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The History of Kefalonia

Archaeological excavations all over the island have shown that in the Mycenaean era (between 1500-1100 BC) Kefalonia was an important place and the Argostoli Museum of Archaeology is considered to be one of Greece’s most important museums when it comes to artifacts and exhibits from this era. The discoveries that have been made on the island include a number of places mentioned in Homer and the famous Mycenaean Tholos Tomb that was believed to have been erected in 1300BC and was a resting place for the Mycenaean Kings and high ranking officials. The size of the tomb has led archaeologists and historians to the conclusion that the nearby town must have been a significant and important part of the Mycenaean Empire.

Another important excavation in Fiscardo revealed that there were also important Roman settlements on the island. Historians estimate the various Roman remains to be from the period between the second century BC and the third century AD and have described the Fiscardo site as the most important ever discovered on the Ionian Islands. That’s because it contained a complex network of burial sites with large tombs, stone coffins, as well as gold leaves, gold rings, gold earrings, clay and glass pots, ceremonial clothing and bronze masks as well as coins and other treasures. The tomb had sat untouched for thousands of years and near to it there were also the remains of a Roman Theater and other similar sites.

Later on in The Middle Ages, the island was first part of the Byzantine Empire, then the Ottoman Empire by 1500 before being captured by the Spanish-Venetian Army. After that the island remained under the rule of the Venetian Republic until 1684 when the Treaty of Campoformio broke up the Venetian Republic and transferred the sovereignty of the Ionian Islands over to the French.

Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries Kefalonia was the world’s major exporter of currants and had an extensive fleet of fishing vessels, constantly commissioning more from the shipyard in Danzig. Back then all of the villages and towns were built high up on the tops of hills in order to protect themselves from surprise pirate raids.

After that, between 1797 and 1798 the island was briefly a part of the French Ithaca department. It then swiftly became a part of the Septinsular Republic between 1799 and 1807, at which time it was also under the sovereignty of both the Ottoman and Russian Empires. There then followed another brief period wherein the islands fell once more under French control (from 1807 to 1809) after which it was conquered by Great Britain. It then became a dependency under the British Empire and was referred to as the United States of the Ionian Islands. It remained under this British banner until 1864 when the Ionian Islands all became full members of the State of Greece.

Kefalonia suffered badly during the Second World War and endured a number of tragedies while occupied by the Axis Powers. Up until the end of 1943 the powers occupying the island were mostly Italian and were made up of the 33 Infantry Division as well as a number of Italian Navy personnel (totaling around 12000 troops) as well as 2000 Nazi troops. Until 1943 the island avoided most of the fighting. But when the Italians signed the armistice with the Allies things changed for the worse. After the Italian armistice the Italians stationed on the island were keen to return home, but the Nazi’s did not want them to let their weapons fall into the hands of the Allies. However the Italians did not want to surrender their weapons to the Germans and fighting broke out – the Italians dug themselves in on the island and after taking a vote the Italian soldiers decided against surrender – opting instead to fight the Germans.
This fighting culminated in a battle at Argostoli – and the Germans winning and taking control of the whole island. Retribution was swift and 5000 Italian soldiers were slaughtered by the Nazis in summary executions.

After the war the island remained in conflict for a further 4 years as part of the Greek Civil War.

Finally, the last tragedy to hit the island was the Great Earthquake in 1953. Kefalonia has always sat on a major tectonic fault and consequently suffers from regular earthquakes. In August 1953 four major earthquakes hit the island and caused massive destruction – almost every house and building on the island was destroyed. The third quake was 7.3 on the Richter Scale and it raised the entire island by 60cm. It was only the parts of the island that were furthest north that managed to keep any buildings or houses intact. After the earthquake 100,000 of the island’s 125,000 residents left for good. The earthquake had not only destroyed all of the buildings, it also decimated the community too.