Corfu - Malta Relations – A common past

Dr. Chrysoula Tsiotsi | 03 Jun 2011

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A glance at the history of both islands brings us to a common point of reference, the British, particularly Sir Thomas Maitland. He was the Governor of Malta and was subsequently appointed as the first Lord High Commissioner for the Ionian Islands, including the islands of Cyprus, Corfu, Constantinople and Smyrna.

The British wanted to attract Maltese emigrants to obtain reliable workers to help in agriculture and the building trade, and also to reinforce their seize on the islands. When Sir Thomas Maitland arrived in Corfu` he decided to secure the old Venetian Fortress with new quarters, build a new prison, and also a palace at the town square (which is today the ‘Asian Arts Museum’). The Palace also served as the seat of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. Eventually, he also ordered the building of the Mansion of Michelangelo, and other buildings in Corfu.

For these projects, Maitland needed the famous glowing Maltese stone. Simultaneously he also required the services of local Maltese skilled workers which he knew he could rely on since he was already familiar with their work in Malta. Between 1815 and 1860 he took about 80 people from Malta to Corfu, consisting of 40 stone masons and their wives. His plan was that they would settle there and their work could be continued by their children. Apart from these initial 80 people sent to Corfu, other Maltese who had been sent to the other Ionian Islands moved between the islands themselves.

The Maltese in Corfu settled in an area to the west of San Rocco Square and south of Mandouki, in the area of Platytera, Koulines and Solari. By 1901 there were already close to 1000 people of Maltese descent in Corfu. A number of Maltese families, especially the Atzopardis (Azzopardi) family, left Corfu after the union with Greece and settled in Cardiff, Wales. Their descents still live there today. Some of them subsequently returned to Corfu in the 1920’s and they are today known in Corfu as the 'Cardiff Corfiots.

By 1930 the ‘Maltese Corfiots had their own priest who looked after their welfare while he kept useful contacts with the Ecclesiastical and Civil Authorities in Malta. The priest was the Reverend Spiridione Cilia who was born in Corfu of Maltese parents.

The ‘Maltese Corfiots today number more than 3500 from the initial 80. Considering that there are only about 100,000 Corfiots on the island, this is quite a high percentage. The ‘Maltese Corfiots’ still mainly occupy a region informally known as 'Maltezika' (Malta) and
'Cozella' (Gozo). It is here that the Catholic Cemetery is located, as well as a
Cappuchin Monastery, and a convent and school which was founded in 1907 by the Franciscan Sisters of Malta.

Surnames which are very common in Corfu are Psailas (Psaila), Spitieris (Spiteri), Atzopardis (Azzopardi), Soueref (Xuereb), Alamanos (Alamango), Sakkos (Sacco) and Michalef (Micallef).

The historical connection between Malta and Corfu is not the only similarity. Corfu which is only a one hour flight away from Malta, is 56 km long and 13 km wide, making it just over twice the size of Malta. The climate is very similar to ours, with the exception that it is much greener than Malta (having over 4 million olive trees planted by the Venetians which are protected religiously), has many hills (its highest point is about 900 metres above sea level). It is surrounded by glorious beaches (31 of which are blue flag) and some of which are only accessible by boat. The local people are as friendly and hospitable as the Maltese. Like us they love the outdoor life especially sailing between the islands. The food is also very good. All the above, and more, make the possibility of local council twinning agreements something to look into.

Many Maltese people over the last 3 years have invested in plots of land close to the sea and traditional houses in the green island of Corfu. Property and residential development in Corfu is still  a highly recommended investment opportunity.

On the other hand, Malta is the ideal business environment for Greek businessmen who seek for a favorable tax regime and the chance for international business development.

There is also a strong property investment market which attracts particularly the British (there are over 10,000 British who live in Corfu), Danish (about 3000), German (about 4000), and mainland Greek who purchase summer residences on the Ionian Islands.

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