It is said that Kefalonia derives its name from King Kephalos, the legendary founder of its four ancient cities - Sami, Pahli, Krani and Pronnoi - named after his four children Kefalonia was made up of four autonomous city states in its earliest civilisation, each with their own coinage.In Homeric times (around 1,200 BC), Kefalonia formed part of the kingdom of Odysseus. The first known reference to 'Kefallines' can be found in Homer's Iliad, although this refers to Odysseus' people on several of the Ionian Islands.There is strong evidence to suggest that Kefalonia was actually Homer's Ithaca and the Mycenaean ruins excavated at Tzannata - Poros were once Odysseus´ home - Kefalonia and Ithaca have not always been known by their present names. The island has been famous throughout the centuries for its silver fir trees whose aromatic aroma still pervades parts of the island. Found only on Kefalonia and in certain parts of Russia and Canada, the wood of the trees is ideal for shipbuilding. Odysseus made good use of it when building his fleet as did the Venetians some 2000 years later.It is said that Napoleon's first question, when introduced to a Kefalonian, was regarding the firs that grew on the 'Mighty Mountain', Mount Ainos.
Roman & Byzantine Kefalonia
As the Venetians executed the Genoese pirate Leone Vetrano who held the island occupied in 1207, the family Orsini put all her possession under the rule of the Venetians, although only some years later, in 1386, after the fall of Constantinople, the Venetians could claim, finally, the island as their own.Kefalonia was still occupied by the Venetians when the first wave of Turkish attacks, led by the blood-thirsty Ahmed Pasha, was made around 1480. The historian William Miller wrote that Ahmed Pasha; 'chopped up all the nobility, burnt the castle of Kefalonia and transported many of the peasants to Constantinople. There, the sultan separated the men from the women and forced the men to marry women from Ethiopia and vice-versa in order to create a race of semi-coloured people to be used as slaves. Again the Venetians fought back and after two years of Turkish occupation the island was theirs once more. Well, not for long, as the Venetians ended up giving it back to the Turks in a treaty in 1485! The Turkish soldiers garrisoned at Saint Georgios Castle were notoriously cruel to the local population who abandoned the low lands almost immediately, leaving their homes and crops untended. The island was in a desolate state when the Venetians and Spanish won their crusade against the Ottoman Turks in 1500 to gain control once more of Kefalonia. It was the strategic importance of Kefalonia that attracted the fleet of Venice; Venetian ships finding shelter from attack in Kefalonian ports and the island serving as a valuable stepping stone to the east. For most of this period Saint Georgios was the island's political centre but after a huge earthquake severely damaged the fort in 1757, the capital was moved to the port of Argostoli. For nearly 500 years Venetian culture was deeply embedded into that of the Ionian. From Venice came fashions, art, music, letters, its education and health systems, its laws and architecture and even the tomato! It were the Venetians who were responsible for the planting of many of the olive trees that can still be found on the island.
French & British Kefalonia
Venetian rule came to an end in 1797 when the French gained control of Venice's overseas possessions. The islanders welcomed the French with their revolutionary ideology, planting symbolic trees of liberty in the main squares and hoisting up the Tricolour. Peace, however, did not last long after revolts broke out….. 1800 saw the formation of the ‘Eptanisos’ - the State of Seven Islands. It did, however, not last long! After another brief occupation by the French, the Napoleonic wars broke out and the island came under British control in the early years of the 19th Century. Of the seventeen British governors who ruled Kefalonia, only Sir Charles Napier was looked upon favourably. His great affection to the island is obvious from the name of his daughter, Emily Kefalonia. The support he offered mainland Greece in the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, despite Britain's official opposition, was characteristic of his behaviour. One of the most famous supporters of the Greek War of Independence, Lord Byron, visited the island in the early 1820s. It was while residing at Metaxata that he composed “Don Juan”. The statue of Laskaratos in Lixouri testifies Kefalonia's endemic poverty in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. Laskaratos had a large family and, receiving little help from the church, constantly heckled the local priest until he was finally excommunicated. In Greek “aforismos”, which means to excommunicate, also means that the body will not decompose after death. The man's response to his excommunication was to hold up the shoes of his children begging the priest to excommunicate them too as he could not afford to replace them!
Independence & modern Kefalonia
In 1863, after a long and bloody struggle, the “London Protocol Treaty” was signed. It states, "The islands Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kythira, Paxos and the other small ones are united with the kingdom of Greece in order to be its part forever, in one united state" and this ended the struggle for Greek independence. Yiannis Metaxas, Prime Minister of Greece during the WW2, (who refused Mussolini's pre-war ultimatum), was himself a Kefalonian. The island, and most of Greece, was occupied during WW2 by both the Italians and the Nazis and the islanders suffered a lot from the hands of the invaders. Kefalonia suffered another disaster in 1953, this time of the natural kind, when the island was shaken to ruins by the earthquake that racked western Greece. Previously there had existed some 365 villages on the island; today that number is greatly reduced and you will see very little pre-earthquake architecture in its entirety. Fiscardo is one of the few places that escaped its destructive power and stayed almost intact. The island today is one of the wealthiest of the Ionians, many of Greece's successful ship merchants came from Kefalonia - the Onassis island Scorpios is not far away from the coast of Lefkas. Kefalonians have always had a reputation for their enterprising nature and many have sought their fortunes abroad. Indeed, Kefalonian doctors can be found all over the world. Such is their renown that it was said mothers would pray that their new born girls would be happy and marry a doctor, although nowadays they would probably wish their future husbands to be a ship owner or an hotelier!