Day and night, all year long, ferries pass by the island of Vidos. Anybody strolling along the waterfront of Corfu Town will have a clear view of this island, but how well do you know this nearby deserted island?
Located just north of Corfu Town, Vidos is a small, forested island. It covers 530 acres and is located approximately a mile from the historic harbor. The island is a genuine paradise, steeped in history. Back in ancient times, it was known as Ptychia. During the Peloponnesian War, Ptychia was a jail used by Athenian generals to house convicts. A church was constructed on the isle of Vidos during the early Christian era, and it was devoted to the martyr Saint Stefanos.
Throughout the Venetian era, it was given to wealthy families to own. The island is named after one of the original proprietors, Guido Mali Pieri. Through time, Guido morphed into Vidos, and then an “s” was added. There were several olive groves and vineyards in Vidos back then. Corfu was besieged by the Ottoman Turks in the year 1537. At that time, the ancient fort was attacked with cannons, and it was determined that Vidos was the ideal location from which to launch the assault. Similar to the Corfu siege, that mission was a complete failure, but it did show how strategically important the island of Vidos would become in the future to the defense of the city. Before the siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1716, the Venetians had little inclination to build fortifications on the island.
During the siege, General Schuleburg realized that the island of Vidos, which the enemy might easily occupy, would need to be fortified to prevent it from being used as a launching pad for attacks on the ancient fortress, the city, and the port.
As a result, a hexagonal fort was constructed in 1727 on the island’s northwest, which later became Fort Schuleburg.
The French Democrats, who held Corfu following the Treaty of Campo Formio, were responsible for the deliberate dismantling of the island of Vidos’s defenses.
For military purposes, they cleared the island of trees and destroyed the Agios Stefanos church. They intended to construct two formidable forts along the east-west ridge, but the island was once again besieged by the Russo-Ottoman allies who conquered it in 1799. Seven years after the Treaty of Tilsit, in 1807, the French were again in Corfu, this time beginning a project to construct defenses on the isle of Vidos.
Two new forts were constructed, and the Schulenburg Fort was improved and extended. They also constructed several smaller coastal artilleries across the island. As Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1814, the British took control of Corfu and made it part of their protectorate. Re-fortifying Vidos Island, which was essential to the city’s defense, was a top priority for the Brits. The French defenses were almost destroyed, and in 1824, work began on three new, highly innovative, and strategically significant forts to replace the three destroyed ones. Near the ridge’s eastern extremity is Fort George, a massive and formidable stronghold named in honor of King George IV of England.
In homage to the Duke of Wellington, who emerged victorious from the Battle of Waterloo, a semicircular fort was constructed at the ridge’s opposite end and given the name Wellington. After extensive repairs, a brand-new tower housing for guns was built to the top of the historic Schuleburg Fort, which was called Fort Maitland in honor of the first High Commissioner Thomas Maitland. All the original French defenses around the island were kept, upgraded, and put back into service, and some were even expanded.
Fort Wellington -credit Corfu Fortifications (Facebook page)
Because of its neutral status after the Ionian Islands were annexed by Greece, Vidos and the rest of Corfu were ordered to have their defenses dismantled in 1863 as part of the Treaty of London.
All of Vidos defenses were destroyed by the British. It took intense lobbying from Greek politician Charilaos Trikoupis to rescue the city’s old and new fortresses. Since then, there has been zero interest in fortifying Vidos. The island is still showing scars of the bombings, with heaps of soil where the forts once stood.
The explosions nearly leveled Fort George, and just a small section of the fort’s wall remains, although it is still high enough for visitors to get a sense of the fort’s former glory. The western extremity of Fort Wellington, where the vertical wall of the moat still stands, is also well discernible. While the Schuleburg Fort’s exterior walls have been preserved, the central tower has been destroyed. Fort Schuleburg’s recently found underground corridor leads to two chambers with battlements that were miraculously spared from the explosions.
Several of the forts’ water reservoirs were not wrecked and are thus preserved in excellent shape and put to good use, particularly during the warmer months. The original stables, which are now a restaurant, and a coastal telephone station have also been maintained. In 1898, after the island of Vidos had been abandoned for some time, life was brought back to it when a state agricultural station was built there, and pine trees were planted along its western coast. Three merchants had considerable success in 1912 in constructing public baths and a recreation center on the island’s two sandy beaches, but the start of World War I put an end to their plans.
Corfu was used as a quarantine and hospital for sick Serbian troops following the heroic retreat of the Serbian army and some of the civilian population from the Austro-German-Bulgarian invasion of Serbia.
Sick and dying troop members were treated in Vidos to avert epidemics while the major army recuperating camps were on Corfu.
Despite Allied material aid, the island’s makeshift medical facilities and the poor health of many patients led to a high death rate, turning the island into a huge cemetery. The Yugoslavian government constructed the Serbian Mausoleum, a cemetery, and a memorial for Serbian troops on the island’s eastern shore in 1936. Since then, those who lived through it and their descendants make annual trips to Vidos for a memorial ceremony and pilgrimage.
Serbian soldiers in Corfu 1916
Between 1918 and 1925, Vidos functioned as an outpost of the Corfiot penal institutions, afterwards it was replaced by a rural jail. Conquerors used the island’s jails as detention sites during World War II, and later, during the Greek Civil War, they held political prisoners there. The Fort Wellington isolation cells are still there, lining the vertical wall. The island served as a juvenile prison from 1948 to 1976 and then fell under the purview of the Hellenic Tourist Agency. The Municipality of Corfu, which is tasked with ensuring the safety and upkeep of the island’s infrastructure as well as planning for its future development, was given this responsibility in 1985.
There are numerous scenic hiking trails on Vidos for exploring the island’s natural wonders, as well as secluded coves ideal for swimming and lounging. There’s also a cafeteria with an outdoor seating area where you can enjoy a cool drink while taking in the breathtaking views of the sea and Corfu Town. Expect to see a lot of rabbits, peacocks and pheasants on the island of Vidos since it is a protected wildlife area. Vidos is extremely peaceful since it is deserted and rarely visited by tourists. Instead, retirees from nearby Corfu like to travel there to cool off in the water. Being a little paradise on Earth and a rare treasure among the numerous jewels on Corfu, the island is accessible through a specially chartered petrol boat that makes regular routes throughout the summer months. The trip to the island takes only 10 minutes. If you’re looking for a vacation spot that combines relaxation and a rich cultural heritage, look no further than Vidos.
Photo credits: Corfu Fortifications (FACEBOOK page)-Wikimedia Commons-Corfu Perspectives Guided Tours