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View of Asos, Cephalonia
Cephalonia within the Ionian Islands
|• Vice-Governor||Sotiris Kouris|
|• Mayor||Alexandros Parisis|
|• Total||781 km2 (302 sq mi)|
|• Density||46/km2 (120/sq mi)|
|Postal codes||280 xx|
View of Asos, Cephalonia
Cephalonia within the Ionian Islands
|• Vice-Governor||Sotiris Kouris|
|• Mayor||Alexandros Parisis|
|• Total||781 km2 (302 sq mi)|
|• Density||46/km2 (120/sq mi)|
|Postal codes||280 xx|
Cephalonia or Kefalonia (Greek: Κεφαλονιά or Κεφαλλονιά), formerly also known as Kefallinia or Kephallenia (Κεφαλληνία), is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece. It is also a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. The capital of Cephalonia is Argostoli.
The size of the island is about 781 km2 (300 mi2), and the present population density is 55 people per km2 (140/mi2). The town of Argostoli has 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.
Cephalonia is in the heart of an earthquake zone, and dozens of minor or unrecorded tremors occur each year. In 1953, a massive earthquake almost destroyed all settlement on the island, leaving only Fiscardo in the north untouched.
Among important natural features are the Melissani Lake, the Drogarati caves, and the Koutavos Lagoon in Argostoli.
The island has a rich biodiversity, with a substantial number of endemic and rare species. Parts of it have been declared a site in the European Union’s Natura 2000 network.
The island's highest mountain is Mount Ainos, with an elevation of 1628 m; to the west-northwest are the Paliki mountains, where Lixouri is found, with other mountains including Geraneia (Gerania) and Agia Dynati. The top of Mount Ainos is covered with fir trees and is a natural park.
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 and still pose a major threat to the population.
Cephalonia is well known for its endangered loggerhead turtle population which nest on many beaches along the south coast of the island. A small population of the endangered Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus, also lives around the island's coast, especially on parts of the coast which are inaccessible to humans due to the terrain. Caves on these parts of the coast offer ideal locations for the seals to give birth to their pups and nurse them through the first months of their lives.
On the island lives the European pine marten.
Over 200 species of birds have been spotted on the island.
Cephalonia is a separate regional unit of the Ionian Islands region, and the only municipality of the regional unit. The seat of administration is Argostoli, the main town of the island. As a part of the 2011 Kallikratis government reform, the regional unit of Kefallinia was created out of part of the former Kefalonia and Ithaca Prefecture. At the same reform, the current municipality of Cephalonia was created out of the eight former municipalities:
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 rewarded with the island of Same, which thereafter came to be known as Cephallenia.
Cephalonia has also been 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 Cephalonia, was a separate island during the late Bronze Age, and it may be this which Homer was referring to when he described Ithaca. A project which started in the Summer of 2007 and lasted three years has examined 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 an archaeological point of view, Cephalonia is an extremely interesting island. Archaeological finds go back to 40,000 BP. Without doubt, the most important era for the island is the Mycenaean era, from approximately 1500-1100 B.C. The archaeological museum in Cephalonia’s capital Argostoli – although small – is regarded as the most important museum in Greece for its exhibits from this era.
The most important archaeological discovery in Cephalonia (and indeed in Greece) of the past twenty years was the discovery in 1991 of the Mycenaean tholos tomb at the outskirts of the village of Tzanata, near Poros in south-eastern Cephalonia (Municipality of Elios-Pronni) in a lovely setting of olive trees, cypresses and oaks. The tomb was erected around 1300 B.C, and kings and high-ranked officials were buried in these tholos tombs during the Mycenaean period. It makes up the biggest tholos-tomb yet found in north-western Greece, and 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.
In late 2006, a Roman grave complex was uncovered as excavations took place for the construction of a new hotel in Fiscardo. The remains here date to the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D. Archaeologists described this as the most important find of its kind ever made in the Ionian Islands. Inside the complex five burial sites were found, including a large vaulted tomb and a stone coffin, along with gold earrings and rings, gold leaves which may have been attached to ceremonial clothing, glass and clay pots, bronze artefacts decorated with masks, a bronze lock and bronze 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 was opened the stone door swung easily on its stone hinges. Very near to the tomb a Roman theatre was discovered, so well preserved that the metal joints between the seats were still intact.
A dissertation published in 1987 claims that in AD 59, St. Paul on his way from Palestine to Rome, was not shipwrecked and confined for three months to Malta, but rather, all this took place on Cephalonia.
During the Middle Ages, the island was the center of the Byzantine theme of Cephallenia. After 1185 it became part of the County palatine of Kephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples until its last Count Leonardo III Tocco was defeated by the Ottomans in 1479.
The Turkish rule lasted only until 1500, when it was captured by a Spanish-Venetian army, a rare Venetian success in the Second Ottoman–Venetian War. From then on Cephalonia and Ithaca remained overseas colonies of the Venetian Republic until its very end, following the fate of the Ionian islands, completed by the capture of Lefkas from the Turks in 1684. The Treaty of Campoformio dismantling the Venetian Republic awarded the Ionian Islands to France, a French expeditionary force with boats captured in Venice taking control of the islands in June 1797.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the island was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world with Zakynthos, and owned a large shipping fleet, even commissioning ships from the Danzig shipyard. Its towns and villages were mostly built high on hilltops, to prevent attacks from raiding parties of pirates that sailed the Ionian Sea during the 1820s.
In the following year the French were forced to yield the Ionian Islands to a combined Russian and Turkish fleet. From 1799 to 1807, Cephalonia was part of the Septinsular Republic, nominally under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, but protected by Russia.
By the Tilsit Treaty in 1807, the Ionian Islands were ceded back to France, which remained in control until 1809. Then Great Britain mounted a blockade on the Ionian Islands as part of the war against Napoleon, and in September of that year they hoisted the British flag above the castle of Zakynthos. Cephalonia and Ithaca soon surrendered, and the British installed provisional governments. The treaty of Paris in 1815 recognised the United States of the Ionian Islands and decreed that it become a British protectorate. Colonel Charles Philippe de Bosset became provisional governor between 1810 and 1814. During this period he was credited with achieving many public works, including the Drapano Bridge.
A few years later resistance groups started to form. Although their energy in the early years was directed to supporting the Greeks in the revolution against the Turks, it soon started to turn towards the British. By 1848 the resistance movement was gaining strength and there were skirmishes with the British Army in Argostoli and Lixouri which led to some relaxation in the laws and to freedom of the press. Union with Greece was now a declared aim, and by 1850 a growing restlessness resulted in even more skirmishes. Cephalonia along with the other islands were transferred to Greece in 1864 as a gesture of goodwill when the British-backed Prince William of Denmark became King George the First of the Hellenes.
In 1864, Cephalonia, 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 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, Cephalonia remained in a state of conflict due to the Greek Civil War. Peace returned to Greece and the island in 1949.
Cephalonia lies 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 Cephalonia, and caused the entire island to be raised 60 cm (24 in) 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 (12 sq mi) of forest and bushes and resulting in the loss of some properties. The forest fire scar was visible 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 in and near Argostoli. 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.
In 2011 the 8 former municipalities of the island lost their independence and had to form one single one. After losing its role as the capital of the island in the 19th century, Lixouri lost also its role as a seat of a municipality after 500 years. The Technological Educational Institute of the Ionian Islands closed one faculty in Lixouri and one in Argostoli.
In the ancient period the people lived in four cities on the island. Krani, Sami, Pale and Pronni formed a federation called «tetrapolis».
The population reached 70,000 in 1896, but declined gradually in the 20th century. The great 1953 Ionian Earthquake forced many people to leave the island. Many people left the island, moved to Patras and Athens or immigrated to America and Australia, following their relatives who had left the island decades ago. In the same time people from poorer areas of Greece such as Epirus and Thrace came to the island. The population has hovered between 35,000 and 42,000 since then, and at the 2011 census it was 35,801.
Most of the indigenous people of Cephalonia have surnames ending in "-atos", and almost every settlement on the island has a name ending in "-ata", such as Metaxata, Chavriata, Frangata, Lourdata, Favata, Delaportata and others.
Wine and raisins are the oldest products exported, being important until the 20th century. Today fish farming and calcium carbonate are most important.
The primary agricultural occupations 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, most of which is rugged and mountainous, suitable only for goats. Less than a quarter of the island's land is arable.
Until the 1970s most Cephalonians lived in rural areas, while today the urban population accounts for two-thirds, with the other third in rural towns and villages close to farmland.
Olive oil production is a major component of Cephalonia's economy. Until the 18th Century the quantity of olive oil produced on the island just covered the needs of the residents. However, the pressure of Venetian conquerors’ for olive plantation, especially after the loss of Peloponnese and Crete, resulted in increasing the production to such a degree that the first exports to Venice began. Before the 1953 Ionian Earthquake, there were 200 oil presses operating on the island; today, there are thirteen. There are over one million olive trees on Cephalonia, covering almost 55% of the island's area. Olive oil is very important to the island's local, rural economy. “Koroneiki” and “theiako” are the two main varieties cultivated on the island, and followed by a smaller number are “ntopia” and “matolia”. Kefalonian olive oil has a green tone, a rich, greasy touch, and low acidity.
Tourism to Cephalonia started in the early 19th century, also the Royal Family of Greece sent their children in the summer months to Lixouri. But the island for a long time was not discovered by mass tourism until the 1980s.
Tourists from all over Greece, Europe and the world visit Cephalonia. It is a popular vacation destination for many Italians, due to its close proximity to Italy. As one of the largest islands in Greece, it is well-equipped to handle the influx of tourists during the summertime, it has something to offer everyone.
Two natural attractions, Melissani's underground lake and Myrtos beach, have helped popularize Cephalonia. The film, Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001), shot on the island itself, made Cephalonia more widely known.
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 aligned from NW to SE, with a circle in the middle, and is the monastery of Saint Gerasimus of Kefalonia, patron saint of the island, whose relics can be seen and venerated at the old church of the monastery. The monastery of "Sissia" was probably found by Francis of Assisi, it was destroyed 1953 but the ruins still exist.
Although the island was destroyed by some earthquakes, many notable churches all over the island have survived. Some dating back to the renaissance. The ornaments of the churches are influenced by Venetian manierism.
The Ionian Islands have an musical tradition called the Ionian School. Lixouri has the Philharmonic Orchestra (since 1836) and Argostoli the Rokos Vergottis Conservatory. Richard Strauss visited Lixouri some times where he had an affair with the pianist Dora Wihan (born Weiss).
The novelists Nikos Kavvadias (1910–1975) and the Swiss Georges Haldas (de) (1917–2010) spent parts of their life on the island. Andreas Laskaratos was a satirical poet and wrote about the society in the town of Lixouri. Kay Cicellis wrote about the earthquake in her book "Death of a town". Lord Byron wrote parts of "Prelude" and "Don Juan" in Livatho.
Perhaps the best known appearance of Cephalonia in popular culture is in the novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, by the English author Louis de Bernières. The book is believed to have been 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 about the island's history. In 2005 Ennio Morricone made his film Cefalonia, also about the massacre.
Before Midnight (2013) was also filmed on the island.
The most reputable news site is KefaloniaToday.com the latest news from Kefalonia, Greece and World.
There about 20 radio stations which could be received in Kefalonia, some nation-wide stations have local programs, one of them Kiss FM. Westradio is an internet radio station.
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 (2 mi) 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 (19 mi) detour.
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:
The ferry between Argostoli and Lixouri goes every hour and every half hour in the season. There are a few bus lines serving the more rural areas of Kefalonia, but often only two times a day. The KTEL bus cooperation offers services from Lixouri, Poros and Argostoli to the mainland.
Cephalonia has one airport, Kefalonia Island International Airport, with a runway around 2.4 km (1.5 mi). in length, located about 10 km (6 mi) south of Argostoli. Almost every scheduled flight is an Olympic Air route, flying mainly to and from Athens, although there is an Ionian Island Hopper www.airsealines.com service three times a week calling at Cephalonia, Zante and Lefkas. In summer the airport handles a number of charter flights from all over Europe.
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