The Ionian Academy of Corfu: The Ionian Academy happens to be the first Greek University in recent times. The university was established by the British philhellene Frederic North, the Count of Guilford, who wanted to have cordial relations with the island of Corfu, Greece after his initial visit to the island in 1791. The Academy functioned from 1824 to 1864 when the island was united with the Greek state.
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The island of Corfu was under Venetian rule for several years but over time, the Ionian group of Islands came under British rule. Frederic North envisioned the initiative of founding a university in Ithaca, whose primary objective would be to impart quality education to students of Greece and other Mediterranean and Balkan countries through courses taught by renowned Greek scholars.
The principal aim of this mission was to advance the academic growth and expansion of the Greek nation and to provide a platform for quality higher education to all aspiring Greek students who otherwise had to go to a foreign country to pursue their education.
Lord Guilford, popularly referred to as Frederic North, became a prominent figure in the Ionian island's academic landscape and went about setting up the university with great enthusiasm. This Herculean task took almost eight years and, during this stage, Lord Guilford was the principal coordinator and sponsor of this all-important mission. He was in for a shock when the renowned Greek scholars of that time rudely turned down his invitations.
Lord Guilford was dejected yet determined not to give up on his mission. Undaunted by the initial setback, he went on to select numerous young promising scholars and sponsored their higher education in esteemed European universities. Upon successful completion of their education, these scholars were to become the educators of the proposed university.
Being awarded the title of Lord of Education of the Ionian State, Guilford obtained the formal endorsement of the British government for setting up the university in Ithaca. With the tacit support and backing of the British government, Lord Guilford put in place the university regulations which were at par with European standards. He oversaw the setting up of the university's library but also took the responsibility of administering the general educational policy of the entire Ionian state. From grooming teachers to setting up a Seminary, Lord Guilford was in the thick of actions.
The reason behind transferring the actual University to Ithaca was the flaring up of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Ithaca is located adjacent to Corfu and the much-awaited inaugural ceremony of the proposed Academy was held on May 29th, 1824. From November 1823, introductory courses were launched for aspiring students.
According to the vision of Lord Guilford, which was endorsed in the Legislative Decree, the Academy consisted of four Schools of Excellence: Theology, Law, Medicine, and Philosophy. Right from the inception of the Academy, Lord Guilford had to face unresponsive and even antagonistic responses from the general public, including the British people.
The shrewd local agents were apprehensive about the fact that the Academy would bring higher education, a sole prerogative of the aristocratic sections of society, right to the doorsteps of the weaker sections of society. The aristocrats were terrified at the prospect of losing their monopoly on education and, subsequently, positions of authority.
Moreover, many were of the opinion that the establishment of an educational system should begin from the fundamental level i.e. the primary school. Even the great Ioannis Kapodistrias was said to have endorsed this viewpoint.
Lord Guilford, however, disagreed with this approach. He was firm in the opinion that founding a university was the topmost concern as there was a dearth of quality teachers to teach at the school level.
The unfortunate death of Lord Guilford in 1827 and the consequent relocation of a collection of exclusive books he had earlier donated to the esteemed Ionian Academy back to Britain further exaggerated the troubles. Lord Guilford's passing also further worsened the University's financial state since he was the principal source of income for the Academy.
As a result of dwindling finances, the number of academic positions was drastically reduced and, by 1828, the Medical School was reportedly closed. What is more, the administration of the University was allocated to an exclusive three-member committee. In 1834, one of the most renowned historians of the island of Corfu, Andreas Moustoxydes, was officially nominated as the President of the committee.
However, Moustoxydes later relinquished this prestigious position to further his political aspirations. The School of Civil Engineering was launched in 1837 and was functional until 1857. As if this was not enough, another brand new school, the School of Pharmacy, was established in 1841. In 1857, Andreas Moustoxydes came back on the scene as Lord of Education and began overseeing the administration. Moustoxydes' stint in the Committee was short-lived as he passed away in 1860, only to be succeeded by another Ionian, Antonios Polylas.
The Ionian Academy was ultimately closed down after the unification of the Ionian State with the Union of Greece, principally due to Greece's inability to sustain two universities at a time. That resulted in some of the most eminent professors of the Ionian Academy migrating to the Kapodistrian University of Athens.
During its 40-year existence, several distinguished scholars taught at the Ionian Academy. Mention may be made of the Greek poet Andreas Kalvos and Konstantinos Typaldos who later went on to become the metropolitan of Stavroupolis and played a pioneering role in the reforming of the Theological School of Chalki.
Even though the Ionian Academy was beset by problems right from its inception, many of its high-quality graduates contributed immensely to the intellectual evolution of modern Greece. The Academy was established at a tumultuous time and had set very high ambitions. Even though it was an Englishman who founded the University, Lord Guilford, as the visionary that he was, set up a truly Greek University.
How to get there
The Ionian Academy is located in Corfu Town, just an 8-minute walk away from the central bus station and an 11-minute walk away from a parking lot.
Private transfers: We recommend using an online pre-booked transfer service, which provides transfer by taxi, minibus, or private VIP car and arranging a pickup directly from the airport, port, or your hotel. Alternatively, there’s the option of arranging a pickup by a local driver directly at the following numbers: 0030 26610 39911, 0030 693 484 3704, or 0030 694 726 6811, or booking your taxi online.
Car rental: Τhere’s the option of renting a car and picking it up directly from the airport, port, or your hotel. Using a car rental allows visitors to discover the Ionian Academy and many other points of interest in Corfu at their own pace.
Public transfers: The central bus station of the island is located at Corfu Town. There are bus connections between this bus station and most areas of the island. Consider that time schedules might change according to the season. Check the official timetables here. Tip: Since buses don’t always stop at every scheduled stop of their itinerary, our advice to visitors is to inform the driver about their final destination, so that he makes a stop there.