According to ancient Greek mythology the island (Kefalonia)
was named after King Kefalus, a young Athenian. The island's
first recorded inhabitants were the Taphians from Mycenae
in the Peloponnese. The Taphians trying to expand their lands
and believing it to be part of their inheritance demanded
part of King Electryon of Mycenae's domain. He refused and
when Taphios's son Pterelaus went on to steel a herd of his
oxen he was incensed. Electryon engaged the help of Kefalos
of Attica and Eleios who in turn were given different parts
of the island as their spoils of war, Elios (which still
retains its name today) is in the south of the island.
Kefalonia was divided into four administrative units; these Tetrapolis cities
were Pali (today's Lixouri), Krani (on the outskirts of Argostoli), Sami and
Proni, all named after the hero Kefalos's four sons. During ancient times the
four cities of Kefalonia were autonomous with their own regimes and coins.
In the plains and valleys the soil is so rich is that the Dropola grape, which
makes the distinctive local wines, will grow on no other island. It is said that
the grapevines were actually brought to the island by Kefalos, the son of Hermes
and messenger of the gods.
based on findings of fossil bones of huge mammals in the island
of Kefalonia, conclude that during the Prehistoric Era, the level
of the water was 100 m. lower and the island communicated by
land with other islands and coasts of the Ionian Sea.
Kefalonia was one of the first places in Greece to be inhabited during the Palaeolithic
era, as shown by fossil plants, animals bones, etc, found in Fiskardo with tools
dating back to 50,000 BC discovered in Skala and Sami.
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.
Romans: In 187 B.C., the Romans conquered
the island after months of confrontations against local inhabitants.
The Romans wanted the island as a strategic point in order
to conquer the mainland and they made Kefalonia an important
Byzantine: During this period of history,
invaders and pirate raids constantly threatened Kefalonia.
It became an important administrative centre and key defence
point during the Byzantine period (from the 4th century AD),
as the North African pirates, the Saracens, ravaged the Mediterranean
coast. For over two hundred years many of the battles between
the Mediterraneans and Saracens took place in the Ionian.
Most of the inhabitants of the islands lived in villages
up in the hillsides, away from the coast to escape the Saracen
Frankish and Venetian: In 1185, Kefalonia
came under Frankish rule. Conquered successively by the Normans,
Orsinis, Andegans and Toccans. The Turks ruled the island
for a short period, (1479-1481) and (1485-1500). From 1500
to 1797 it was ruled by Venice. The capital of the island
became the fortress of Saint Georgios and the General Command
of Venetian officers who settled there.
Around 1480, Kefalonia was still occupied by the Venetians when the first wave
of Turkish attacks, led by the bloodthirsty Ahmed Pasha, was made around 1480.
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
St 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 the island of Kefalonia.
St. Georgios Fortress: From 300 meters high, the castle has been keeping an eye on everything since it was built 800 years ago. Recent renovations have restored some of the castle’s former glory, while the views from this strategic vantage point are magnificent and encompass a large part of the island, including Argostoli and Karavado.
The Venetian Castle of Saint Georgios is located 7 km south east of Argostoli, above the village of Peratata. It has a polygonal shape and covers an area of 16,000 sq. m. It took its name from the old chapel of Saint George at the top of the hill before the fortification. This Castle was originally built in the 12th century by the Byzantines but it was mostly the Venetians who
gave it its present form. In fact, its external walls were built in 1504 by the Venetians. 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 nearly 500 years Venetian culture has been 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 was the Venetians who were responsible for the planting of many of the olive trees that can still be found on the island.
At the time of its glory, inside the Castle, there were residences, public buildings, storehouses with food and guns, churches, hospitals, cisterns of water and generally an organised town. The castle has three powerful bastions and an underground prison. A long escape tunnel has also been found underground that was probably used to connect the city with the port of Argostoli.The castle is in ruins today and only a few buildings survive. It was not only the time and wars that caused its damages. This castle also suffered a lot from the earthquake that hit Kefalonia in 1956. In fact, this Castle was the capital of Kefalonia before Argostoli was made the new capital in 1757. Close to a small square in the castle, you will also see the ruins of the Catholic Church of Saint Nicholas.
French and British: The Venetian Rule
ended in 1797 and the island was occupied by the French,
who were then warmly welcomed by the inhabitants as Napoleon
made them believe that he would liberate the Ionian Islands
from the oligarchic system. 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.
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 for 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 whilst residing at Metaxata that
he composed Don Juan.
Although Kefalonia remained under the English rule, the islanders participated
in the Greek Revolution of Independence of 1821 against the Turkish who then
ruled the major part of Greece. The island was finally unified with the rest
of Greece in 1864.