History & Culture of the Island of Kefalonia

Θολωτός Τάφος
Figure 1. Vaulted Tomb

Kefalonia is an island of historical interest with many monuments and sites that testify human activities and civilization from the prehistoric period to modern times. Important reference sites of early human activity in Kefalonia comprise the Quarry in Minies with evidence of extraction and in-situ processing of pyrites occurred during the Old and Middle Stone Age as well as Drakaina cave in Poros gorge where there have been detected traits of ritual gatherings during the Neolithic period that testify the existence of organized and extroverted prehistoric societies living on the island.

In antiquity, highly developed civilization occurred as it is evidenced by the abundance of monuments built around the island such as the popular Mycenaean tombs at Tzanata (Fig. 1) and the ancient cemeteries of Mazarakata, Lakkithra and Kondogennada, as well as the city walls of ancient Krani and the broader area of ancient city of Sami with the remnants of the Acropolis and its surrounding walls. During those days and the following years (in the Mycenaean era and till the Classical period), the economic development of the island was based on the natural resources including agricultural and maritime activities that rendered Kefalonia famous for its timber, olive oil and wine production and of course its maritime power.

During the Roman period, the island of Kefalonia continued to be an important center of maritime activity. The remains of Roman villas at Skala and Agia Efimia, and the Roman baths (Balnea) in Sami as well as in Fiskardo where it was also discovered a Mausoleum and a Roman cemetery provide precious information about the daily life during those days.

Κάστρο Αγίου Γεωργίου Λειβαθούς
Figure 2. Saint George’s Castle, Leivatho

During the Byzantine and the Post-Byzantine period, Kefalonia played a key role in defense and claim of great powers interests in the Ionian and the wider area of the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, the island was targeted and attacked by pirates and an economic and social turmoil was created during Xenocracy. The monuments of that period were built for defense - fortification (St George’s Castle, Fig. 2) or for religious purposes (Holy Monasteries of Atros, Kipoureon, Fig. 3, Saints Fanenton, etc).

During the 19th century, Kefalonia got under the English occupation and the conquerors invested in the construction of public and private works around the island (De Bosset Bridge in Koutavos lagoon, Stevenson watermill in Karavomylos). However, in 1864 English left and it took place the much desired union of Kefalonia with all the rest of the Ionian Islands with Greece. Urbanization was on the rise improving economic growth and the development of trade and products processing, apart the sector of primary production.

In the 20th century, living conditions became rather challenging for the inhabitants of the island, with the occurrence of the two World Wars (Italian War Memorial of the Acqui Division in Argostoli), the Civil War afterwards and the catastrophic earthquakes in 1953 leading to the destruction and dereliction of even entire villages such as Old Vlachata and Digaleto.

Ι.Μ. Κηπουραίων Παλικής

The historical richness of Kefalonia reveals the configuration of an interesting and diverse cultural background with impacts from all the different periods mentioned above. Characteristic examples comprise Kefalonian dialect with obvious influences of conquerors’ Latin languages and idioms and the great musical tradition of the island including philharmonic orchestras, serenades and traditional songs. The folklore of the island is also very rich and includes traditional dances such as Kefalonian Syrtos, Divaratikos, Mermigas, etc., traditional costumes and recipes (Kefalonian meat pie and burdetto). Besides, there are many local customs for every single important celebration and event, and less common traditional practices such as embroidery using the evergreen succulent Agave americana and the collection of salt from sea water ponds. There are also well-known Kefalonian products such as robola wine, a local white variety with Superior Quality Designation of Origin (OPAP) and mandoles (candied almonds).

In addition, Kefalonia represents an important holiday and religious destination, with a well-developed net of agritourism and many cultural events and traditional festivals to listen, dance and enjoy local music and food. During summer the island hosts various artists who organize and participate in Saristra Art Festival and SeaNema Open Air Film Festival by the Sea.