History of Kefalonia

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WorldMediterraneanIonian SeaGreeceKefaloniaHistory of Kefalonia

According to mythology the island was populated by Pterelaos and his followers. Pterelaos was the son of Tarios a son of Poseidon. But soon Pterelaos was defeated by the king of Thebes Amphitryon who gave the island to his friend Cephalus. Cephalus had four sons: Kranios. Paleas, Pronnesos, and Samos. They divided the island to four city-states bearing their names. The island was most likely part of Odysseus kingdom of Ithaki.

The four city-states, Pale, Krane, Pronnos, and Same were independent and form many separate alliances with other Greek cities such as Athens and Corinth. According to Herodotus the Cephalonians stood with the Corinthians against the Persians in 474 BC. After this Persian war the island fell under the Athenian alliance but at the end of the Peloponnesian war she allied with Sparta. But the Athenians invaded the island in 373 BC and held it until 226 BC. The island successfully repulsed the invasion of Philip the Macedon.

On the 2nd century AD Kephalonia was taken over by the Romans. During Byzantine times the island was major naval base and very active in protecting the empire from its many enemies. In 1508 the Norman pirate Robert Guiscard who was king of Sicily landed in the northern cove. He eventually died there and the cove was named after his Italian name Giskardo corrupted Greek as Fiskárdo. During the Crusades the island fell under the Franks and after a treaty with the Venetians in 1204 AD the island was governed by Matthew Orsini under the overlordship of Venice. In 1324 the Naples conquered the island. In 1357 the Neapolitans ceded the island to Leonardo Toko whose family governed the island until 1479 when it was conquered by the Ottomans but the Venetians after a bloody siege took it over in 1500 and held it until 1797.

In 1797 Kephalonia along the rest of the Ionian islands was taken over by the French who were received by the locals as liberators. They governed the island as a republic and established many schools. This period was short because in the 29th of October 1798 the combined Russian and Ottoman fleets invaded the region and in 1800 they established the State of the Seven Islands. This was also short lived and in 1807 the Ionian islands were back into French hands. But in 1809 the British defeated the French and now became the new lords of the region and established the United States of the Ionian Islands. This lasted until 1864 when the Ionian islands became part of the new state of Modern Greece.

After the WW II defeat of Greece by the Germans, their Italian allies occupied the island. After the collapse of the Mussolini fascist regime the Italians surrendered to the allies and the Germans landed on the island.They rounded up the Italian division which until that time was occupying the island. They executed the lot, about 3,000 men with only very few escaping, helped by the locals. Every year on the anniversary of the massacre, the survivors and their families, accompanied by Italian and Greek dignitaries, come for a memorial service.This story is the basis of the fascinating novel Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières and the film which was shot in Kephalonia.

On August 12, 1953 there was a devastating 6.5-7 earthquake on the Ionian. The main city of the island, Argostoli, was almost totally demolished. There were large scale destruction with only the town of Fiskardo spared.

The patron saint of Kephalonia is St. Gerasimos. He is celebrated on October 20 and in August 15 in which day the islanders celebrate both the virgin Mary and one of St. Gerasimos' miracles. The following story was told to me (--Istioploos) my a local taxi driver:

There once was a convent by the sea which was under attack by pirates. The nuns, afraid of being captured and ravished, prayed for deliverance to St. Gerasimos. Soon, a multitude of small, 10 -15 cm, snakes appeared on the monastery grounds. The pirates, who had landed in the mean time, were bitten and scared away by the snakes and the nuns were saved. From that day until today these small snakes appear for a few days around August 15, and they are considered sacred. If they fail to appear it is considered a terrible omen. Last time that they did not appear was 1953 which was followed by the earthquakes that practically demolished Argostoli and Lixouri, the largest towns on the island.

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Names: Istioploos, Athene of Lymington

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