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 findings 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.
FRENCH, IONIAN STATE PERIOD AND BRITISH RULE
Venice was conquered by France in 1797 and Cephalonia, along with the other Ionian Islands, became part of the French départment of Ithaque.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.
WORLD WAR II
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 Germans prevailed, taking full control of the island. Approximately five thousand of the nine thousand surviving Italian soldiers were executed in reprisal by the German forces.
The book Captain Corelli's Mandolin (which was later made into a film of the same name), is based on this story. 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.
THE GREAT EARTHQUAKE OF 1953
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.
The 1953 Ionian earthquake 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.
Edited by: Yallou