CULTURE

Corfu’s Old Town finally makes Unesco list

It’s Easter time and we’re lucky to be celebrating it on Corfu, an island in bloom, watching superb dawns and sunsets from the balcony of the Corfu Palace, an oasis of hospitality and culture. Photographer Dimitris Talianis is here, taking shots of Corfu’s famous Easter sights – the litany, the bier of Christ (Epitaphios) procession, Holy Week scenes, full crowded churches, the orchestras and the famous breaking of ceramic water jugs on Easter Saturday – for his next book for Topio publications. The good news is that the efforts of many years have paid off and the Old Town of Corfu was officially included in Unesco’s World Heritage List on April 19 at the island’s Castle of St Michael and St George. The project encountered several obstacles over the years. The initiative to get Corfu on the list came in 1998 from the Corfu branch of the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) and its president, Costas Vlassis. In 2000, it was said that a representative of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), who visited Corfu to make a report, did not get a fitting reception from the local authorities. And in 2002, the proposal was not submitted because the bid file lacked a management plan. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, however, especially when the right person is there to promote it. In the fall of 2004, Corfu Parliamentary Deputy Nikos Dendias took action. He visited the Unesco office in Athens and started working with its permanent representative, former Ambassador Alexandros Rallis, on putting Corfu’s name up again for the list. At the same time, the Corfu branch of TEE beefed up the original proposal with expert reports and set up a working group of two architects with experience in the field – Mary Mitropia and Leonidas Spanellos – to draw up a management plan for the Old Town. Dendias kept up contact with Unesco in Paris and Athens, as well as with the Culture Ministry, asking the government to present Corfu as a candidate. The turning point came when Giorgos Anastassopoulos, former vice president of the European Parliament, was appointed Unesco’s permanent representative in Greece. With his experience and standing, he managed to get the Culture Ministry to cooperate quickly and effectively. In January 2006, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis presented the bid to Unesco. In June, the ICOMOS council approved the Corfu bid. The final coordination of the bodies involved took place in Athens on the initiative of Dendias. And then, last Saturday, the Unesco’s World Heritage Center representative handed Culture Ministry General Secretary Theodoros Dravillas the certificate enrolling the Old Town of Corfu on the World Heritage List. Tourism Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos was among the notables present.