Rising on a steep hill behind the old harbour, the Campiéllo is the oldest district of Old Corfu Town.
The maze of narrow alleyways winds uphill and down, between tall shuttered houses with laundry strung on lines overhead. It’s the most atmospheric urban spot on the island, and getting lost here is all part of its charm.
The Campiéllo was first settled in the 10th century, as the fortified town expanded inland from the Old Fortress. Its present character took shape under the Venetians, who extended the city walls to enclose the residential area between the old and new forts.
The northern section of the Old Town along the sea is still called Mouragia, which means ‘walls’. Here the Venetians built handsome houses three or four storeys high. As the population grew, the city expanded upwards by adding more levels to the houses, for everyone wanted to live inside the walls.
The walls were torn down in the 19th century, but the medieval atmosphere remains. Many of the narrow, traffic-free streets, called kandounia, are paved with flagstones, and connected by steep, stone staircases and arched passages. Aging facades of faded yellow, pink and cream are set off by dark green or grey shutters, iron balconies and decorative door frames. A single palm might mark a tiny plateia, with a local bakery or bar or greengrocer nearby.
There are no particular must-see sights. The appeal of the Campiéllo lies in wandering the streets and exploring the side passages, seeing where they might lead and catching delightful glimpses of local life: children playing under a grandmother’s watchful eye, a flower-filled balcony, a little shrine, a glimpse inside an open doorway, a sleeping dog sprawled across the lane. You might see a housewife hanging out laundry on a clothesline strung between the windows, or lowering a basket from the balcony to bring up goods from the street below.
One sight worth seeking out is the Venetian Well in tiny Kremasti Square. Dated 1699, the stone well is decorated with carved faces and crosses, and is a delightful remnant from Venetian times. Kremasti Square is often overshadowed by the busy outdoor tables of The Venetian Well restaurant, which is indeed an excellent place to eat. To admire the square and well at leisure, though, go early in the morning or between lunch and dinner (around 4-6pm).
Opposite is an older relic, the early 16th-century church of Panagía Kremásti, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. If it is open, go inside to see the lovely iconostasis, made of marble with grapevine carvings, and some striking icons.
It would take years to learn your way around, so plan on getting lost in this charming warren where the modern and medieval meet.