The Corfu Reading Society’s Building
Elements of its Architecture
Extracts from the description of the building in
Corfu Reading Society: An Illustrated Overview, Corfu, 2006 [in Greek]
by Afroditi Agoropoulou Birbili (Emeritus Professor in the National Technical University of Athens)
The building housing the Corfu Reading Society is situated in one of the most prominent locations in Corfu town, at the corner of Kapodistriou and Sofokleous Dousmani street, at the foot of the Kambielo hill […]. Its main façade overlooks the Ionian Sea, whereas its side looks out on a small open lot, rarely found in Corfu town, at the beginning of the sloping Sofokleous Dousmani street.
This building is the last, on the northern side, of the front row of building blocks behind the Esplanade square, separated by a network of straight narrow streets that fan out from the Old Fortress. […].
Next to the building and up to the end of Kapodistriou street, almost at the beginning of the coastal road, there is a series of residences that belonged to prominent families of Corfu town […]. The last building in this row belongs to the Metropolitan Bishop.
Although its neighbouring buildings acquired a neoclassical style in the 19th century, the Corfu Reading Society’s building, despite the interventions it underwent from time to time, still retains its harmonious Renaissance character. It was firstly built, with its external staircase and its double loggia in the covered balconies of the two upper floors, during the Venetian rule […].
The current building consists of two united residences that were independent until 1767-1770. In fact they formed part of two different building blocks, separated by Vouthrotou street that ended in Sofokleous Dousmani. This is documented in an 18th century map of Corfu town but it can also be seen in the current ground floor structure […].
The two buildings were united to form a single residence in the period after 1767-1770 until the mid 19th century, with the possible addition of another floor, either in the whole residence or in the western part only, also covering the part of the street separating them. This possibility is enhanced by the position and the support structure of the staircase between the first and the second floors. […].
It is possible that the two buildings were united before the end of the Venetian rule, as there are elements on the top floor, the form and structure of which is reminiscent of that period, i.e. a series of stone corbels at the south side of the eastern building overlooking a canisela (a Venetian-built sewage canal), the external chimney at the northern side, and the single horizontal cornice at the end of the building […].
The two buildings appear already united in Edward Lear’s perspective sketch, with three floors and a great portal in the place of the street between them, […] i.e. a form similar to the current […]. The building in its final form has three floors and covers an area of approximately 300 m2. […].
Its main entrance remained on the first floor of the eastern building, through the external stone staircase, placed approximately in the middle of the building façade. The two buildings communicate through two doors on the same axis with the main entrance, at the corridor of the same floor where the internal staircase was built. […] Although the initial use of these spaces is not known, it may be deduced from the external chimney depicted in the side view of Lear’s sketch that there was a house kitchen there.
The second floor is used today for events and it has approximately the same arrangement with the first, excluding the corridor. Quite interestingly, there are fireplaces in all four main rooms.
Its external structure is typical of a number of two-storey buildings of the city, built during the Venetian rule, few of which exist today. It has an external staircase leading to the roof-covered landing of the main entrance on the first floor. […]
The Corfu Reading Society’s three-storey building has one particularity compared to the basic type; it combines the external staircase with some form of two-storey portico in the two upper floors. […]
The external form of the building was partly altered during the interwar period, according to a 1930 design that showed the construction of new uniform arch windows on the ground floor and on the first floor, and a modification of the size, the form and the roof of the second-floor portico. […]
Based on this design, which was carried out to a great extent, some openings of the ground floor were reconstructed or constructed anew. The portico was widened and a three-slope hip roof was built as an extension of the main roof. It was supported by two porch columns on either side and two Tuscan columns in the middle, over which some form of uncommon entablature was constructed, whereas balusters were used for the guardrail. […]
The first floor arcade was rebuilt in reinforced concrete and the enlarged keystones of the arches were abandoned. Four corbels were placed under the balcony in the axes supporting the gallery. This form was maintained until the 1980s, when, with a new intervention, the façade was restored to its 19th century form, according to Lear’s sketch.