hidden europe 54

The Other United States: An Island Polity

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The neoclassical Palace of St Michael and St George in Kerkyra — commissioned by Thomas Maitland during his time in Corfu (photo © Infomods / dreamstime.com).


This is the story of the other United States, a territory which surely rates as one of the oddest polities ever to appear on the map of Europe. It had seven constituent states and existed from 1815 to 1864. It used the obol as its currency and its postage stamps featured the head of the English monarch.

Spyro looks out over the featureless sea and points to the north-west. “There lies Venice,” he says. Then gesturing in the opposite direction towards a scatter of houses, he adds: “And here lies Avliotes, once an outpost of La Serenissima. We don’t do canals here, the way the Venetians do, but it’s pretty serene.”

In the homely Mouzakitis café, on one side of Avliotes’ dusty main street, Spyro leans back on one of the green chairs, a bottle of ginger beer in his right hand. “Local ginger beer, of course,” he says. “It’s a Corfu speciality.”

“So, where were we?” he continues. “Ah, yes, 300 years ago. And the link with Venice. This was a Venetian possession, as indeed was all of Corfu,” explains Spyro.

“All that changed of course,” says Spyro, sweeping through decades of history with just a few swigs of ginger beer. “Corfu had been briefly a French possession,” he explains. “Well, not really a possession, but a fully fledged part of France. We had the status of a département — one of three French départements around the shores of Greece. Corfu was called Corcyre.”

“Then the Russians came, then the French again. And where do you think we were 200 years ago?” asked Spryo with the demeanour of a magician about to reveal one of the deepest secrets of his craft.

“Well, 200 years ago, Avliotes was on the map. Really on the map.”

Spyro adds another log to the wood-burning stove in the café, and ushers us over to the wall on which are displayed a number of maps.

“So, here we are, this is Avliotes,” he says, pointing at a map. “And, 200 years ago, we were right on the edge of the United States!”

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