A Brief History Of Kefalonia
In order that the family historian can better
understand the culture, the literature and the soul of the Kefalonians,
Kefalonian Roots presents a brief outline of the history of the island. It must
be mentioned that being an island at the cross roads of the Western and the
Eastern worlds, Kefalonians have experienced occupations by many different
governments, some from the West and some from the East. The experiences of
siege, occupation and war; the kidnapping of young people to work as slaves in
other countries; as well as the presence of the genteel arts of music, painting,
architecture, literature, dance, and entertaining; and an efficient
governmental administration, have all
greatly influenced the life of Kefalonians. It is of general consent that in
all of Greece, the culture of the Ionian provinces, (including Corfu, Lefkada,
Kefalonia and Zakinthos), is the most refined in reference to art, music,
literature and architecture. This is due mostly to the influence of the Venetians, who
governed the area for 300 years. Kefalonia could be called a cultural garden,
since it exhibits traces of all of the cultures which have been present on the island
through out its history.
A Brief Outline of the History of Kefalonia
Archeological finds in several areas of Kefalonia have given proof that the
island was first inhabited cir. 10,000 BC.
One of the peaks of civilization on the island
was during the Mycenaean Peroid -1500-1100 BC . This fact was certified by
domed, carved, graves found near Mavrata, Eleioy-Proni; Metaxata and
Livatho and Kontogenada, Paliki.
During the time of the Odyssey, 12th century BC,
Homer described Kefalonia as three islands, which he named Dolihion, Sami and
Eliessa. These names represent the areas of Paliki, Sami and Eleioy-Proni
From mythology we learn that Kefalos, a refugee
from Athens, came to Kefalonia and conquered a group of inhabitants named Tafi
who lived on the western peninsula of the island (the southwest quadrant of
present day Paliki). Over a period of time he controlled the island and became
king. King Kefalos had four sons, Pali, Sami, Krani and Proni.. He awarded
each a portion of the island, and over a period of time, each section became an
autonomous democracy. We can still see these names on the present day map of
Kefalonia. Krani is the area at the base of the mountains, around
Argostoli. See Political Map
The official symbol of Cephalos -
Little history is recorded from the Roman and
Byzantine Periods. The most significant event which occurred in the period of
886-912 AD, was that Kefalonia became the seat of the provincial government of
the Ionian Islands.
From the year 1082 (26 years after William the Conqueror occupied England)
until the year 1479 (13 years before Columbus discovered America), the Normans
dominated Kefalonia. During this period of history, the capital of the island
was St George’s Castle located in the area of Peratata, Livatho and the main
port was Argostoli.
Name, Derivation and Meaning of Places and Towns of
Kefalonia and Political Map.
In 1479 the Turks occupied Kefalonia. Twenty-one
years later on December 24, 1500, the Venetians capture St George’s Castle and
continued to rule Kefalonia for the next 300 years, influencing the culture,
architecture and language and the method of maintaining records. During this
period, two cities began to develop, Argostoli – 1528 and Lixouri – 1534. In
1757 the Venetian Governor’s House was moved from St. George’s Castle to
Argostoli, thus elevating Argostoli to capital of Kefalonia.
Due to the lack of large areas of cultivable land,
many men found an occupation in merchant shipping. Some Kefalonian
developed large shipping companies and hired most of their crews from their home
island, Kefalonia. See Registry
of Kefalonian Philanthropists
and The Directory of Kefalonian
Seamen. Due to these facts, many Kefalonians eventually made
their home in other countries, where opportunities for a better life could be
In 1797 Napoleon abolished the Venetian State and for various periods of time
over the next 18 years the French, Russians, Turks and English ruled the Ionian
Islands. In 1815, the Vienna Congress and the Paris Conventions formulated the
law that the Ionian Islands would be named The United States of the Ionian
Islands, and become an independent state under the protection of England.
The English Government, in 1812, appointed Charles
Napier as Civil and Military Governor. He was responsible for the building of
bridges, roads and public buildings, the most significant of which was the
Markato in Lixouri. The Markato was the first courthouse on the island of
Kefalonia, and the courtroom held 600 people. This beautiful, colonnaded
landmark remained standing until the earthquake of 1953.
The Kefalonians held dearly the ideals of the American and French
Revolution. In the long term this thinking lead to their freedom, but in the
short term, it lead to much political unrest and blood shed. Three courageous
men, Elias Zervos, Joseph Manferatos and Gerasimos Livadas, led the people’s
revolt, against England, in Kefalonia. By using persecution, exile, imprisonment and many means
of violence, the British tried to hold down these revolts; however, to no
avail. In 1850 the Queen proclaimed free elections, and the first Greek
Parliament, named the Ionian Parliament, was formed. For the next 14 years the
Kefalonians struggled to unite with unoccupied Greece (at this time parts of
Greece were still occupied by the Turks – Ottoman Empire). Finally, at noon on
May 21, 1864, the British sailed from Kefalonia, making the Kefalonians’ dream
of being united with Greece, a reality. National and Kefalonian Holidays May 21,1864.
In the 1900’s Kefalonians played a role in the First and Second World Wars,
and unfortunately both the Italians and Germans occupied Kefalonia during WW
II. Many places were bombed, many people were killed or executed, and many
families were destroyed. After the Second World War, Civil War broke out in
Greece causing more blood shed and heartache. Not long after, the earthquake of
1953 hit the island and destroyed 90% of the homes, leaving Kefalonia in
physical disaster and the Kefalonians in mental and economic distress. Because
Kefalonia was shattered physically, mentally and economically, many of its
inhabitants emigrated to other countries, basically depleting its population.
Immigrant Ancestor Registry.
However, a political and social change occurred in
the early 1950’s, which allowed for the steady advancement of the land workers,
a type of serf. This change came about by the passing of the law –
Αγροληψίαι πάσης φύσεως υφιστάμεναι εις τας Ιονίους Νήσους,
πλην Κερκύρας και Ζακύνθου δι’ ας ισχύουν
ειδικοί Νόμοι, διαλύονται κατά τας διατάξεις του παρόντος
- in 1954, which stopped the system of the land being owned by a few and those
few having “serfs” to work the land. In brief, this law provided that the land
of the landowner – Άρχοντας, Αγροδότης
– was to be divided up as follows: that the land cultivated by a worker –
“serf”, αγρολήπτης was to be divided,
so that the worker
would receive and become owner of one half of the land area that he had
cultivated for the landowner, and the other half would remain in the possession
of the land owner. Also, that the worker could purchase any other land which
the landowner wished to sell. This law allowed for all people, especially the
humble and poor, to become economically independent for the first time.
During the Dictatorship of George Papadopoulos,
late 1960’s-1968, running water and electricity were installed, and in the
1980’s telephone lines were laid in the villages; thus bringing an easier,
more comfortable and modern life to the inhabitants. The 1980’s also brought economic growth to
all of Greece, and the daily lifestyle of Kefalonians leaped from that of the
“early 1900’s” to that of the late 1900’s” in just 20 years.
The first home telephones 1982-3
Today, Kefalonians enjoy many of the same modern
conveniences and personal freedoms as do most Europeans. The children of the
present generation have a better opportunity than any generation before, of
obtaining a very good education. Construction and tourism are rising and many
people, who had left Kefalonia with nothing after the 1953 earthquake, are
returning to their family homesteads and building new, modern homes.
In the year 2006 Kefalonia is in a period of peace
and economic growth. The population is enjoying a lifestyle never dreamed of by
previous generations. There is however, still the problem of unemployment.
Being an island, Kefalonia has no factories or large businesses, which employ a
great number of people. Farmers are getting low prices for their produce as
the costs of farm supplies rise each year; and although tourism is developing,
it is in constant competition with other countries, which offer hotels and tours
at lower prices.
In spite of these continuing problems, the facts
that, Kefalonia is part of a free country and its people enjoy personal freedoms,
allow the Kefalonians to rejoice, to sing and to dance from their soul
-- and they do! They have, what the Greeks call KEFFY – gusto for life,
enjoyment of life -- and that gets them through anything !
Spontaneous dancing, with KEFFY
In the year 2006, Kefalonia is in a province of Greece, which
is a member country of the European Union.
- Babiniotis,G., Dictionary of the Modern Greek Language, 2nd Ed., Athens, Center of Lexicology Ε.Π.Ε.,
- Kefalonia – Wandering Around Palliki, League of the Development of Kefalonia,
Athens, Sarantopoulos & Co., 1992.
- Moshopoulou, Dr. Georgos N., The History of Kefalonia, Vols. I and II,
Athens, Kefalos, 1985-88.
- Darling, Valerie and Peter, Manzavinata, Kefalonia
- Loukeris, Joseph, Notary Public – Συμβολαιογράφος,
- Synodinos, Evaggelos Dimitris, Soullaroi, Kefalonia
- Synodinoy, Jannoula Magdalinoy, Land Registration Office, Archives, Lixouri, Kefalonia
for land law of 1954.