The island of Cephalonia or Kefalonia in the past also known as Kefallinia or Kephallenia Greek: Κεφαλονιά, Κεφαλλονιά; is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece. It is also a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. The capital of Cephalonia is Argostoli.
Argostoli and Lixouri from the mountains
A poppy field.
The famous Myrtos Beach.
The size of the island is ca. 781 km2 (300 mi2), and the present population density is 55 people per km2 (140/mi2). The town of Argostoli has one-third of the island's inhabitants. Lixouri is the second major settlement, and the two towns together account for almost two-thirds of the prefecture's population.
Cephalonia is in the heart of an earthquake zone, and dozens of minor or unrecorded tremors occur each year. In 1953, a massive earthquake almost destroyed all settlement on the island, leaving only Fiscardo in the north untouched.
Among important natural features are the Melissani the Drogarati caves and the Koutavos Lagoon in Argostoli.
The island has a rich biodiversity, with a substantial number of endemic and rare species. Parts of it have been declared a "Natura Site" in the European Union's NATURA 2000.
The island's highest mountain is Mount Ainos, with an elevation of 1628 m; to the west-northwest are the Paliki mountains, where Lixouri is found, with other mountains including Geraneia (Gerania) and Agia Dynati. The top of Mount Ainos is covered with Abies cephalonica (fir trees) and is a natural park.
Forestry is rare on the island; however its timber output is one of the highest in the Ionian islands, although lower than that of Elia in the Peloponnese. Forest fires were common during the 1990s and the early 2000s and still pose a major threat to the population.
Cape Agios Georgios (approximate coordinates 38.1667°N 20.43333°E)Cape KounopetraCape Atheras (North-West corner of island)
Cephalonia is well known for its endangered loggerhead turtle population which nest at Kaminia beach under the watchful protection of the Sea Turtle Protection society. Between the east coastand Ithaka lives the rare and endangered monk seal (Monachus monachus).
On the island lives the European Pine Marten
Over 200 birds have been spotted on the island
Tourists and locals dining in Vallianos Square in Argostoli, the capital of the Island
Cephalonia is a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. The seat of administration is Argostoli, the main town of the island. As a part of the 2011 Kallikratis government reform, the regional unit Kefallinia was created out of part of the former Kefalonia and Ithaca Prefecture. At the same reform, the current municipality Cephalonia was created out of the 8 former municipalities:
Argostoli the capitalPaliki peninsula with its main town LixouriSami the third largest town and most important portErisos with the harbours of Fiscardo and Assos
Eleios-Pronnoi with the harbour of Poros and SkálaLeivathos the valley south of ArgostoliOmala the valley at the monastery of Saint GerasimosPylaros with the harbour Agia Evfimia and the beach of Myrtos
An aition explaining the name of Cephallenia and reinforcing its cultural connections with Athens associates the island with the mythological figure of Cephalus, who helped Amphitryon of Mycenae in a war against the Taphians and Teleboans. He was rewarded with the island of Same, which thereafter came to be known as Cephallenia.
Cephalonia has also been suggested as the Homeric Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, rather than the smaller island bearing this name today. Robert Bittlestone, in his book Odysseus Unbound, has suggested that Paliki, now a peninsula of Cephalonia, was a separate island during the late Bronze Age, and it may be this that Homer was referring to when he described Ithaca. A project starting in the Summer of 2007, and lasting three years examines this possibility.
Cephalonia is also referenced in relation to the goddess Britomartis, as the location where she is said to have 'received divine honours from the inhabitants under the name of Laphria'.
Coins from Pale/Pali the ancient town north of Lixouri.
In the Southwest of the island, in the area of Leivatho, an ongoing archaeological field survey by the Irish Institute at Athens has discovered dozens of sites, with dates ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Venetian period.
From an archaeological point of view, Cephalonia is an extremely interesting island. Archaeological finds go back to 40,000 BP. Without doubt, the most important era for the island is the Mycenaean era, from approximately 1500-1100 B.C. The archaeological museum in Cephalonia's capital Argostoli – although small – is regarded as the most important museum in Greece for its exhibits from this era.
The most important archaeological discovery in Cephalonia (and in Greece) of the past twenty years was the discovery in 1991 of the Mycenaean tholos tomb at the outskirts of the village Tzanata, near Poros, Kefalonia in south-eastern Cephalonia (Municipality of Elios-Pronni) in a lovely setting of olive trees, cypresses and oaks. The tomb was erected around 1300 B.C, and kings and high-ranked officials were buried in these tholos tombs during the Mycenaean period. It makes up the biggest tholos-tomb yet found in north-western Greece, and was excavated by the archaeologist Lazaros Kolonas. The size of the tomb, the nature of the burial offerings found there and its well-chosen position point to the existence of an important Mycenaean town in the vicinity.
In late 2006, a Roman grave complex was uncovered as excavations took place for the construction of a new hotel in Fiscardo. The remains here date to the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D. Archaeologists described this as the most important find of its kind ever made in the Ionian Islands. Inside the complex five burial sites were found, including a large vaulted tomb and a stone coffin, along with gold earrings and rings, gold leaves which may have been attached to ceremonial clothing, glass and clay pots, bronze artefacts decorated with masks, a bronze lock and bronze coins. The tomb had escaped the attentions of grave robbers and remained undisturbed for thousands of years. In a tribute to Roman craftsmanship, when the tomb was opened the stone door swung easily on its stone hinges. Very near to the tomb a Roman theatre was discovered, so well preserved that the metal joints between the seats were still intact.
A dissertation which was published in 1987 claims through citation of very convincing arguments that in 59 AD, St. Paul on his way from Palestine to Rome, was not shipwrecked and confined for three months to Malta, but rather, all this took place on Cephalonia.
During the Middle Ages, the island was the center of the Byzantine theme of Cephallenia. After 1185 it became part of the County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples until its last Count Leonardo III Tocco was defeated by the Ottomans in 1479.
Further information: Ionian Islands under Venetian rule
The Turkish rule lasted only until 1500, when it was captured by a Spanish-Venetian army, a rare Venetian success in the Ottoman–Venetian War (1499–1503). From then on Cephalonia and Ithaca remained overseas colonies of the Venetian Republic until its very end, following the fate of the Ionian islands, completed by the capture of Lefkas from the Turks in 1684. The Treaty of Campoformio dismantling the Venetian Republic awarded the Ionian Islands to France, a French expeditionary force with boats captured in Venice taking control of the islands in June 1797.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the island was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world with Zakynthos, and owned a large shipping fleet, even commissioning ships from the Danzig shipyard. Its towns and villages were mostly built high on hilltops, to prevent attacks from raiding parties of pirates that sailed the Ionian Sea during the 1820s.
French, Ionian state period and British Rule
The sea mills at the bay of Argostoli 1849 were a natural curiosity in the 19th century. Mount Ainos in the background
The central square of Lixouri, 1910
Venice was conquered by France in 1797 and Kefalonia along with the other Ionian Islands was part of the French départment Ithaque.
In the following year the French were forced to yield the Ionian Islands to a combined Russian and Turkish fleet. From 1799 to 1807, it was part of the Septinsular Republic, nominally under sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire but protected by Russia.
By the Tilsit Treaty in 1807 the Ionian Islands were ceded back to France, which remained in control until 1809. Then Britain mounted a blockade on the Ionian Islands as part of the war against Napoleon, and in September of that year they hoisted the British flag above the castle of Zakynthos. Kefalonia and Ithaka soon surrendered and the British installed provisional governments. The treaty of Paris in 1815 recognised the United States of the Ionian Islands and decreed that it become a British protectorate. Colonel Charles Philippe de Bosset became provisional governor between 1810 and 1814. During this period he was credited with achieving many public works, including the Drapano Bridge.
A few years later resistance groups started to form. Although their energy in the early years was directed to supporting the Greeks in the revolution against the Turks it soon started to turn towards the British. By 1848 the resistance movement was gaining strength and there were skirmishes with the British Army in Argostoli and Lixouri which led to some relaxation in the laws and the freedom of the press. Union with Greece was now a declared aim and by 1850 a growing restlessness resulted in even more skirmishes. Kefalonia along with the other islands were handed back to Greece in 1864 as a gesture of goodwill when the British-backed Prince William of Denmark became King George the First of the Hellenes.
Union with Greece
In 1864, Cephalonia, together with all the other Ionian Islands, became a full member of the Greek state.
World War II
Further information: Axis occupation of Greece during World War II
Fiskardo in the 1940s
In World War II, the island was occupied by Axis powers. Until late 1943, the occupying force was predominantly Italian - the 33rd Infantry Division Acqui plus Navy personnel totalled 12,000 men - but about 2,000 troops from Nazi Germany were also present. The island was largely spared the fighting, until the armistice with Italy concluded by the Allies in September 1943. Confusion followed on the island, as the Italians were hoping to return home, but German forces did not want the Italians' munitions to be used eventually against them; Italian forces were hesitant to turn over weapons for the same reason. As German reinforcements headed to the island the Italians dug in and, eventually, after a referendum among the soldiers as to surrender or battle, they fought against the new German invasion. The fighting came to a head at the siege of Argostoli, where the Italians held out. Ultimately the German forces prevailed, taking full control of the island, and five thousand of thenine thousand surviving Italian soldiers were executed as a reprisal by German forces. While the war ended in central Europe in 1945, Cephalonia remained in a state of conflict due to the Greek Civil War. Peace returned to Greece and the island in 1949.
The forest fire of the 1990s caused damage to the island's forests and bushes, especially a small scar north of Troianata, and a large area of damage extending from Kateleios north to west of Tzanata, ruining about 30 square kilometres of forest and bushes and resulting in the loss of some properties. The forest fire scar was visible for some years.
In mid-November 2003, an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale caused minor damage to business, residential property, and other buildings in and near Argostoli. Damages were in the €1,000,000 range.
On the morning of Tuesday September 20, 2005, an early-morning earthquake shook the south-western part of the island, especially near Lixouri and its villages. The earthquake measured 4.9 on the Richter scale, and its epicentre was located off the island at sea. Service vehicles took care of the area, and no damage was reported.Between January 24 and 26 of 2006, a major snowstorm blanketed the entire island, causing extensive blackouts. The island was recently struck yet again by another forest fire in the south of the island, beginning on Wednesday July 18, 2007 during an unusual heatwave, and spreading slowly. Firefighters along with helicopters and planes battled the blaze for some days and the spectacle frightened residents on that area of the island.
In 2011 the 8 former municipalities of the island lost their independence and had to form one single one. After losing its role as the capital of the island in the 19th century, Lixouri lost also its role as a seat of a municipality after 500 years. TheTechnological Educational Institute of the Ionian Islands closed one faculty in Lixouri and one in Argostoli.
In the ancient period the people lived in four cities on the island. Krani, Sami, Pale and Pronni formed a federation called «tetrapolis».
The population reached 70,000 in 1896, but declined gradually in the 20th century. The great 1953 Ionian Earthquake brought many people to leave the island. Many people left the island, moved to Patras and Athens or immigrated to America and Australia, following their relatives who had left the island decades ago. In the same time people from poorer areas of Greece such as Epirus and Thrace came to the island. The population has hovered between 35,000 and 42,000 since then, at the 2011 census it was 35,801.
Most of the indigenous people of Cephalonia have surnames ending in "-atos", and almost every settlement on the island has a name ending in "-ata", such as Metaxata, Chavriata, Frangata, Lourdata, Favata, Delaportata and others.
Calcium carbonate loaded in the port of Argostoli
Fiscardo is a tourism attraction the northern part of the island.
Wine and Raisins are the oldes products exported goods, being important until the 20th century. Today fish farming and calcium carbonate are important.
The primary agricultural occupations are animal breeding and olive growing, with the remainder largely composed of grain and vegetables. Most vegetable production takes place on the plains, which cover less than 15% of the island, most of which is rugged and mountainous, suitable only for goats. Less than a quarter of the island's land is arable.
Until the 1970s most Cephalonians lived in rural areas, while today the urban population accounts for two-thirds, with the other third in rural towns and villages close to farmland.
The island has a long winemaking tradition and is home to the dry, white lemony wines made from the Robola grape.
Olive oil production
Olive oil production is a major component of Cephalonia's economy. Until the 18th Century the quantity of olive oil produced on the island just covered the needs of the residents. However, the pressure of Venetian conquerors' for olive plantation, especially after the loss of Peloponnese and Crete, resulted in increasing the production to such a degree that the first exports to Venice began. Before the 1953 Ionian Earthquake, there were 200 oil presses operating on the island; today, there are thirteen. There are over one million olive trees on Cephalonia, covering almost 55% of the island's area. Olive oil is very important to the island's local, rural economy. "Koroneiki" and "theiako" are the two main varieties cultivated on the island, and followed by a smaller number are "ntopia" and "matolia". Kefalonian olive oil has a green tone, a rich, greasy touch, and low acidity.
Tourism to Cephalonia started in the early 19th century, also the Royal Family of Greece sent their children in the summer months to Lixouri. But the island for a long time was not discoved by mass tourism until the 1980s.
Tourists from all over Greece, Europe and the world visit Cephalonia. It is a popular vacation destination for many Italians, due to its close proximity to Italy. As one of the largest islands in Greece, it is well-equipped to handle the influx of tourists during the summertime, it has something to offer everyone.
Two natural attractions, Melissani's underground lake and Myrtos beach, have helped popularize Cephalonia. The film, Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001), shot on the island itself, made Cephalonia more widely known.
The bell tower (Campanile) of churches in Kefalonia is normally next church: St. Gerasimos in Skala
Monasteries and churches
Across the broader island, two large monasteries are to be found: the first is that of Haghia Panagia, in Markopoulo to the southeast, and the other lies on the road between Argostoli and Michata, on a small plain surrounded by mountains. This second has an avenue of about 200 trees aligned from NW to SE, with a circle in the middle, and is the monastery of Saint Gerasimus of Kefalonia, patron saint of the island, whose relics can be seen and venerated at the old church of the monastery. The monastery of "Sissia" was probably found by Francis of Assisi, it was destroyed 1953 but the ruins still exist.
Although the island was destroyed by some earthquakes, many notable churches all over the island have survived. Some dating back to the renaissance. The ornaments of the churches are influenced by Venetian manierism.
The Lixouri Philharmonic Orchestra during Easter
The Ionian Islands have an musical tradition called the Ionian School. Lixouri has the Philharmonic Orchestra (since 1836) and Argostoli the Rokos Vergottis Conservatory. Richard Strauss visited Lixouri some times where he had an affair with the pianist Dora Wihan (born Weiss).
Literature and film
The novelists Nikos Kavvadias (1910-1975) and the Swiss Georges Haldas (1917-2010) spent parts of their life on the island. Andreas Laskaratos was a satirical poet and wrote about the society in the town of Lixouri. Kay Cicellis wrote about the earthquake in her book "Death of a town". Lord Byron wrote parts of "Prelude" and "Don Juan" in Livatho.
Perhaps the best known appearance of Cephalonia in popular culture is in the novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, by English author Louis de Bernières. The book is believed to be inspired by the picturesque village of Farsa, just outside of Argostoli. The love story comprising the theme of the book is set before and after the Acqui Division massacre, during the Second World War, and the film adaptation was released in 2001.
During filming there was lively debate between the production team, local authorities as well as groups of citizens, as to the complex historical details of the island's antifascist resistance. As a result political references were omitted from the film, and the romantic core of the book was preserved, without entering complex debates about the island's history. In 2005 Ennio Morricone made his film Cefalonia, also about the massacre.
Korgialeneios Museum (under the Korgialeneios Library) in ArgostoliKosmetatos Foundation in ArgostoliArchaeological Museum of ArgostoliIakovatios-Library (and museum) in LixouriMuseum in FiskardoKefalonia Natural History Museum