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About Zakynthos island, Greece

Zakynthos, Zante as it is known in Europe and worldwide, the “Fioro di Levante” (“flower of the Levant”), as the Venetians used to call it, is a rather big island in the Ionian Sea, opposite to the coast of Peloponnese. Its extent is 405 square kilometers, the coast line is some 123 kilometers and it counts more than 35.000 permanent residents. It is found at a distance of 300 kilometers western to Athens and 9,5 nautical miles far from the coast of Peloponnese.

Zakynthos is a green island, thanks to the luxuriant plantation it has, which is due to the rain, very common in winter. Homer in “Odyssey” calls the island “woody” and Venetians referred to it with the poetic name “Fioro di Levante”.

Due to the abundant water and the luxuriant plantation, the climate is mild; summers are rather cool, mainly after sunset and winters not extremely cold. The sea is pretty war, a quite favorable factor, both for tourism and the reproduction of the sea turtle caretta-caretta and the seal monachus-monachus.

The island is really a place blessed by God, with a marvelous natural environment and very important monuments.

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The considerable tourist development of the last few decades has endowed the island with amenities and facilities which, contrary to other places in Greece and elsewhere, do respect the natural environment and the history and tradition of the place. Thus, most hotels are units of small or medium size, going well along with natural environment, that don’t offend the natural beauty, but rather stress attention on it. It is for that reason that in Zakynthos the traditional inland villages and settlements, the local taverns and the traditional lifestyle are still alive and active.

Transportation to and from the island and the rest of Greece, along with a good network of roads and transportation means within the island, make the travel to Zakynthos very easy and untiring.

You will arrive to the island by ferry boat from Kyllini at the Peloponnese, or from the island of Cefallonia. The island is also connected by plane with Athens, Thessaloniki, Corfu, and Preveza (Action) at the opposite coast of Epirus.

Within the island you may choose the public means as public buses and taxis (cheap enough) or a more independent way of moving around: rented or private cars and motorbikes. For some places found at flat areas, you may also use a bicycle.

And, of course, if you wish to have a more brief but organised tour, you may choose the organised excursions, by bus or by boat.

History of Zakynthos

Anthropologic and archaeological evidence (found at Laganas) show that human presence on the island starts as early as the Paleolithic period. Finds are more during the Neolithic, as they are detected in various areas (Laganas, Gerakas, Alykes, Vassiliko) and human activity keeps developing during the Bronze Age, reaching its peak in the Mycenean period, as it is also evidenced by the witness of Mythology.

Later on in historic times the island flourished and established several important colonies in the Mediterranean area, as Cydonia in Crete and Zakantha and Parnassia at the Iberic peninsula. The island didn’t take part to any of the wars between neighbors, neither to the Persian wars. In 456 b.C., Athens attacked the island, destroyed it and forced the people to enter into alliance with them, a status that lasted even during the Peloponnesian War, where the island participated actively, pushing back the Spartans several times. After Sparta had prevailed in the war, the island was forced to establish an oligarchic government, comprised by ten governors (Decarchoi), who were kicked out later on after a revolt of the Democratic party of the island, where Athenians and Spartans were also involved.

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During the period of Macedonian domination, Zakhynthos had the same fate as the rest of Greece and during the 2nd century passed to the Romans. The liberal people of the island continued to resist to the invaders and took part in every civil conflict of the Romans. It is only in the 2nd century A.D. that the island calmed down and the wars and the pirates’ invasions stopped for a while. It is then that started a period of flourishing, as shown by rich archaeological evidence, that continued until the first centuries of the Byzantine period (5 th century), when the barbarian troops from the North started to attack the empire.

From 9th to 12th centuries, Zakynthos, belonging to the Byzantine Empire, was governed by noble families local and from Cefallonia (Orsini, Anjou, Tocci). Afterwards it passed to the Francs, who persecuted Orthodox Christians and tried to impose Catholicism.

The most important facts at the end of the Francs’ domination were the re-establishment of the Orthodox Diocese of Cefallonia and Zakynthos and the arrival on the island of ten thousand refuges from the Peloponnese, who came here to escape from Ottomans who advanced in the area. As Venetians were also involved in these wars, they obtained the island with the treaty of 1484 and kept it until 1797.

The long period of Venetian domination was a period of economic prosperity, cultural development and relatively peaceful life. The Venetians respected the traditions, the religion the manners and customs of the locals. The majority of the nobility of Venetian or Italian nobility adopted the Orthodox denomination and gradually became Greeks, as today many Greek families have names of Italian origin. Several families of the Byzantine nobility also moved in Zakynthos, when their territories were conquered by Ottomans. The same was repeated in 1669 when, after the fall of Candia to the Ottomans, thousands of Creto-Venetian people took refuge at Zakynthos, which had very positively influenced the development of the island. For example, Dionyssios Solomos, the poet of the National Anthem was of Cretan origin; his family came at Zakynthos exactly at this period.

The movement of people resulted in an increase of the population and economic development. In 1770 the island counted more than 30.000 residents. The nobility of the island (the members of the “Libro d’Oro”, the “Golden Book”) became relatively autonomous from the central government of government of Venice and elaborated a local government carried out by the richest and most illustrious members of the noble families. This was the upper class. The middle class was comprised by the “bourgeois”, as tradesmen, lawyers, clergymen, doctors and others who were rich enough but without nobility titles and political rights. At the bottom were found the “Popolari”, as craftsmen, seamen etc., with no considerable income. The agricultural population, living in the villages was in much worse condition as according to the feudal system were in fact property of their landlords.

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This system of inequalities caused many complains which in 1628 resulted to the so-called “Rembelio ton Popolaron” (the rebellion of the Popolari), a civil revolt that lasted for 4 years and was the first social revolt in Greek territory in modern history.

The relatively long period of peace on the island along with the economic flourish resulted in considerable cultural evolution in painting, theater, architecture and poetry, mainly during the 17 th and 18 th centuries.

In the same period various attempts of the Ottomans to conquer the island were successfully repulsed and several of these victories were attributed to the help of Aghios Dionyssios, as it also happened in cases plagues, famines and earthquakes.

The people of Zakynthos, always resolved lovers of Freedom and aspiring to the independence of Greece, helped Russians during the wars between them and the Ottomans (1770 and 1790).

The liberal spirit of the Zantiotes was also manifested during the French Revolution of 1789 and after it. Clubs of Jacobins were established on the island, aiming at abolishing the government of the nobles and at land distribution to the landless peasantry. When the island passed to Napoleon and France, in 1797, they received the French troops as liberators, they burnt the “Libro d’Oro” and the blazons of the nobles, they planted the “tree of Freedom” and they hoisted the French flag at the castle. During this period the bourgeois and part of the poorer people took part to the self-government of the island, which resulted in the creation of local communities. Although positive, these reforms had divided the people to the “democrats of the guillotine” and the supporters of monarchy and the Russians.

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The French army left the island in 1798, when the united fleet of British, Russians and Ottomans took possession of it. These allies decided to establish the Ionian State, comprising all the Ionian Islands. Although under tribute to the Sultan, and under protection of the Great Powers, this State is the first independent Greek state of modern times. The establishment of the state was followed by conflicts between the democrats and the supporters of aristocracy, which caused the continuous intervention of the Powers. In the same period, many Greek chieftains from the Peloponnese and Epirus prosecuted by the Ottomans and Ali Pasha, took refuge in Zakynthos, among them were Colocotronis and Anagnostaras, two of the most important heroes during the Revolution of 1821.

When Napoleon was definitely defeated by the alliance of Russians and British, the Ionian islands, and of course Zakynthos, passed under the protection of Britain and became a protectorate, until the 21st of May 1864, when they were incorporated to the Greek State. Ever since, the history of the island follows that of Greece.
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