. Residents of the Ionian islands enjoyed fully citizenship as Venetians, were able to travel freely and had access to excellent education. The Aristocracy, mostly Venetians who lived in Corfu, were bilingual or tri-lingual and were distinguished Diplomats, often tasked with negotiating between western Europe, Russia, the Ottos and Greeks.

Venetians who lived in Corfu with their families during the aforementioned years were called Corfiot Italians and many Italian Jews took refuge in Eptanisa during the Venetian centuries. These population changes also affected the language of locals, assimilating a large number from Italian, Veneto da mar, the Venetian version of international Italians and Italian which was a mixture of Hebrew with Italians. Even today many words used in Kefalonia, Corfu and Zante derive from Veneto da mar, but they’ve been so accumulated no one would guess!

Venetians promoted the Catholic Church, hence leaving a small legacy behind them of a small percentage catholic population, mostly of Malta descendants, but also the arts, building some exceptional music halls and galleries, like the first opera house (Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù) in Greece. Also they influenced ever since everyday lifestyle, architecture and tastes! People singing under multi-storied buildings on narrow lanes a “kantada” - a love song, expressing their feelings to their loved ones watching over them from a window, may just be that.

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