A Look at the Past
In the fabric of their history, the Ionian Islands can trace certain threads that both tie and distinguish them from the rest of Greece. During the late Bronze Age (1500-1200 B.C.), a Mycenaean culture thrived on several of these islands. Although certain names of islands and cities were the same as those used today -- Ithaka, for instance -- scholars have never been able to agree on exactly which were the sites described in the Odyssey.
People from the city-states on the Greek mainland then recolonized the islands, starting in the 8th century B.C. The Peloponnesian War, in fact, can be traced back to a quarrel between Corinth and its colony at Corcyra (Corfu) that led to Athens's interference and eventually the full-scale war. The islands later fell under the rule of the Romans, then the Byzantine Empire. They remained prey to warring powers and pirates in this part of the Mediterranean for centuries. By the end of the 14th century, Corfu fell under Venice's control, and the Italian language and culture -- including Roman Catholicism -- became predominant.
When Napoleon's forces overcame Venice in 1797, the French took over and held sway until 1815. The Ionian Islands then became a protectorate of the British; although the islands experienced peace and prosperity, they were in fact a colony. When parts of Greece gained independence from the Turks, by 1830 -- due in part to leadership from Ionians, such as Ioannis Capodistrias -- many Ionians became restless under the British. In 1864, British Prime Minister Gladstone allowed the Ionians to unite with Greece.
During World War II, Italians first occupied these islands, but when the Germans took over, the Ionians, especially Corfu, suffered greatly. Since 1945, the waves of tourists have brought considerable prosperity to the Ionian Islands.