Panoramic view of Assos
|Island chain:||Ionian Islands|
|Area:||906.5 km² (350 sq.mi.)|
|Highest mountain:||Megas Soros (1,627 m (5,338 ft))|
|Prefecture:||Kefalonia and Ithaka|
|Population:||36,404 (as of 2001)|
|Density:||40 /km² (104 /sq.mi.)|
|Postal code:||280 xx|
The island of Kefalonia, also known as Cephallenia, Cephallonia, Kefallinia, or Kefallonia (Ancient Greek: Κεφαλληνία; Modern Greek: Κεφαλονιά or Κεφαλλονιά; Italian: Cefalonia), is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece, with an area of 350 sq. miles. It is also the larger of the two islands forming the Kefalonia and Ithaka Prefecture, and contains eight of the prefecture's nine municipalities or communities. (Ithaca is on a separate island.)
The capital of the Kefalonia prefecture is Argostoli. The island's population is nearly 45,000; it previously was home to the fastest growing population in Greece, with a growth rate of 35% to 40% during the 1990s. It was officially 36,404 at the census of 2001. The size of the island is ca. 800 km2 (300 mi2), and the present population density is 55 people per km2 (140/mi2), with Argostoli home to 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.
Kefalonia is located in the heart of an earthquake zone, and dozens of minor or unrecorded tremors occur each year. In 1953, a massive earthquake almost destroyed settlement on the island, leaving only Fiscardo in the north untouched.
Most of the Kefalonia population have surnames ending in "-atos". Almost every community in Kefalonia has a name ending in "-ata", such as Valsamata, Frangata, Lourdata, Favata, Delaportata, and others.
In the ancient period, before it was named Kefalonia, the island was known to have a population of only 100 to 300; at the ancient founding of Kefalonia, the population trebled to around 500 - 1,000 people. The population grew steadily, until it reached 10,000 in the mid-20th century, with the total topping 20,000 by the 1970s.
Kefalonia's highest mountain is Mount Ainos, with an elevation of 1628m; to the west-northwest are the Paliki mountains, where Lixouri is sited, with other mountains taking in Gerania and Agia Dynati.
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. These fires still pose a major threat to the population of Kefalonia.
The primary agricultural occupations of Kefalonia 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; the majority of the island is rugged and mountainous, suitable only for goats. Less than a quarter of the island's land is arable.
The majority of Kefalonians lived in rural areas before the 1970s, while today the urban population accounts for two-thirds of the prefecture, and the other third remain in rural towns and villages close to farmland.
There are five harbours and ports in the prefecture: four main harbours on the island, Same or Sami, and a major port with links to Patras and Ithaca. Poros, in the south, has ferry routes to Kyllini; Argostoli, in the west, is the largest port, for local boats and ferries to Zante and regularly to Lixouri; Fiscardo, in the north, has links to Lefkas and Ithaca. There is room for about 100 small boats in Argostoli, where the port stretches 1 kilometre around the bay, while Lixouri is situated 4 km across the bay from Argostoli, on the Lixouri peninsula. There is a road connection to the rest of the island, but driving from Lixouri to Argostoli involves a 30 km detour.
Cape Atheras (North-West corner of island)
Since 1997 the island is divided into 8 communities or towns. These are:
See also: List of settlements in the Kefalonia and Ithaka prefecture
The most important natural sight might may be the Melissani and the Drogarati cave. The top of the mountain Ainos is covered with Abies cephalonica trees and is declared a natural park. Kefalonia is also well known for its endangered loggerhead turtle population which nest at Kaminia beach under the watchful protection of the Sea Turtle Protection society.
In late 2006 a Roman grave complex was uncovered as excavations took place for a new hotel in Fiscardo. The structures date to Roman times—between the 2nd century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. Archaeologists described it as the most important find of its kind ever made in the Ionian Islands. Inside the tomb five burial sites were found, including a large vaulted grave and a stone coffin, along with gold earrings and rings, gold leaves that may have been attached to ceremonial clothing, glass and clay pots, bronze artefacts decorated with masks, a bronze lock and copper 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 opened the stone door easily swung open on its stone hinges. Almost next to the tomb a Roman theatre was discovered, so well preserved that the metal joints between the seats were still intact.
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 lined from NW to SE with a circle in the middle, and is the monastery of Agios Gerasimos, patron saint of the island whose relics is on show for veneration at the old church of the monastery
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 awarded with the island of Samos, which thereafter came to be known as Cephallenia.
Kefaloina is also 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 Kefalonia, 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.
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 archaeological point of view Kefalonia is an extremely interesting island. Archaeological findings go back to 40,000 BP. Without any doubt the island's most important era is the Mycenaean era from approx. 1500-1100 B.C. The archaeological museum in Kefalonia’s capital Argostoli – although small – is regarded as the most important museum in Greece for its exhibits from this era. http://www.leepka.gr/mouseioarg.php
The most important archaeological discovery in Kefalonia (and in Greece) of the past 20 years was the discovery in 1991 of the Mycenaean tholos tomb at the outskirts of the village Tzanata, near Poros in south-eastern Kefalonia (Municipality of Elios-Pronni) in a lovely setting of olive trees, cypresses and oaks. The tomb was erected around 1300 B.C. In these tholos tombs kings and high ranked officials were buried in the Mycenaean period. It is the biggest tholos tomb yet found in north-western Greece. The tomb 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.
During the Middle Ages there existed the County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples and later the Venetian Republic. Venetian rule was interrupted by Ottoman rule between 1479-1500.
In the 16th to 18th centuries, it was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world, providing with Zakynthos and owned a large shipping fleet, even commissioning ships from the Danzig shipyard. The towns and villages mostly were built high on hilltops, to prevent attacks from raiding parties of pirates that sailed the Ionian Sea during the 1820s.
From 1797 to 1798, the island was part of the French départment Ithaque. From 1799 to 1807, it was part of the Septinsular Republic, nominally under sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire but protected by Russia. After a renewed period under French control (1807–1809), it was liberated by Britain and became part of the British-controlled United States of the Ionian Islands from 1815 to 1864.
In 1864, Kefalonia, together with all the other Ionian Islands, became a full member of the Greek state.
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 the nine thousand surviving Italian soldiers were executed as a reprisal by German forces. While the war ended in central Europe in 1945, Kefalonia remained in a state of conflict due to the Greek Civil War. Peace returned to Greece and the island in 1949.
Kefalonia is just to the east of a major tectonic fault, where the European plate meets the Aegean plate at a slip boundary. This is similar to the more famous San Andreas Fault. There are regular earthquakes along this fault.
A series of four earthquakes hit the island in August 1953, and caused major destruction, with virtually every house on the island destroyed. The third and most destructive of the quakes took place on August 12, 1953 at 09:24 UTC (11:24 local time), with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was directly below the southern tip of Kefalonia, and caused the entire island to be raised 60 cm higher, where it remains, with evidence in water marks on rocks around the coastline.
This 1953 disaster caused huge destruction, with only regions in the north escaping the heaviest tremors and houses there remaining intact. Damage was estimated to run into tens of millions of dollars, equivalent to billions of drachmas, but the real damage to the economy occurred when residents left the island. An estimated 100,000 of the population of 125,000 left the island soon after, seeking a new life elsewhere.
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 seen 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 within the Argostoli periphery. 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. The fire later burnt out, having consumed thousands of hectares of forests and bushes. It transformed a natural beauty into an undemanding scenery.
Perhaps the best known appearance of Kefalonia 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 around the island's history. In 2005 Ennio Morricone made his film Cefalonia, also about the massacre.
A large number of tourists visit Kefalonia during the peak season but, as one of the largest islands in Greece, it is well-equipped to handle visitors. Most tourists stay in or around Lassi, a serene resort a few kilometres from Argostoli and in the villages Skala and Katelios in the Municipality of Elios-Pronni. Their numbers have increased since the best-seller, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, was made a film (2001) shot on the island itself. Many people from all over Greece and the world visit Kefalonia. Many tourists come from Italy mostly because of its close location.
The island is covered by dense vegetation and offers a great range of natural beauty, including beaches—many of them inaccessible from land—and spectacular caves. Mirtos, the most famous of these beaches, is a major tourist attraction, and has been ranked fifth worldwide for its beauty. Fishing is very common throughout the waters within and around the island, and the harbours of Argostoli and Lixouri are the main fishing centres. Overfishing can be a problem in Kefalonia, and in the Ionian area generally.
The first larger roads were built by the English in the 19th century. In the 20th century asphalted roads were built, and since 1995 almost all streets connecting villages and beaches are covered with asphalt. since ca. 2000 the Lixouri bypass was built and a four lane street south of Argostoli was constructed. Some important roads include:
Kefalonia has one airport, Kefalonia Island International Airport, with a runway around 2.4 km. in length, located about 10 km south of Argostoli. Almost every scheduled flight is an Olympic route, flying mainly to and from Athens, although there is an Ionian Island Hopper www.airsealines.com service 3 times a week calling at Kefalonia, Zante and Lefkas. In summer the airport handles a number of charter flights from all over Europe.