Kefalonia or Kefallonia, aka Kefallinia, is an Ionian Island that belongs to the group of Eptanisa. Officially, and mainly in administration, is referred to as ‘Kefallinia’.
Kefalonia (Kefallinia) is the largest and most mountainous island of Eptanisa and the third largest in population after Corfu and Zakynthos. It lies opposite the entrance of Patras Bay, north of Zakynthos, south of Lefkada and west of Ithaca.
The island covers an area of about 734,014 sq. km (283 sq mi) and its population is about 35.801. A large part of its area is covered by Mount Ainos which has been designated a National Forest, with most important peaks the ones of Megas Soros (1.628 m), Agia Dinati (1.131 m), Eymorfia (1.043 m) and Kokkini Rachi (1.078 m). The most important plains are the ones of Kranaia, of Paliki peninsula, of Arakleio and of Sami.
The coasts of Kefalonia form plenty of bays and capes. Most important bays are the ones of Sami, Myrtos, Lourdas, Atheras, Fiskardo, Livadi and the one of Argostoli, aka Koutavos. Main capes are (starting from the south and moving towards east) Mounta, Kapros, Sarakiniko, Mytikas, Kentri, Dafnoudi (north), Atheras (northwest), Ortholithia, Skiza and Gerogombos (west), Akrotiri and Agia Pelagia (south), Liakas, Kastanas, etc. The coasts facing the Ionian are generally rocky and steep, while the ones of the eastern side have a milder formation.
Of special interest are the caves of the island, especially the ones bearing escarpments like Melissani, Agkalaki, Agioi Theodoroi, Zarvati, Drogkarati, Sakkos, etc.
The beach of Myrtos in the northwestern side of the island has been voted 11 times as the best Greek sea according to the annual voting of the Ministry of Environment and Public Works.
In the western part of the island, at Paliki, one can visit the beaches of Petana and Platia Ammos.
Many earthquakes hit the region every year. In 1953 a major earthquake almost destroyed the whole island, except the northern part, the peninsula of Erisos and the traditional village of Fiskardo.
There is evidence that Kefalonia has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. The first known inhabitants were the Leleges who probably inhabited the island during the 15th century B.C. bringing the worship of Poseidon with them. During the Copper Age another ancient Greek tribe, Tafioi or Tilevoes settled in the vicinity of the island and lived there or kept a commercial base on the island trading regularly with the locals.
The island was named after the mythic Kefalos who reached the island as a refugee from Athens or after the Greek tribe of Kefallines or Kefallanes.
In Homer’s epics the island is not referred to as Kefalonia but with other names such as Doulichion, Samos or Sami. The latter name has since then been maintained for a Kefalonian town. Nevertheless, Homer mentions clearly that Odysseus is the leader of the Kefallines people.
During the ancient times, four cities which were independent states flourished: Krani, Pronnoi, Sami and Pali. The island was conquered by the Romans and during the Middle Ages was part of the Byzantine Empire. It was also the center of the Theme of Kefallinia which included the contiguous Ionian Islands.
Kefalonia was conquered by the Normans, the Venetians and for some years by the Ottomans. It came back under the Venetian rule until 1797, when the French took control. During the short French occupation, people of the island, influenced by the French Revolution rioted and overturned the feudal regime. The latter was redressed through the Ionian State which was under the influence of several forces of which the British drew the greatest rebellions. The British invested in the island’s infrastructure, road network, bridges and ports while they made drastic curtailment on the democracy that the French had established via the Constitution of Eptanisa and the annulment of Libro d’ Oro. In 1864 Eptanisa united with the Kingdom of Greece.
During the World War I the island was occupied for a short time by the French navy forces.
During the World War II Kefalonia was occupied initially by the Italians who aimed at the integration of Eptanisa to Italy establishing a monetary and economic union. As of the Italian capitulation, in 1943, the Germans set foot on Kefalonia and after a great battle against 12.000 Italian soldiers of the Acqui Division who wanted to return to their country, they executed most of them. In Kefalonia a strong national resistance movement was developed.
Kefalonia was hit by the great earthquakes of 1953 when almost all the buildings of the island were levelled. From 120.000 inhabitants before the earthquakes, only 25.000 remained after. The immigration increased while many people coming from other Greek regions were settled in the island. Tourism was developed relatively late as Kefalonians usually made money out of shipping.
A high percentage of the Kefalonian surnames end in ‘atos’. Similarly the end ‘ata’ is met in many location names (villages and districts) such as Kourkoumelata, Simotata, Valsamata, Troianata, Grizata, Lourdata, Favatata, Delaportata, Paparigata, etc. This has been a fact since the 13th century. Before that the location names as references are infinitesimal, e.g. the Ainos name which is mentioned by Isiodos. At the same time there are also location names that must originate in the ancient times, like Arakli (Herakleion), Melissani, Paliki (from the ancient city Pali), Krania (from the ancient Krani), Falari, and some that ‘ooze’ prehistory like Minies, Fanies, Keramies, Leivatho, Lakithra, etc.
Of special religious interest is the appearance of the little snakes every 15th of August at Arginia and Markopoulo villages of the Eleios-Pronnoi municipality. The snakes according to tradition appear only this day with Mother Mary’s grace.
From the island and more specifically from the Kontogennada village of Paliki came the famous for his excavations at Santorini, archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos. Another older Kefalonian archaeologist who came from Kothrea of Erissos was Panagis Kavvadias who made important excavations like the Ancient Epidavros, etc.
Its high continual ridges render the island ideal for the development of Aeolian energy. During the recent years several investors have expressed great interest in Kefalonia regarding the creation of Aeolian parks. At present the Aeolian park of ‘Manolati-Xerolimba’ of the Municipality of Argostoli, the Aeolian park ‘Imerovigli’ and the Aeolian park ‘Agia Dinati’ are already running supplying the national power network with 71 MW (Kefalonia is one of the interconnected islands of the national network). Recently another Aeolian park at ‘Eumorfia’ position has started running, while 2 more Aeolian parks are under construction or in the process of licensing.