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Festivals and fairs (2)
Easter, the greatest festivity of the Greek-Orthodox Church, is celebrated
with particular reverence all over Greece.
In Corfu the festivities of Easter are unique. The Western Civilization's influences
are clearly visible even in this mainly Greek-Orthodox festivity.
The Corfiots call Easter Lambri of Lambria (Bright) expressing this
way the symbolic spiritual brightness of the day. After a long seven-week period
devoted to fasting and abstention from any kind of feast, comes Easter, day of
happiness, day of enjoyments.
The special local customs, the direct relation of these days with
the beginning of spring, show off a uniqueness, which has rendered the Corfiot
Easter an attraction with visitors from all over the world. The polyphonic ecclesiastical
music (a local particularity) predominates and pours out of the Corfiot churches
to the small alleys of the city and the suburbs. This harmonic melody, a particular
quadraphonia, which came from Crete in the 17th century, even today is called
The Corfiot Easter begins with the religious events of Palm Sunday.
At 11.00 in the morning of Palm Sunday, the litany of the Holy Shrine of Saint
Spyridon takes place, a procession which holds since 1630, in commemoration of
the deliverance of the island from the spread of the deadly plague, which took
the lives of many Corfiots in 1629. This litany is the largest in size and length
and circumambulates the city on the trail of the old Venetian city-walls, with
many stoppages on the way for prayers and entreaties. It is the only litany that
all 18 Philharmonics of the island participate to honor the Patron Saint of Corfu.
It is the custom after the end of the litany, all the Philharmonics to parade
through the old city center playing cheerful marches. On the same night at 8.30
in the Municipal Theater the concert of the 'Mantzaros' Philharmonic takes place
with solemn music, which introduces us in the mood of the Passion Week.
From the next day, Monday before Easter, the Corfiots start shopping
for Easter. The sweet smell of 'phogatsa', 'mandolato' and 'colombina' (all local
food specialties) is sensed all around the city. In the afternoon the bells of
the churches ring to call the congregation for the Service.
On Tuesday before Easter the famous Kassiani motet is heard in the
churches and at 9.00 in the evening in the Peristyle of the Old Palace the "Organization
of Corfiot Activities" (OKE) stages the Musical and Poetic Night with the theme:
"From Golgotha to Resurrection".
In the past, from Wednesday before Easter onwards, the sheeps were
brought from the countryside to Sarocco Sq. to be sold to the Corfiots and to
the merchants from Patras. Nowadays, on the same night, at 8.30 the people are
filling up the Municipal Theater to hear the Municipal Chorus singing ecclesiastical
hymns of the Passion Week with chorals from the East and the West.
On Maundy Thursday the Service of the Holy Passion is attended by
the Corfiots in the churches. In the Catholic Cathedral, Duomo, they light up
12 candles and put out one-at-a-time after the hearing of each of the "12 Gospels".
On the same day with the first bell-ring the red Easter-eggs are dyed, eternal
symbol of the renewal of life and nature.
On Good Friday before the noon, the churches are crowded with people
for the ceremony of the Descent of Christ from the Cross and the circumambulation
of the dead Christ on a white sheet in an emotional atmosphere and the funereal
ring of the bells. Later, the children run about the neighborhoods asking for
flowers for the Epitaph. The decoration of each Epitaph is almost exclusive work
of the young girls and towards the noon the Epitaphs are exposed to the faithful
Early in the afternoon begins the circumambulation of the Epitaphs
on the streets, alleys and squares of the old city and the suburbs. From 2.00
in the afternoon until late at night, tens of Epitaphs will pass around the city
and as time passes more Epitaphs gather on the historic center and almost cross
each other. Each Epitaph is accompanied by a chorus, a philharmonic, torches,
manual lamps, scouolas (guild Patron Saint standards), which during this evening
are held sideways indicating the funereal character of the procession. Schools,
scouts and groups of little girls carrying baskets full of flowers, which are
abundant in Corfu this time of the year, also accompany each Epitaph.
The last Epitaph of the night is at 10.00 and is the impressive Epitaph
of Corfu Cathedral. In this Epitaph, the presence of the Holy Clergy, of the Authorities
and of thousands of Corfiots and visitors, gives an ecstatic dimension in this
mournful night. The 'Old' Philharmonic ('red') performs the Albinoni's Adagio,
the 'Mantzaros' Philharmonic ('blue') plays Verdi's Marcia Funebre and the 'Kapodistrias'
Philharmonic plays Mariani's Elegia Funebre, also known as Sventura and Chopin's
On Holy Saturday at 6.00 in the morning the artificial earthquake
is a custom of the church of Virgin Mary of 'Xenon'. It takes place just after
the 'Apostle' and is a reenactment of the earthquake that is described in the
Gospel as a consequential triumphal even of the Resurrection of Christ. At 9.00
in the morning of the same day the devout circumambulation of the Epitaph of Saint
Spyridon's church takes place. In 1574 the Venetian authorities prohibited, for
security reasons, all the Epitaphs on Good Friday. Thus the Corfiots circumambulated
the Epitaph of Saint Spyridon's church together with the Shrine of the Saint during
the Holy Saturday litany, which was an already established tradition and could
not easily be prohibited. The Patron Saint in this litany takes the place of Titular
Bishop and the Epitaph follows. This litany is the oldest and the most impressive
of all litanies of the Patron Saint of Corfu. It holds since 1550 in commemoration
of the miracle of the Saint, which saved the island from starvation. The procession
moves to the slow funereal rhythm of the three Philharmonics of the city. The
'old' Philharmonic plays Faccio's 'Amlet', the 'Mantzaros' Philharmonic plays
Micheli's 'Calde Lacrime' (Hot Tears) and the 'Kapodistrias' Philharmonic plays
'Marcia Funebre' from Beethoven's Heroica. After the end of the litany the Shrine
of Saint Spyridon will remain on the church for a three-day pilgrimage.
At 11.00 in the morning of the same day the people are expecting the
so-called 'First Resurrection'. After the morning Mass the bells ring joyfully
and from the windows and balconies of the houses thousands of full of water clay
pots are dropped on the streets. This custom is connected with the Gospels, but
is also a Venetian influence, who used to throw from their windows old pots and
old objects on New-year's day, expecting new things to be brought by the new year.
The Corfiots adopted this custom, but changed the date to Easter, the greatest
Greek feast, and clay pots replaced the old objects. Another interpretation of
this event suggests that the custom is pagan. Easter is occurring at the beginning
of the new floral year, the nature awakes from hibernation and the fruits are
collected in new pots, while the old ones are thrown away. After the dropping
of the clay pots, the Philharmonics are marching on the streets of the historic
center of the city playing allegro marches.
In 'Pinia' the commercial center of the old city, the "Organization
of Corfiot Activities" (OKE) has revived the old custom of 'Mastela'. At the old
times the 'piniatores' i.e. the porters of the city, used to place on that spot
an open barrel full of water. They decorated the barrel with myrtles and colorful
ribbons, and spread around the place, were asking the passers-by to cast a make-wish
coin in the barrel. At the time of the 'First Resurrection' they were chasing
an unsuspecting passer-by to throw him in the barrel. The soaked to the skin Corfiot
sprinkled from the barrel the watchers and at the end came out with joy and laughter
with all the coins gathered at the bottom of the barrel.
On Easter night the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection takes place
in Duomo with the accompaniment of the ecclesiastical organ. The Service ends
at about 11.00 p.m. so that the congregation can be present at the Orthodox Resurrection.
The Orthodox Resurrection Service takes place at the kiosk of the
'Pano Platia'. The Bishop, the Authorities, the Philharmonics and thousands of
people are present. Phantasmagoric and unique spectacle is the sight of thousands
of candles on the balconies, the windows and the hands of the people that follow
the Service that night, on the biggest square of Greece.
The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at 12.00 sharp with drumbeats and fireworks.
As soon as the Service is finished the Philharmonics march around the city playing
cheerful marches and the people follow behind them singing and wishing each other.
The Corfiot Easter feast has just began and will last until the morning with 'tsilihourda'
(local soup with minced lamb-tripe), red eggs, fogatsa, colombines (Venetian origin
Easter cakes that look like pigeons) and lots of wine. The island is set on fire
breaking the fasting and celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord.
On Easter morning every church circumambulates the icon of the Resurrection
of Christ on the streets of Corfu and suburbs, in the same manner as the Epitaphs.
On the same day each year from 11.30 a.m. onwards, the Naval Station of Corfu
in the New Fortress, is open to the public with feasts, local dancing and rich
tidbits. In Corfu the traditional menu of the first day of Easter is different
from the rest of Greece. On Easter the Corfiots eat egg-lemon soup, made of 2-3
different kinds of meat, and leave the traditional roast lamb on the spit for
Easter Monday. This has the explanation that the stomach is weakened by the long
period of fasting and a soup will help it to recover.
On the same afternoon all the Corfiots go to the church for the so-called
'Service of Love', were the priest embraces and kisses the entire congregation
and the congregation returns the reverence by holding and kissing the Gospel and
the hand of the priest.
In the past, Easter carols were sung from door to door, but nowadays
the custom has been extinct. With solemnity take place at 6.00 p.m. in Garitsa
the litany of the icon of the Resurrection of Christ and at the same time in Potamos
the litany of the icon of the Resurrection takes place, together with the icon
of Virgin Mary Dimosiana.
On Easter Monday, in nearly all Corfiot countryside, litanies of the
icon of the Resurrected Christ take place, which pass through the rural areas
and the villages and last from one to three hours.
On Tuesday after Easter at 5.00 p.m. at the church of Saint Spyridon,
the Patron Saint of Corfu is set back in his Urn after a three-day pilgrimage.
The Easter Week of the Corfiot Easter ends with the feast-pilgrimage
on Friday after Easter at the Paleokastritsa
monastery, which is the first religious feast of the Corfiot summer.
This text is cited May 2003 from the Municipality of Kerkyra URL below, which contains images.
The roots of the Corfiot Carnival are lost in the Dionysiac worship
of ancient Greece. The Carnival
of Corfu was revived during the time of the Venetian occupation of the island
and through a course of more than 450 years, reaches our times, regenerated each
year. The Latin word CARNEVALE is probably derived from the Latin phrase carnem
levare = to disappear the meat, consequently abstain from meat.
THE CARNIVAL IN THE COUNTRY-SIDE
The different social life of the Corfiot rural areas in comparison
with that of the city, preserved through the carnival festivities many elements
of the ancient Greek paganistic worship. The arrival on the streets of King Carnival,
the all-night dance of the masquerades with mouzeta (masks) around the bonfire,
the improvised comic sketches of truly mocking character, the "Holy Wedding" with
the symposium and finally the announcement of the "Will" and the ceremony of the
cremation of King Carnival (one who takes on the burden of the sins), with laughter,
happiness, wishes, music and dancing in the taverns and privet houses, imply the
Dionysiac roots of the carnival of the Corfiot country-side. According to Carolos
Klimis, until a few decades ago, in the highlands of Corfu, the carnival custom
of phallus and the jinx, (Dionysiac symbols), was taking place during the last
Sunday of the carnival (Tyrofagos). Even today in the mountainous villages of
Episkepsis, Nymphes and Klimatia a unique tradition is conducted - the "Dance
of the Priests" singing the song "Doxa na", a custom that combines paganistic
worship and Christian religion.
THE CARNIVAL IN THE CITY
In the city of Corfu the festivities of the carnival were influenced
by the arrival of the Venetians. The Venetians, with the numerous personnel that
was living in the city (military and administrative), brought their own carnival
customs (which had their roots in the Roman Saturnalia), and their own way of
entertainment, which very soon grafted the local tradition and created the Corfiot
Carnival with a tradition of more than 450 years.
The rulers and noblemen, of foreign or local origin, were participating
at the festivities, which at the beginning consisted of indoor happenings. In
several houses balls were held with masks and european dresses, with a nostalgia
for the cosmopolitan atmosphere and the splendidness of the Metropolis. Gradually,
imitating the Venetian way of life, club for the Nobles was organized in Corfu,
together with card-playing casinos and a theater, where the comedies of the Venetian
aristocrat Carlo Goldoni were performed and soon were assimilated, became tradition
and were loved by the Corfiots.
Intense card playing was taking place during the carnival period.
Four casinos existed in the city, the casino for the Venetian Noblemen, that for
the Corfiot Noblemen, the one for the army-officers and the high-rank clerks and
the casino for the officers of the navy. The casinos had rooms for conversation
and tables for card-playing -they were playing tresette, briscola, paseta and
pharaoh. In one of these the famous Giacomo Casanova participated, "in Corfu?
I was spending all my time in the coffee-shop playing rabidly pharaoh", he wrote.
Polychromy, cheerfulness, 'brio', high-spirit and most of all public
participation were the elements that characterized the Carnival of Corfu, which,
in combination with the masked-balls and the revel atmosphere in the streets and
the alleyways of the city, made Corfu look like Venice, where the revel and the
amusement lasted for months and had their own particular color.
The growth of the opera in Corfu had its contribution to the Corfiot
Carnival. The transformation of the club of the Nobles to theater in 1720 by the
name "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo" and the calling of Italian groups that performed
comedies, 'opera buffa' but also prose, lasted the whole of the winter period
until the last Sunday of the Carnival. This tradition continued in the 20th century,
after the construction of the Municipal Theater.
Masked balls (named Cavalchine) were held in the Theater during the
Carnival period. At the beginning the tickets were expensive in order to provide
a financial support to the actors, but this was abolished by the last Proveditor
Carolo Aurelio Widman, so that everybody could afford to go. Ladies with fancy
outfits and well-dressed masquerades attended the balls from the rented theater
boxes, exchanging glances, colorful serpentines and love letters, while during
the intervals they were exchanging visits. Many balls were held and the last one
could not go further than the 12:00 at mid-night of the last Sunday, when all
the masks were dropped. The archives tell as about six-day balls, two nights with
signatures (veglione) and four common nights with masks (cavalchine). The balls
were a way of life and never stopped, not even during the Russo-Turkish siege
(November 1798-February 1799).
Later the after-midnight dances were transferred to several privet
ballrooms in the city. In large dancing-floors special teacher were teaching 'Cuadrilias'
and 'lancie', which were the highlight of the night. Except that in the Municipal
Theater the dances of the 'Old Philharmonic', of 'Gymnastiriou' and that of 'Rolina',
have remained unforgettable ever since.
The Nobles and the well-off were masqueraded in dominos and harlequins,
wearing masks (mouzeta) and constructing kiosks in Spianada Sq., decorated with
greens and flowers, contesting on the best kiosk decoration and throwing each
other violets and serpentines, and watering the passers-by with "pompets' of watered
perfume. The last Sunday of the Carnival everybody was with masks on the Liston,
either walking or on coach for the 'Will' and the cremation of King-Carnival at
12 at mid-night.
At sometime during the 16th century, the Venetians, imitating the
Metropolis, established the 'Giostre' in Corfu during the carnival period.
The 'giostre' is believed to had their roots in Roman times and their
arrival in Corfu, according to a certain opinion, started with the presence of
the first Latin conquerors (Crusaders) on the island, a fact that is substantiated
with the mentioning of similar events in other parts of Greece
that met the Western influence (the chivalric tournois of the medieval Principality
of Achaia were famous in all Europe during the times of Guillaume Villehardouin).
With the revival of the chivalric spirit during the Renaissance period
and the reconstitution of the Chivalric Orders, many jousts were held, not in
the battlefields, but in the city-centers and in many cases inside the palace-complexes.
In Venice the "Giostra" prevailed, which exhibited the war-virtues of the individual,
something that the Renaissance greatly favored.
Two 'Giostre" were set the prize during the Carnival period in Corfu.
The Noble youth took part in the first, which was held in the Spianada Sq., and
the soldiers in the other, which was held inside the Old Fortress.
Since the mid-18th century the two types that the Noble youth was
contesting, were moved in Strada Larga (Moustoxydi Str.) In the first, named Giostra
all'anello, the mounted contestant had to pass his lance through a ring, and in
the other, named Giostra alla quintana or saracino, the mounted contestant had
to hit as many times he could a puppet with a face of a saracen. The master of
the games was the "MAESTRO DI CAMPO", who was chosen from the Council of the Nobles.
The representatives of the Venetian and the Corfiot authorities watched the games
from the Midei house, which probably is the Ricci estate with the large balcony
and the Venetian mourioni. Special judges, the 'giostra judges' were standing
on an elaborate kiosk at the end of the run and decided the winner. They awarded
the prize (palio) to the winner who in turn offered a banquet in his house at
the same night. A similar atmosphere existed at the soldier's 'giostra' inside
the Old Fortress.
The 'giostre' carried on during the 19th century with the same ordered
way as in the time of the Venetians. Even then they were colorful and romantic
events if we judge from a proclamation of a 'giostra' in 1834: "Eros to the ladies,
Honor to the brave, Glory to the valiant".
THE CARNIVAL OF THE RECENT TIME
With the outbreak of the Second World War the Corfiot Carnival, with
the intense popular participation, became inactive but in 1955 a group of romantic
Corfiots, the Manesis and Kourkoumelis families, took the initiative and decided
the reorganization of the festivities. They tried with love and desire for the
old times and managed to bring happiness and laughter to the Corfiots once again,
who responded with the organization of balls and parades. In 1962 the "Organization
of Corfiot Festivities and Happenings" (OKEE) was established, who supported the
initiative of the previously mentioned team. Hundreds of masquerades and many
floats welcomed at the old port the 'live' King Sior-Carnival (an exclusive characteristic
of the Corfiot Carnival) who gave laughter and 'decorated' everyone with his 'comments'-"petegoletsa"
During the years of dictatorship (1967-1974) this fiesta became once
more inactive and in 1975 with the establishment of the "Organization of Corfiot
Festivities", the Corfiot Carnival revived again. Since 1981 the "Organization
of Corfiot Activities", with the aid and assistance of the Municipality of Corfu,
is the main organization responsible for the revival of the Corfiot Carnival and
so far has succeeded, with the cooperation of many cultural clubs and associations,
to organize many splendid carnival activities, group and float-parades and other
cultural, theatrical and musical events.
THE CORFIOT PETEGOLETSA
One of the new elements of the Corfiot Carnival is the Petegoletsa
(gossip), whish is based on the Corfiot dialect and they are held each year in
an open stage, in the central market of the Old City, in Pinia. It is a theatrical
act very similar to COMMEDIA DELL' ARTE, and was developed in the past by the
writer Theodoros Zamanis. The biggest part of them is written in satirical fifteen-syllable
verses. They are performed by actors and they include old customs, traditional
types of old Corfiots and most of all Corfiot dialect. The program is enriched
with local satirical or light songs or with Heptanisian kantades. The final act
is culminated with a sketch (prose) performed from the windows and balconies of
the nearby houses.
The Corfiot Carnival with many significant qualitative differences
from the other Greek Carnivals has the ambition to continue a 450 years old tradition.
The "Organization of Corfiot Activities" tries to exhibit the identity of the
Corfiot Carnival, which is based on the particularity of the Heptanisian Civilisation,
which successfully fused together the systematic Western way of thinking with
the local element and the Greek character of the place.
This text is cited May 2003 from the Municipality of Kerkyra URL below, which contains images.