(1900 Times Atlas of the World)
1200-1479 A possession of the Orsini / Del Tocco families.
1479-1499 Part of the Ottoman Empire.
1499-1797 Venetian possession.
1797-1810 Occupied by the French, then by the Russians, then by the French again and finally by the British.
|Ulysses follow’d through the watery road,|
A chief, in wisdom equal to a god.
With those whom Cephalenia’s line inclosed,
Or till their fields along the coast opposed;
Or where fair Ithaca o’erlooks the floods,
Where high Neritos shakes his waving woods,
Where Aegilipa’s rugged sides are seen,
Crocylia rocky, and Zacynthus green.
These in twelve galleys with vermilion prores,
Beneath his conduct sought the Phrygian shores.
The Iliad by Homer - Book II
Translation by Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
|Odysseus led on |
the Cephallenians, soldiers from Ithaca,
well wooded Neritum, Crocylea,
rugged Aegilips, from Zacynthus, Samos,
both those inhabiting the mainland
and those from cities on the facing shore.
Odysseus, as wise as Zeus, led these troops,
who came with him in twelve black ships.
The Iliad by Homer - Book II
Translation by Ian Johnston
a Research Associate at
Vancouver Island University
Cephalonia is fruitful in Oyl, and excellent Wines, especially red Muscatels (which we call Luke Sherry), and in those Grapes whereof Currans are made, that yield considerable profit. (..) The Isle of Cephalonia in Homer's time was called Samos, and had a Town of that name.
A journey into Greece by George Wheler, Esq., in company of Dr. Spon of Lyons - 1682
Homer gave a summary of the ancient Greek world in his long catalogue of the participants in the War of Troy. Ulysses led a small fleet of twelve ships, whereas Nestor from Pilos went to war with ninety ships. Cephalonia was referred to also as Same or Samos, its port on the eastern coast (from where in 1571 the Christian fleet set sail to engage the Ottomans at Lepanto).
The bay of Argostoli, with the town in the foregound and behind it Lixouri
The place of residence of the Proveditor is Argostoli, where there is a large Port, every way Land-lock't, but hath no good Anchoridge. At the mouth of the Port indeed is another Village, called Luxuri, but not many Curran-Merchants reside there, as he saith, for Zant is the place of their ordinary Residence, where they come yearly to buy up the Currans to transport. Wheler
At Patras I embarked for Messina in Sicily on the twentieth of October 1740, and we were obliged by contrary winds to put into the port of Argostoli on the south side of Cephalenia. (..) At the north west end of the harbour is the town of Lixairi.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745.
This island is computed to be a hundred and seventy miles in circumference, and is about three or four leagues
to the north of Zanth. (..) Cephalenia was taken by the Turks in one thousand four hundred and seventy-nine, and retaken in one thousand four hundred and ninety-nine; it has in it about sixty villages. (..) To the north is the port Fiscardo. Pococke
The history of Cefalonia was strictly associated with that of mainland Greece until the end of the XIth century when Robert Guiscard, Norman King of Naples and Sicily made an unsuccessful attempt to attack the Byzantine Empire. Eventually in 1185 a Norman fleet led by Margarito da Brindisi seized Cefalonia, Zante and Ithaca. The three islands became a personal possession of Margarito and at his death they were acquired by Riccardo Orsini, a member of an important Roman family, who married Margarito's daughter.
After the 1204 conquest of Constantinople by the Frank knights of the Fourth Crusade, the Orsini expanded their possessions in mainland Greece by acquiring the town of Arta. The Orsini fiefdoms were inherited by Leonardo I Tocco who belonged to a noble family of Neapolitan origin and who enlarged them to include Ioanina.
The Tocco managed to retain their possessions until Sultan Mehmet II, after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and of most of mainland Greece in the following years, decided to invade Italy. In 1479 in order to achieve his ultimate goal, he seized Zante and Cefalonia to protect his back; he then captured Otranto, an important port in Apulia, which he planned to use as the starting point of a large campaign. In May 1481 however he died, perhaps poisoned, and his successor Beyazit II, who was involved in a dynastic quarrel with his brother Cem, withdrew from Otranto. In 1499 the Venetians conquered Cephalonia with the help of Spanish troops, but in 1500 they lost Modon and Corone in the Peloponnese.
To the north of Argostoli is a castle on a high
hill, and a village round about it: This hill, if I mistake not, is called mount Gargasso, on which there were some remains of a temple of Jupiter; it may be the old mount Aenus, where there was a temple built
to Jupiter Aenesius. Pococke
September 1809. In the middle of the plain of Livadhi rises the insulated height of St. George, crowned with a Venetian castle, now abandoned.
William Martin Leake - Travels in northern Greece - 1835
The Venetians promoted the production of wine and olive oil in a plain along the southern coast of the island and they built a large fortress on a hill which had a commanding position. Eventually they built a second large fortress at Asso to protect the inhabitants of the northern part of the island.
(August 1813) On a hill at a short distance from the town to the south-east, is a castle, which, though in ruins, is still fortified and garrisoned by a small detachment. The road near it was very rugged, and the fields around stony and uncultivated. The ascent to the castle was so steep and rocky, as to be almost inaccessible on horseback, and so surrounded by ruined houses that I thought it could not be inhabited, and was on the point of returning, when on turning a corner at the top of the hill, I found myself in a narrow street enclosed by falling walls in which several soldiers were walking.
William Turner - Journal of a Tour in the Levant - 1820
The hill was initially fortified by the Byzantines and after them by the Italian rulers of the island. It was named after a church dedicated to St. George. During the XVIth century the Venetians implemented a series of changes which almost completely changed the old castle.
(above) Eastern bastion; (below) Venetian gun; (inset) a Winged Lion, symbol of the Republic of Venice (you may wish to see some elaborately decorated Venetian guns at Nauplia)
The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans demonstrated that even the most imposing ancient walls could be breached by cannon. In the following decades a new development in the use of gunpowder led to the practice of digging tunnels to mine the walls of a fortification. Italian military architects reacted to these technological developments by designing large round bastions which could withstand the impact of cannon balls and of mines.
Views of the western bastion
In 1545 the construction of three large round bastions was completed; military requirements were fulfilled without neglecting attention to elegance and proportions. In particular the western bastion was embellished with a very elaborate parapet. A further development of military architecture occurred at Candia, Palmanova and other Venetian towns and fortresses; it is known as star fort.
Venetian coats of arms
Venetian governors of the island or commanders of the fortress placed their coats of arms on the bastions and on other facilities; a well was decorated with a corno dogale, the hat which was worn by the Doge, the highest magistrate of the Republic. It was called corno (horn) because of its shape; it was probably designed after Byzantine patterns or after the Phrygian cap, a symbol of liberty. It is shown also in the image used as background for this page.
St. Theodore's, a small church near the entrance to the fortress; (inset) a Venetian coat of arms
This island is governed in the same manner as Zanth by a proveditore,
and two consilieri, who sit with him, and have votes in hearing causes,
all three being noble Venetians; they have two or three Greek syndics
on the part of the people, to take care that the antient laws of the island
are observed. Pococke
The protection granted by the fortress led to the development of Kastro (Castle), a small town outside the eastern bastion. Its main street lay between St. Theodore's and Panagia Evangelistria, the cathedral, which are the only remaining historical buildings. It housed the residence of the governor and of other Venetian magistrates.
Panagia Evangelistria (Our Lady of Good Tidings aka of the Annunciation), the former cathedral and its bell tower (in the inset how it was before the 1953 earthquake)
they have three Roman churches, and one at the castle, and there are
two Roman convents in the town: The bishop, who is a suffragan of the
archbishop of Corfu, resides at Zanth; they are Greeks in all the other
parts of the island. Pococke
In 1953 what is called the Great Ionian Earthquake struck Cefalonia and Zante causing major destruction on the two islands. Evangelistria, the cathedral of the old town, is one of the very few buildings which did not collapse. The church was preceded by an imposing bell tower/grand portal. The modern Orthodox cathedral (Mitropolis) of Argostoli is dedicated to Panagia Evangelistria (you may wish to see the sanctuary by the same name at Tinos).
Details of the bell tower
The church is dated 1580, but the elaborate design and decoration of the bell tower suggests the latter was built at a later period; its structure resembles that of St. Charalambos' at Zante which was built in 1727.
Details of the church
The design of the church is rather plain and it shows the influence of Italian and Byzantine patterns. The detail of the hands holding the pole of a flag or a cross is rather unusual and it was perhaps designed by someone who had visited S. Maria di Aracoeli in Rome.
View of Argostoli from the fortress
An officer of the Corsican Rangers politely walked with me round the fortress, which, standing very high, affords a pleasant view of the cultivated valley round Argostoli, and of the sea, with Zante in the distance. The castle itself was a complete ruin. (..) Great numbers of dilapidated houses were falling round, this place having been the site of the capital during the Venetian government. Turner
In 1636 a major earthquake struck Cefalonia; it did not have an impact on the huge bastions of the fortress, but it greatly damaged the buildings of the nearby small town; many of its inhabitants moved to Argostoli which in 1757 became the capital of the island.
View of Argostoli from a hill to its south-west
Cephalenia is well peopled and improved, considering that it is a rocky and mountainous island: This improvement consists chiefly in vineyards and currant gardens; the currant trees are a
small sort of vine, they export a great quantity, and the fruit grows like
grapes; they make a small quantity of very rich wine of this fruit, which
has its name from being the grape of Corinth. Pococke
Argostoli displays much wealth and mercantile spirit. The principal objects of trade are currants, oil, wine, cotton, silk, fowls, etc. It is interesting to see the wharf of Argostoli. The bustle here is very great; Argostoli has always had the largest shipping among the cities of the Ionian islands.
Christian Muller - Journey through Greece and the Ionian Islands: in June, July, and August, 1821
Argostoli is located at the end of a long and narrow inlet which resembles a fjord.
Korghialenios Museum: portraits of XVIIIth century members of the Caruso family
The only place of amusement either at Argostoli or Lixuri is a Casino at each of those places,
where the people meet, drink coffee, and play.
There is little society on account of the family
The stranger is surprised at the internal arrangements of private houses. Here we see mirrors, chandeliers, carpets, elegantly bound libraries of books with old French and Italian classics etc. Muller
Cefalonia was a Venetian territory until 1797 when the Republic of Venice surrendered to Napoleon and its territories were shared between France and Austria. After Napoleon's fall, Cefalonia and the other Ionian islands became a British protectorate. For some time the local noble families of Venetian origin maintained a leading role in trade and administration.
Reconstructed Venetian style bell towers
The houses of Argostoli have in general
only one story, on account of the earthquakes, to
which this island has the reputation of being more
subject than any of the surrounding countries;
the lowest part of the wall is of stone, and the upper
of wood, and the stone-work contains a framing
of wood, in order that the house may stand even
if the earthquake should throw' down the stones. Leake
The Great Ionian Earthquake of 1953 razed Argostoli to the ground; the destruction had an enormous impact on the economy of the island and many inhabitants were forced to migrate. Eventually the beneficial effect of tourism reactivated the economy and Argostoli is today a very pleasant and quiet town (holidaymakers stay at a nearby resort on the other side of the peninsula of Argostoli).
British monuments: (left) pyramid celebrating the completion of a bridge; (right) lighthouse built in 1829
The English have completed many new and useful works here. Of the best is Ponte Novo, a beautiful bridge built of stones similar to marble, over the neighbouring marshes.
In its centre stands a pyramid with the inscription "To the Glory of the British Nation 1813". Muller
The inscription which was written also in Greek, Latin and Italian was erased during WWII.
January 31st. A palm tree standing at the entrance of Argostoli, though it here bore no fruit, was a proof of the mildness of climate in Cephalonia throughout the year. Turner
Sunday, Sept. 27. 1835 - We landed at Argostoli, the capital of Cephalonia, about five in the morning. (..) The first object which attracted our attention was the wonderful stream or river, which, contrary to the analogy of most other rivers, runs from, instead of into, the sea, and, after flowing a short distance down a rugged channel, disappears under the broken rocks. It is situated at the north point of the tongue of land which forms the west side of the harbour of Argostoli, and is so remarkable in its nature, that the cave into which it finds its way has never yet been filled, or the river shown symptoms of ceasing. A spirited proprietor in the island had opened a great cavity in the rocks for the purpose of tracing its mysterious course; but after having dug to the depth of ten feet he still found the water disappear through the cracks and crevices ten or twelve feet below the surface of the sea, from which it was only separated by a narrow wall of rock. This person afterwards took advantage of the great fall he had thus obtained, and the supply of water-power at hand, to erect a large corn-mill moved by an undershot wheel, which was constantly kept at work by the great body of water which he was able to let in from the inexhaustible reservoir of the ocean.
William Hamilton - Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus and Armenia - 1842
It was eventually discovered, by diluting red colour in the water, that the chasms of Argostoli are linked to underground caves which are located at the opposite side of the island.
In May 1941, after the surrender of Greece, the country was partitioned into zones of occupation by Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. Cefalonia was part of the Italian zone of occupation and a division of 12,000 troops was stationed there. After Italy signed an armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943 the Italians at Cefalonia were asked to surrender by the Germans. Upon their refusal, the Germans landed on the island and thanks to their complete air superiority after several days of combat they took control of it. Some 9,000 Italian soldiers and officers were not regarded as prisoners of war, but were summarily executed.
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754 (the Italian text is accompanied by an English summary) or you may wish to read excerpts (in Italian) from Memorie Istoriografiche del Regno della Morea Riacquistato dall'armi della Sereniss. Repubblica di Venezia printed in Venice in 1692 and related to this page.
Introductory page on the Venetian Fortresses in Greece
List of the fortresses
|Geographic area||Location||Ionian Islands||Corfù (Kerkyra) Paxo (Paxi) Santa Maura (Lefkadas) Cefalonia (Kephallonia) Asso (Assos) Itaca (Ithaki) Zante (Zachintos) Cerigo (Kythera)||Greek Mainland||Butrinto (Butrint) Parga Preveza and Azio (Aktion) Vonizza (Vonitsa) Lepanto (Nafpaktos) Atene (Athens)||Peloponnese (Morea)||Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra) Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata Modon (Methoni) Corone (Koroni) Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà Mistrà Corinto (Korinthos) Argo (Argos) Napoli di Romania (Nafplio) Malvasia (Monemvassia)||Aegean Islands||Negroponte (Chalcis) Castelrosso (Karistos) Oreo Lemno (Limnos) Schiatto (Skiathos) Scopello (Skopelos) Alonisso Schiro (Skyros) Andro (Andros) Tino (Tinos) Micono (Mykonos) Siro (Syros) Egina (Aegina) Spezzia (Spetse) Paris (Paros) Antiparis (Andiparos) Nasso (Naxos) Serifo (Serifos) Sifno (Syphnos) Milo (Milos) Argentiera (Kimolos) Santorino (Thira) Folegandro (Folegandros) Stampalia (Astipalea)||Crete||Grambusa (Granvousa) Castello (Kasteli/Kissamos) La Canea (Xania) Souda Candia (Iraklion) Rettimo (Rethymno) Spinalonga and Castel Mirabello Castles on the southern coast Sittia and Paleocastro|