Kefalonia or Cephalonia, formerly also known as Kefallinia, is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece and the 6th largest island in Greece after Crete, Evoia, Lesvos, Rhodes, and Chios.
The capital of Kefalonia is Argostoli and the next largest town is Lixouri.
According to Greek mythology, Kefalonia was named after the King Chefalus (or Kefalos), although there have been occasionally other theories regarding the origin of the name.
In several traditions, Cephalus is made out to be an Aeolian, the son of Deion/Deioneos. Cephalus helped Amphitryon of Mycenae in a war against the Taphians and Teleboans (ancient inhabitants of the island) and after the Mycenaean victory he stayed in the island with his people and gave his name to it (Cephalonia or Kefalonia).
Kefalonia was first inhabited in the 10th century BC. After the 5th century BC Kefalonia was divided into four autonomous states, known as the Kefalonian Tetrapolis (four cities). Those cities were Krani, Palli, Sami and Pronnoi, all named after the four sons of King Kefalos.
These four cities were small independent republics and cut their own currencies.
Ancient coins of Pali
Palli was spread all over the entire western peninsula of the island (today Palliki) and was built on the hill of Dour or Paliokastro.
Krani was built on the cove of the lagoon of Koutavos (even today traces of Cyclopean walls are visible) and included the southern part of the island, to the west side of Ainos.
Pronnoi was situated in the southeast part of Kefalonia.
Sami was built on two hills just above the present town and included the entire former province of Sami. This ancient city participated in the Trojan War as part of the Kingdom of Odysseus.
Mycenaean cemetery in Mazarakata
The first references of Kefalonia’s history exist from the period of the Persian Wars, where we find Kefallonians participating in the battle of Plataea.
In 434 BC Kefalonian ships participated in the battle of the Corithians against the people of ancient Corfu.
Mycenaean cemetery of Mazarakata
In the Peloponissian War all four cities of Kefalonia fought on the Athenians side. After the war, Kefalonia abandoned the defeated city of Athens, but in 372 BC stood again on their side in their struggle against King Phillip. In 218 BC King Philip attacked Kefalonia with his fleet. Although he disembarked in Pronnoi, the terrain difficulties forced him to abandon his try and move towards Palli. Even though he held Palli under constant siege, he failed to capture any city and was forced to withdraw after some time.
In 187 B.C., the Romans conquered the island after months of confrontations with the local inhabitants.
The Romans wanted to use the island as a strategic point, in order to conquer the mainland and turned Kefalonia into an important naval base. During this period of history, Kefalonia was constantly threatened by invaders and pirate raids.
During the Byzantine period, from the 4th century A.D., the island was still under the threat of pirate raids and more especially by the famous North African pirates, the Saracens.
Roman Sarcophagus Fiskardo
During the Byzantine period, from the 4th century AD, the island was threatened by the famous North African pirates, the Saracens. The Byzantine Empire played an important role in the defense of the island against the pirates.
Byzantine Basilica-Fiskardo St. George Castle
The Byzantine era ended in the 11th century when the island fell under Frankish rule. It was then successively conquered by the Normands, the Orsinis, the Andegans and the Toccans.
Around 1480, the island was hit by the first wave of Ottoman attacks, led by the famous Ahmed Pasha. The Turks ruled only for a short period but left a desolated island behind them. Kefalonia, as all the Ionian Islands, fell afterwards under the rule of the Venetians who violated the treaty certifying the Ottoman domination upon the island.
Flag of the Republic of Venice
The Castle of Assos
During this period, the fortress of Agios Georgios was the island’s political and military centre, but in 1757 the capital was moved to Argostoli.
Argostoli-port Argostoli-old photo
The Venetian era ended in 1797 when the French occupied Kefalonia. The inhabitants of the island thought that Napoleon would free the Ionian Islands from the oligarchic system, but that never happened. In the following years, the combined forces of the Russians, the Turks and the English defeated the French and forced them to abandon Kefalonia.
In 1800, the “Ionian State” was founded in Constantinople under the Sultan supervision and the island’s nobles got their privileges back.
In 1802, Democratic elections took place and a new Constitution was established in 1803.
In 1807, the island fell again under the French rule but the new Constitution was maintained.
In 1809, the Ionian fell officially under the control of the English after the Treaty of Paris, accordingly to which the “United States of the Ionians Islands” were established.
Sir Charles James Napier Emblem of Ionian Islands during British Occupation
Although the island of Kefalonia remained under the English rule, it participated in the Greek Revolution of Independence of 1821 against the Turks who still ruled over Greece and was finally unified with the rest of Greece in 1864.
Henry Stocks Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece
In 1941, during World War II, the island was occupied by the Italian troops.
The Italians in Kefalonia
In 1943, after Italy’s capitulation, the Italian troops refused to withdraw from the island. That led to the massacre of more than 5.000 Italian soldiers by the German forces.
Monument of the Acqui Division fallen soldiers
In 1953, Kefalonia was hit by an enormous earthquake, which destroyed major parts of the island and led to mass migration (internal and external) and to significant population reduction.
Earthquakes of 1953
Population, Earthquakes, Migration
Three tectonic plates meet at the geographic region, where the islands of Kefalonia, Zante and Ithaka are situated. The plates are in a continuous movement which results to “tension” that usually produces regular earthquakes. Kefalonia lies just to the east of a major tectonic fault, where the European plate meets the Aegean plate at a slip boundary.
Pre Earthquake Argostoli Pre Earthquake Lixouri
A series of destructive earthquakes have hit the island of Kefalonia, since Antiquity, with the most destructive ones in its modern history to take place in 1953.
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 11:24 (local time), with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter magnitude 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.
Earthquake 1953 Earthquake 1953
The 1953 Ionian earthquake disaster caused huge destruction, with only regions in the north escaping the heaviest tremors and houses there remaining intact. 1/3 of the population left the island soon after seeking a new life elsewhere. There was internal migration (Patras, Athens) and external too (USA, Canada, Australia). The loss in human lives was huge and devastating, while the damage was estimated to run into tens of millions of dollars, equivalent to billions of drachmas then. The Greek government was not prepared for such an extensive catastrophe, but fortunately there was financial relief for survivors coming from USA, Britain and France. The reconstruction of the island started immediately and lasted for a whole decade. The real damage to the island’s economy though, occurred when the residents left Kefalonia, against the order of the Greek government, which was afraid of the total devastation of the affected areas.
After the Earthquake
After the Earthquake
Decades passed before the island recovered and millions of dollars were spent for its reconstruction, but today Kefalonia can be proud for its earthquake –proof buildings of high standards, similar to Japan’s. In 2014 strong earthquakes hit the area of Paliki (Lixouri) mainly, but their short duration and the excellent anti-seismic shielding of buildings contributed so as Kefalonia not to experience once more the nightmarish moments of the biblical earthquakes that took place in 1953.
The island has been hit in the past (mainly in the area of Paliki, where Lixouri is situated) by similar catastrophic earthquakes in the years 1767, 1867, 1902 and 1905.
The population of the island has hovered between 35,000 and 42,000 since then; in the 2011 census, it was 36.000.
Σπουδαίες Φυσιογνωμίες και Αξιοσημείωτη Παρουσία της Κεφαλονιάς στους τομείς της Τέχνης, των Γραμμάτων, της Πολιτικής και της Επιστήμης
It is amazing the fact that Kefalonia, this little dot on the map, really, has given to Greece and to the whole humanity too, some of the most significant and charismatic people ever, if one takes under consideration that this land of unique natural beauty has been relentlessly tortured since Antiquity by biblical earthquakes and repeated financial devastation. On the other hand, of course, all the above contributed to the forging of a very particular and unique mentality that characterizes the residents of this exceptionally beautiful island.
Happy Carnival gathering in Lixouri
A legendary patisserie of an old era
Faced, almost continuously during their long and moving history with destruction and death and also with many conquerors that were succeeding one another in the island, the people of Kefalonia were forced to reinvent themselves many times and to develop skills which would allow them to survive not only in their island but also in every corner of the planet that their destiny would sent them. Gifted with endurance and bravery, they have never stopped insisting in leaving their mark in this world, undefeated by the continuous ordeals and challenges.
Bold, courageous, sharp, multitasked, adventurous, gifted with endurance and guts, with great love and pride for their land and its extremely rich culture, with continuous thirst for learning and amazing sense of humor, they managed to astonish the whole humanity with their achievements. And therefore, it is worth mentioning some of them, since they have left behind them a great legacy for the next coming generations…
Middle Ages to 1800
Ioannis Phokas (1536–1602) Famous seafarer and explorer
Constantine Gerakis or Constantine Phaulkon (1647–1688) Adventurer, first counselor to King Narai of Ayutthaya (Siam)
Giacomo Pylarini (1659–1718), doctor who gave the first smallpox inoculation outside of Turkey and contributed to the later development of vaccination against smallpox, by Edward Jenner.
Ilias Miniatis (1669–1714), clergyman, writer and preacher. Born in Lixouri
Leichoudes brothers, founders of the Slavic- Greek -Latin Academy in Moscow
Vincenzo Damodo (1700-1752) Writer, philosopher and one of the first representatives of the Greek Enlightenment
Spiridon Louzis (1741–1815) Scholar, diplomat, politician and naturalized ambassador of Prussia
Petros Melissinos (1726–1797) General of the Army of the Russian Empire and widely considered as the best Russian artilleryman of the 18th century
Constantine Phaulkon Elias Miniatis
1800 to recent past
Andreas Laskaratos (1811-1901) Satirical Poet, one of the greatest of this kind of poetry
Panayis Vallianos (1814–1902) Merchant and ship-owner of international range, National Benefactor, acclaimed as the father of modern Greek shipping.
Marinos Korgialenios (1830-1911) Businessman of international range, National Benefactor
Georgios Bonanos (1863-1940) Sculptor
Nikolaos Xydias Typaldos (1826–1909) Painter
Photinos Panas, (January 30, 1832 – 1903) Ophthalmologist, born on the Greek island of Cephalonia, Spartia. In 1860 he obtained his medical degree at Paris. He was the first professor of ophthalmology at the University of Paris, and in 1879 established the ophthalmology clinic at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris
Marinos Antypas (1872–1907), lawyer and journalist, one of the country's first socialists
Dionysios Lavragas (1860-1941) Composer, violinist, Conductor
Andreas Laskaratos Panagis Vallianos)
Marinos Korgialenios Dionysios Lavragas
Recent Past to Present
Spyridon Marinatos (1901-1974) Archaeologist
Antiochos Evangelatos (1903–1981), Composer and Conductor
Dimitrios Loukatos (1908–2003), Folklorist-Anthropologist and specialist in Greek Folklore
Nikolaos Platon (1909–1992), Archaeologist
Nikos Kavadias (1910–1975), Poet and Author
Antonis Tritsis (1937–1992), Politician
Gerasimos Danilatos Physicist and inventor of the environmental scanning electron microscope
Athanasios Fokas Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, member of the Greek Academy, received the Naylor Prize from the London Mathematical Society in 2000.
Dionysios Vlachos (1964– ) Chemical engineer and inventor of international range
Anna Pollatou (1983–2014) Rhythmic gymnast; she won a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Dina Vardamatou, President of PRAXIS since 2018 and active member of the European Anti Poverty Network.
Nikos Kavadias Spyridon Marinatos
Andonis Tritsis Anna Pollatou
Significant Sightseeing and Landmarks of Kefalonia
LAKE CAVERN OF MELISSANI
The Lake Cavern of Melissani is a unique geological phenomenon located 2 km northwest of Sami. The natural entrance of the cave is vertical (measuring 40x50 m) and was created by the collapse of a section of the roof. Nowadays there is also an artificial entrance with stairs, which allows visitors to entry the lake cave. It was discovered by John Petrochilos in 1951.
The lake is 20m below the surface, is about 160m long and the depth of the water ranges from 10-40 m. Stalactites with an age of 20.000 years and odd shapes adorn most of the cave.
The Lake Cavern of Melissani
If you visit Kefalonia it is worth doing a boat trip in the lake cavern and learning all about this spectacular geological wonder.
The tour starts from the uncovered part of the cave where the light falls on the water creating magnificent turquoise shades and continues in the part of the cave which is covered.
In the center of the lake there is a small island on which artifacts were found, confirming the ritual function of the cave. In antiquity, prehistoric people worshiped the god Pan and the minor goddesses known as nymphs. (The Lake Cavern of Melissani is also called Cave of the Nymphs).
CAVE OF DROGARATI
The Cave of Drogarati is a must see attraction of Kefalonia. It was discovered nearly 300 years ago, when a part of it collapsed after a powerful earthquake and created the current entrance.
Originally, the cave was leveraged by the community of Chaliotata, under the supervision of the speleologist Mrs. Anna Petrochilou. Since 1963 the cave is open to the public all year round.
The Cave of Drogarati is located 3km away from Sami, at an altitude of 120 meters. The depth reaches 95m and the temperature is 18°C (64.4°F). It is considered one of the best caves in Greece and also the only one with such a large parlor (Dimensions 65m x 45m and 20m height). It is also suitable for cave therapy.
Cave of Drogarati
The Cave of Drogarati is “alive” since its creation keeps continuing. Water drops are falling from the stalagmites and it is absolutely forbidden for the visitors to touch them, since this has a major impact on the continuity of the cave, which dates back to100 million years! Moreover, it takes approximately 100 years for a stalactite to grow one centimeter only…
The big hall, decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, has excellent acoustics and is designed for concerts with a special platform. The two most important and largest caves are the Cave Agalaki and the Cave Zervati.
To visit the cave, one will have to climb down the specially designed steps, which, because of the increased humidity, are extremely dangerous and therefore require great attention.
De Bosset Bridge
The Swiss Charles-Philip De Bosset is the creator of this project, which was a real breath for the residents of Argostoli and the other villages of Kefalonia. The construction of the bridge in 1813 was a real relief for the inhabitants of the island for it created a great advantage for them. They could travel in a safe way avoiding the lagoon of Koutavos which was a malaria outbreak at the time and responsible for many deaths
De Bosset Bridge
Initially it was a wooden construction which, after the levelling of the “Metela” hill, was rebuilt out of stone. In the middle of the bridge a visitor will also find a monument dedicated to the constructors, who have given to Kefalonia one such a large infrastructure project. The road leading to the bridge is also named after Charles-Philip De Bosset, in honour of the man who gave new meaning to the daily life of the people of Kefalonia.
Today it is necessary the continuous maintenance of the bridge, which has suffered damage through time, since it was frequented by pedestrians and even from vehicles, before 2005.
LIGHTHOUSE OF AGIOI THEODOROI (Saints Theodoroi)
One of the most famous attractions in the area of Argostoli is the Lighthouse of Agioi (Saints) Theodoroi. It is located just a bit off the well-known sinks and right at the entrance of the bay of Argostoli.
Lighthouse of Agioi Theodoroi
The Lighthouse of Saint Theodoroi joined the network of lighthouses in Greece in 1863. It is a work of J. P. Kennedy.
In the earthquakes of 1953 the lighthouse was destroyed, only to be reconstructed afterwards, according to the initial plans.
The sinks in Kefalonia are one of the many geological attractions of the island, located at a distance of about 2 km away from Argostoli, in the cape of Agioi Theodoroi.
The sinks are cracked openings in the ground next to the sea. The water which enters from there follows a wide underground path across almost the entire island.
This was revealed in 1963, when the geologists Viktor Maurin and Josef Zötl from the Technical University of Graz, dropped 160 pounds of paint into the sinks. Two weeks later, traces of paint were found 14 km away, on the other side of the island, as well as in the Lake Cavern of Melissani.
In the past, the power flow of the water was used for the functioning of watermills but now they remain unused.
The mills were constructed by the Englishman Stewens, who was the first person to observe this phenomenon.
Korgialenio History & Folklore Museum of Argostoli
The museum is housed on the ground floor of the Korgialenios Library, a donation of Vangelis Typaldos Bassias. The new wing houses two exhibitions in total. The museum collects, studies, ranks and keeps inventory of all the historic and folkloric data of Kefalonia; from the Venetian period and up until the 1953 with the earthquakes.
The permanent exhibition is divided into the sections urban and rural department, ecclesiastical art and the city plan. The Byzantine icons collection of Charokopou and also the collection of Francis and Stephen Vallianou are exhibited separately. The showroom is warm and friendly.
The purpose of the museum is the promotion of the history and the folkloric heritage of the island, from the 16th century to 1953, when, due to the catastrophic earthquakes, many elements of the Kefallonian culture were destroyed.
Korgialenio Museum Korgialenio Museum
The Museum hosts:
• Photocopied English, French and Italian historical documents
• Household ware, porcelain, silverware
• Embroidery and daily farm utensils
• Reconstruction of a bedroom
• Aquarelles, lithographs, maps, surveys, church plans
• Photographic records consisting of 3000 images of Kefalonia before earthquakes and also records of historical figures, architectural hardware, religious icons and churches
• Works of art, wooden temples, sacred vessels, coins and pictures.
Archaeological Museum of Argostoli
After the earthquake of 1953 which caused severe damage, the Archeological Museum of Argostoli was founded in 1957 and was completed in 1960. In the year 2000 the building was fully restored. The Archaeological Museum of Argostoli hosts findings from the prehistoric era. The museum has today three galleries.
In the first parlor there are findings from Sami, Fiskardo and Skala, which date back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic period. Here a visitor will see flint tools, pottery, ceramics and precious miniatures from the vaulted Mycenaean tombs.
Archaelogical Museum of Argostoli
In the second parlor there are findings from the thriving Mycenaean period of Kefalonia. Items come mainly from graves and they are very representative of that distant but very prosperous for the island period.
In the third parlor there are findings dating back from the 5th century BC, when Kefalonia was divided into 4 city-states (Pali, Krani, Pronni and Sami). In this room are hosted: pitchers from the 8th century BC, a marble head of Silenus, a ceramnic vase in form of a slave, objects from cemeteries in Fiskardo, three burial columns, a marble female head and part of the mosaic floor from Poseidon’s Temple in Lixouri.
Rock of Byron
The great philhellene poet Lord Byron has lived several years of his life in Kefalonia and more precisely in Lakithra village.
The poet was born in London in1788 and in the year 1823 he was chosen as α representative of the Commission Assistance for the struggle of the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire.
Rock of Byron
Legend has it that in the island of Kefalonia Lord Byron wrote some of his most famous poems sitting on a rock known today as the Rock of Byron.
The rock is to be found in the village of Lakithra, near the location Kallithea, where one may have views to the beautiful island of Zante. Today on this rock, there is an inscribed marble with the famous words of Lord Byron written on it: “The poet that I am, I owe to the air of Greece”.
Italian War Memorial
At the far end of the town of Argostoli, near the Lighthouse of Saint Theodoroi and up the hill stands the Italian War Memorial, dedicated to the Italian soldiers of the Division Acqui who lost the battle by the Germans in an attempt not to surrender to them. The bravery and the denial of delivering their weapons is reflected in this monument that is a reminder of the pain and the evil of the war but also of the values of self-sacrificing, honour and heroism. The war crime/massacre of the Nazis then had resulted to the execution of 5.000 Italian soldiers in September 1943. Among them there were also 138 senior army officers who were shot too with summary execution in Casetta Rosa (Red House, a short distance from Argostoli) in September 1943 (September 15th to 26th).
Memorial Acqui Division
The construction of the monument began in 1975 and was completed in 1978. This semicircular space, enclosed by railings, covers an area of 52 square meters. At the monument there is also a white cross and next to it two inscriptions, one in Italian and one in Greek, stating the reason for the existence of the monument.
Mount Ainos: The National Park of Kefalonia
Mt. Ainos is the only National Park situated on a Greek Island, more specifically on Kefalonia Island in the Ionian Sea. The park stretches over 3,000 hectares and its highest peak is Megas Soros that reaches 1,628 m.
What is so special about this Park is that a single species of fir called Abies Cephalonica grows at altitudes of 600-1,600 metres and covers ⅔ of the park’s area.
This endemic species was classified by British JW Loudon in 1838.
As impressive as this forest might be you will also be amazed by your encounter with the small semi-wild horses (Equus caballus) which you’ll see mostly at the SE side of the mountain.
Mount Ainos also hosts many more endemic species of wild flora and 100 bird species too.
Mt. Ainos was first declared as a National Park in 1962 and houses the heart of Kefalonia’s biodiversity. Visitors and environmentalists flock to Mt. Ainos as it is the island’s most precious reserve and a rare monument of nature too.
Kefalonia in Modern Literature and Filmography and its Famous Visitors
The film, “Captain Corelli's Mandolin” directed by John Maden in 2001, shot on the island itself, made Kefalonia more widely known. The glamorous actors Nikolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, Irene Pappas played the major characters, along with many other famous co-protagonists. The movie was based upon the homonymous excellent romantic/dramatic novel of the author Louis de Bernières. The story of the book and the movie too takes place in Kefalonia in the years 1942-1943 and the central benchmark of the film, apart from the romance between the two protagonists, is the double military occupation of the island by Italians and Germans and also the war crime/massacre of the Italian Acqui Division by the Nazis.
Captain Corelli’s mandolin-book Captain Corelli’s mandolin- movie
The movie, since it was promoting the exquisite natural beauty of the island, managed to attract the interest of many stars and celebrities, who visited it afterwards. Among them they are the following: Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Leonardo di Caprio, Tom Cruise, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Depp και Madonna.
The religious tradition of Kefalonia is evident in every step of the visitor at the island. The churches, from the smallest ones to the most important monastery, are an integral part of people's lives and the landscape of the towns, villages and the environs of the island in general. The church of each village is usually a unique attraction, with many being strongly influenced by elements imposed by the Venetian rule and then incorporated into the tradition of Kefalonia.
Religious traditions of Kefalonia
Among the churches of Kefalonia, a prominent position is held by the:
Monastery of Sission, Saint Panagis Bassias Cell in Lixouri, Kipoureon Monastery in Lixouri/Paliki, Saint Nikolas of Latins in Argostoli, The Holy Monastery of Saint Gerasimos in Omala (built in the 16nth century) and many others.
In many churches when the name Day of the local saint is celebrated, folk festivities with traditional music, songs and food take place. Some of them last till dawn and one characteristic example is the folk festivity of Saint Paaraskevi on the 26th of July( Atheras Village, Paliki).
Monastery of Sission Monastery of Saint Gerasimos-Omala
St. Spyridon-Argostoli Saint Nikolas of Latins
The priceless embroidery of Kefalonia
Kefalonia is a very rich place when it comes to the Folkloric Tradition. An art which is doubtlessly a major part of it, but unfortunately has been fading trough years, since it requires effort, time and dedication, is the one related with the creation of exquisite embroidery by thread extracted from the endemic plants “athanata” (immortals). In older eras, the young women who were getting married were given by their families fully embroidered, hand made blankets, curtains and tablecloths so as to ornate with them their new home. Those fully embroidered, exquisite works of art are now family heirlooms and their value is priceless. The thread from the “athanata” is extremely resilient and in Kefalonia the people were also using it for creating ropes, sacks and carpets too.
Women creating embroidery Bag from “athanato”
The plant “athanato”
The folkloric traditions during religious ceremonies
In Christmas the women were creating and baking the famous “Hristopsoma” (Bread of Christ). They were decorating lovingly the dough in the shape of a cross and were filling the festive delicacy with nuts and almonds.
In Easter they were creating and baking the “Lambrokouloura”, a festive bread in the shape of the cross with a red boiled egg put in the centre of the dough. The Easter eggs were painted with “hortari”, a special seaweed which makes natural red painting.
The churches of the island were decorated with:
twigs of palm (symbol of the victory against death), small crosses made of palm leaves and little twigs of olive trees (symbol of peace), daphne (symbol of victory), rosemary (symbol of memory) and sage (symbol of salvation). The candle from the liturgy of the Holy Saturday was kept as a talisman by the people of Kefalonia, who were considering it as a holy blessing for all the difficulties that they were facing in their lives.
The Carnival of Kefalonia
The Carnival of Kefalonia has a long and interesting history and its roots can be traced back to the distant Middle Ages. After the year 1669 many immigrants from the island of Crete settled in Kefalonia and brought with them works of literature, like the romance/poet “Erotokritos and Aretusa”. Since 1889 performances of this play and others similar to it were given by local and by travelling theatre companies too for an audience thirsty for spectacles of such kind. The costumes worn by the actors at those times, though, were extremely limited and the audience could rather imagine, than see the clothes of the ones who were playing the specific roles.
But, through the years, the medieval costumes of the knights and their ladies took their place in the folk festivities of the Carnival and the entertainment during that period created the primary framework of the later carnival in the island, which was including with satirical mood all the particularities of the feudal, then, society of Kefalonia, with the nobles and the ordinary, daily people of the working class. The Carnival of Kefalonia, though, as far as Argostoli and Lixouri, where the presence of the middle class and the class of the nobles was stronger and more evident, had more distinctive and clear influences from the West, due to the presence on the island of various conquerors through the centuries ( Venetians, English and French).
The Carnival in the villages of Kefalonia
The most common form of the carnival’s celebrations was the so called “mascara” which was taking place in many villages, like in Damulianata of Palki, for instance. A primitive dance floor was set in the center of the village and then the gentlemen were going to take their dames from their homes. The couples were parodies of real couples, of course (since only men were participating in this ball). The ladies were appearing with formal dresses and jewels and the gentlemen (Gianitsareoi) were wearing the traditional fustanella (skirt, part of the Greek male national costume)_ something rather unusual for the men of Kefalonia_ white socks and comfortable shoes that would allow them to dance. On their heads they were wearing the “Orlanda”, an awkward sort of helmet made of colorful cardboard, decorated with small icons and mirrors. The couples were covering their faces with the “barboutes”, the masks, which were made usually of wax.
Next, when the couples were ready, the hilarious parade was taking the road which was leading to the center of the village, where the …ballroom was waiting for the dancers. The leader of the parade was a man with big bells hanging from his big belt, announcing the arrival of the couples. In Damulianata there was also the “Tsafos”, a parody of a policeman who was holding a bat, so as to keep the order and to stop the children from being too naughty. When the parade was eventually reaching the place where the dance would take place, “Tsafos” was “arresting” the richest people of the village and was bringing them in front of the judge for a trial parody, where they had to pay the “mourta”, the fine. With the money collected the village would pay the expenses of the “mascara”. The funny parade was also accompanied by musicians who were usually playing violins and guitars. The dance would start with a quadrille and a local dance called “gaitanaki” and then the whole village would continue with traditional dances. The couples of the “mascara” would dance again European dances like polka and mazurka.
Of course, in the Carnival of Kefalonia satire had the predominant role. This was something common even from Antiquity, when the ancient Greeks were honoring the god Dionysus with pagan celebrations. Every village in Kefalonia had its satiric singer, who was preparing for the carnival rhymes with plenty of wry humor for everybody. Apart from the funny couples, there were also many others dressed up as devils or trolls, who were approaching the companies in order to tease them within a festive atmosphere of laughter and joy.
The Carnival in Argostoli
In Argostoli, the first important carnival took place in 1889, sponsored by the municipality itself. It was a festivity in honor of the King Carnival, with thematic floats, games and prizes, which would later on become an institution.
Initially the people of Argostoli were not very responsive as far as this particular event. In parallel, the newspapers “New Kefalonia” and “People” were against this novelty. On the contrary, the newspaper “Embros” tried to defend it. A “war” started among the local journalists. In the next year, though, after many preparations and very good organization, the festivity of the King Carnival turned out to be an extremely successful event. The people filled the squares in a happy, festive mood and for first time the nobles enjoyed together with the commoners. From then on the organizers would have no problem at all to collect money for the prizes, the value of which would increase significantly. The well known satiric poet and also publisher of the magazine “Zizanio”, George Molfetas, supports all heartedly the carnival and participates himself by playing the role of King Carnival. Of course he didn’t miss the chance to use his satiric skills and to criticize with rhymes the nobles and the commoners of his town too.
With the years passing by, new novelties are introduced to the carnival and keep alive the interest of the people. In 1902 the King Carnival arrives from the sea. In the same year groups from the villages Faraklata and Deilinata participate in the carnival of Argostoli and open the road to carnival groups from other villages to come and participate too in the future. The groups take part in quadrille dance competitions and the end of the King Carnival in Metela Square was spectacular.
The masks that were sold in various shops of the pre-seismic Argostoli were of many kinds. Some were rather simple, similar to the Venetian masks, (made from velvet, usually red, black or blue, covering only half of the face); while some others were made for kids and they had funny characteristics or were having references to animals. There were also some masks real works of art, embossed and painted beautifully and one could find them in various schemes and sizes.
Carnival in Argostoli, 1925
The masks were completed with the costumes which were covering the whole body and were securing the anonymity of their owners. The most common costumes were those of the dominos, the pierrots, the columbines, the harlequins, the doctors, the priests and the sailors, while at the same time some men preferred to dress up like young ladies.
Today, in the carnival parade of Argostoli, the majority of the groups participating come from students, while there are always the thematic carnival floats. In any case, there are always many people who do not necessarily participate in the parades, but enjoy, nevertheless, walking around the squares and the cafés, in order to tease their friends through the anonymity of their costume.
The Carnival in Lixouri
As far as the carnival of Lixouri, the only written evidence that has survived and is known today is to be found on a paper/document of 1888. It is a recommendation of the mayor of Lixouri at that time, of Angelos Iakovatos, to the people of his town. He suggests that they should celebrate their carnival with decorum and not with pagan extremity. This document is evident of the extravagant attitudes that most likely were quite common in the carnival, during that era. There is also some evidence that the remarkable religious icon painter Rokos Xadaktylos and the great troubadour Giorgis Delaportas were organizing amazing “mascaras”. In one of those magnificent events, the people of Lixouri presented in a satiric way the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Lixouri was supposed to be, then, Colombia. The main carnival group was divided in two smaller subgroups. The ones who would be in Colombia (Lixouri) were dressed as Native Americans and the ones who would approach Lixouri from the sea would play the roles of Columbus and his men. The event was so successful that the people of Lixouri still remember it as a landmark of their carnival. Since then, Lixouri was “renamed” with satiric mood Colombia and its inhabitants Colombians!
Carnival in Lixouri- Leandros
Through time, the Carnival of Lixouri was becoming more and more significant and one may say that it followed the Greek and the international developments, where from it was drawing its satiric themes.
Predominant in all the carnival festivities is always the Philarmonic Orchestra of Lixouri. The carnival is enriched with the dances quadrille and latsiera (introduced to the Ionian Islands by the English officers).
While the years were passing by, the carnival was enriched with many thematic constructions and floats. The floats, made with love and dedication, were giving the impression that the Carnival in Lixouri had become part of the town’s culture and was experiential in nature.
Philarmonic Orchestra of Lixouri-Carnival
The people of Lixouri do not create carnivals by habit. One may say that this form of entertainment runs in their blood. It is part of their cultural existence and continuity of their folk tradition. It offered (and still continues to offer nowadays) joy, laughter and happiness during difficult periods, while at the same time it managed to become a major pole of attraction for all the inhabitants of Kefalonia and for the tourists that they visit it. Surely its continuity is a deeper existential need. A need of life so as for the humor and the satire, which are in the blood of the inhabitants of Lixouri since Antiquity, to be expressed.
Lixouri Carnival in our days
Kefalonia – Development of thematic tourism
The alternative forms of tourism have created a new philosophy as far as this sector globally. The main characteristics which define the differences between the thematic tourism and the traditional tourism are: High standards of aesthetics and quality, tourism in harmony with nature and ecologic systems, within an atmosphere of cultural interaction and harmonious coexistence of people with the historic landscape. Kefalonia has all the potential for such kind of tourism and has invested in it. Some of the most significant forms of alternative tourism, which for a guest may be well informed at the accommodation of his choice, are the following:
Eco Tourism, Nature lovers Tourism, Archaeological Tourism, Hiking and Trekking Tourism, Educational-Cultural Tourism and Religious Tourism too.
The musical culture of Kefalonia is rich and interesting, while it combines in an excellent way the western with the Byzantine elements. In Kefalonia was born, through the companies of the simple every day people, who were not having maybe a musical education but were gifted with a “musical ear”, the musical genre of “arietta”.
It was about a triphonic scheme, about a primitive choir, which to, later on, mandolins and guitars were added.
Arietta developed to the cantata, where the singers and the musicians were musically educated, while at the same time the choirs and the philharmonic orchestras thrived. Great musicologists and composers like: Spyros Skiadaresis, Dionysios Lavragas, Dimitris Loukakos, Nikolaos Tsilifis and above all the great Argyris Kounadis studdied in depth the genres of arietta and cantata and produced great projects.
Today there are many choirs and philharmonic orchestras in the island, but the eldest and most significant of them all is the PHILHARMONIC SCHOOL OF LIXOURI, which was established during the years 1834-1839 by Petros Skarlatos.
The establishment of the School was the spark for the creation of many similar philharmonic orchestras in the Ionian Islands, which were aiming to the cultural development, during the years of the English Occupation.
From the 19th century and until today, with work of two centuries to be proud of, the school educates young people who like music. The school is housed in the Nursing Home of Lixouri and continues its works, without being intimidated by major historical events, such as wars in Europe in the 20th century or civil wars, or catastrophic events like the earthquakes of 1953.
On December 30 1982, the Philharmonic School of Lixouri was awarded by the Athens Academy for the important work it has done for so many years in the Greek intellectual world.
In the religious ceremonies, the local festivities and in several cultural events many traditional dances are danced accompanied with the sounds of the violins and the guitars. These dances are: Divaratikos, Syrtos of Kefalonia, Balos and many others.
The island is famous not only for its exquisite natural beauty, but also for its amazing traditional tastes… Pies, vegetables, culinary greens, very fresh fish and seafood and also excellent meat, olive oil and great cheese and wines characterize the unique cuisine of Kefalonia, which is highlighted by very old, rare and delicious recipes! The island is a real gastronomic paradise for all tastes!
Beloved appetizer is the aliada the famous spicy mixture of mashed potatoes with garlic and olive oil. It accompanies perfectly the fried cod fish and the baby zucchini (the “moropoula” as the locals call them).
Some of the most well known pies that are to be seen on the daily table of Kefalonia are:
the Kefalonian meat pie
Kefalonian meat pie
the cod fish pie,
the artichoke pie
the cheese pie
and of course the “hortopita” with wild culinary grass, spinach, herbs and leek
Beloved dish is also the “tsigaridia” (fried wild culinary grass and herbs)
As far as meat, it is used a lot in the cuisine of Kefalonia and there is a great variety of recipes, like goat lagoto (with garlic, rosemary and lemon),
sofigado (beef in red spicy sauce with pasta or potatoes)
and also the rabbit in vinegar sauce
Some more famous dishes of Kefalonia are:
putrida (festive, Christmas dish which originates from the British Occupation Era)
burburelia (a sort of soup with peas, salt, pepper and olive oil)
and riganada (Grilled, or not, slices of bread with olive oil, tomato and oregano)
In the taverns by the sea the visitor will enjoy a great variety of very fresh fish and seafood and will taste delicious lobster with pasta, king prawns with pasta, oysters with pasta, smoked eel, bash fish, marinated anchovies, grilled mackerel, code fish or octopus with aliada and many, many others…
In Kefalonia we will try the excellent local cheese like: Feta cheese, Myzithra, Manouromyzithra, Kefalotyri, Graviera and Prentza.
Cheese of Kefalonia
From the traditional sweets of Kefalonia is worth trying, or buying as souvenirs from the island:
and also the famous mandoles, the delicious caramelized almonds
Kefalonia is also very well known for its excellent thyme honey
the olive oil and its olives
Olives and olive oil
and also for its exquisite and amazing wines, with flagship of them all the famous Robola
Wines of Kefalonia