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HISTORY OF THE ISLAND
Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands along with the island of Ithaca which forms the prefecture of Kefalonia. It has a population of 37,000 inhabitants, and its capital town is Argostoli. The mountainous morphology of its terrain with the flow of much water creates strange geological phenomena. Beautiful rocky shores and sandy beaches surround the island on all sides. Its mild climate with its sun shining during most of the days of the year, allows the visitors to enjoy the sea and its natural beauties. The Argostoli airport and the seaports of Sami, Agia Efimia and Argostoli, provide the possibility for good communication and development of tourism.
It is believed that the island got its name from Kefalos, who was its first King. The island is mentioned as tetrapolis, because in ancient times it was divided into four cities which took their names from the four sons of Kefalos: Pali, Krani, Sami and Proni. By the 11th century B.C., the island had developed into one of the cultural centers of the Mycenean civilization. From archeological findings such as fossils, animals and plants, bones, tools and utensils that the Kefalonian archaeologist Mr. Spiros Marinatos has brought to light, it seems that there has been life on the island since long ago.One can admire all these findings that come from the Mycenean graves at Mazarakata, Kokkolata and Lakythra as well as at the Archaeological Museum of Argostoli.
THE ROMANS IN KEFALONIA
The wars of the Romans against Greece started in 200 B.C. The Romans wanted to conquer the famous, island of Ulysses more out of ambition than anything else.Kefalonia became a naval base for the Roman forces and a base of operations against the rest of Greece in 189 B.C.
THE BYZANTINE PERIOD
Following the division of the Roman Empire into an Eastern and Western state (395 A.D.), Kefalonia already belonged to the Byzantine Empire. It played an important part in the defense of the Empire in confronting the pirates who came from North Africa and destroyed the coastal regions of the Mediterranean Sea.
FRANKISH AND VENETIAN RULE
In 1185, Kefalonia came under Frankish rule. It was conquered successive 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 George and the General Command of Venetian officers who settled there, but the location and importance of the port of Argostoli compelled them to transfer the capital to Argostoli in 1757.The French also settled in Kefalonia for short periods. There was French possession during 1797-1799 and 1807-1809, the first time by the Republicans and the second time by the imperial forces of Napoleon.
The British settled in Kefalonia in 1809, and their rule played an important part in the island’s development.The streets of Argostoli and Livathos were constructed then by the distinguished administrator of the island Philip de Bosset. He himself cared for the city planning of Argostoli. He constructed important public buildings and the Drapanos Bridge that had originally been made of wood.Also important buildings have been constructed by the Governor Charles Napier, such as the Argostoli Court House, the customs house, the Lighthouse of Saint Theodoros, the Market of Lixouri and others.British rule in Kefalonia ended in 1864 following the union of the Ionian Islands with the rest of Greece.
FOLKLORE – TRADITIONS
The influence of the European conquerors on the life and habits of Kefalonians resulted in a particular way of shaping their speech, attire, education and art. The language was influenced by the Italian and Venetians. Many Italian words are preserved even today. The aristocrats used to send their sons to study in Western Europe, mainly in Italy. It was customary to teach their daughters foreign languages, how to play the piano, have tea in the afternoon, go to the theater, to evening parties or dancing parties.
They often travelled abroad and brought to the island the best European textiles, lace, dresses, furniture and decorative objects. They gave women a special place in society, which Greek women who lived in Greece under Turkish rule did not have. An important part in the life of the Kefalonians was played by the theater , where important plays were performed by Italian troupes and Kefalonian amateur actors.
Kefalonians have been influenced a lot by Italian music. The National Music School was established in Lixouri by Dionysis Lavrangas (1864-1941). The arias that gradually became Greek creations, the serenades and the local popular songs, always sung with the accompaniment of a guitar have Italian influence. The church chanting of Kefalonia also stands out. It has a peculiarity and majesty that departs from the Byzantine tradition.
Formal European balls were given then by rich people. The popular also public dances started later and gradually dancing schools and ballrooms were established.
In the beginning, the local dances were influenced by Cretan and Peloponnesian dances, but later they acquired their own character and were accompanied by violins, guitars or mandolins. These dances are preserved even today. We see them at carnivals, celebrations and festivals. They are: Ballos, Mermingas, Girouzatos, Divaratikos, Syrtos, Voskopoules and others. They are presented by the local dancing groups and others.