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From the many finds of stone tools, it can be concluded that Kefalonia was already inhabited in prehistoric times. The first inhabitants already lived on the island 50,000 years BC.
The Greek historian Thucydides called the island 'Tetrapolis' and at that time Kefalonia was divided into four city-states: Krani, Palli, Sami and Pronnoi. They were independent, autonomous cities connected by natural borders. Etymologically and according to mythology, the names derive from the four sons of Cephalos, the first king of Kefalonia. In many places on the island, graves have been found that prove that Kefalonia was an important Mycenaean economic centre, which took part in the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. In the archaeological museum of Argostoli, many finds from pre-Mycenaean, Mycenaean and post-Mycenaean times can be admired. The gods worshipped on Kefalonia show the connection with mainland Greece. In 734 BC, with the foundation of a Corinthian colony on the island of Corfu, the Ionian islands became part of classical Greece. In 188 BC, Kefalonia was occupied by the Romans. In 395 AD, the Roman Empire split into a Western and an Eastern Empire, the Byzantine Empire. Kefalonia remained a part of the Byzantine Empire until 1185. During the first years of the Byzantine era Kefalonia belonged to the province of Achaia and was ruled from Constantinople.
In the 9th-11th centuries, Kefalonia occupied an important strategic position in the defence of the Byzantine Empire and was an important naval base. In the 11th century, Kefalonia came under the rule of the Franks, including Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and Calabria, who died on the island in 1085. With the occupation by Rogier II, Count and King of Sicily, the Byzantine era came to a definitive end. During the Frankish era, Kefalonia was under the influence of Norman and powerful Venetian families such as Orsini in 1195 and Tocchi in 1357. They built an impressive castle east of the present capital Argostoli, which became the new capital of the island. In 1483, the Turks conquered Kefalonia, but in 1500, Kefalonia was reconquered by the Venetians. In 1590, the Kefalonian Apostolos Valerianos Fokas was the first European to reach present-day Vancouver on the west coast of the American continent. He sailed for the Spanish and was known as Juan de Fuca. The canal between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island is named after him.
Venetian rule lasted for about 300 years. In 1797, the French seized power on the island and this was the beginning of an era of constant political change. The revolution against the French was supported by an allied fleet from Russia and Turkey. From 1800-1807, the "Eptanisos Politia" was formed under the formal name "Politia ton Epta Nomenon Nison" and Kefalonia became a Russian/Turkish protectorate, also called the "State of the Seven United Islands". A brief renewal of French rule under Napoleon (1807-1809) was stopped by the British, after which Kefalonia and other islands formed an independent republic under the protectorate of Great Britain, which ruled the island until 1864. In 1864, the Ionian Islands, including Kefalonia, joined free Greece.
During the 2nd World War, Kefalonia was occupied from 1940 to 1943 by Mussolini's Italian troops, who otherwise lived peacefully alongside the Greeks. This irritated the Germans so much that Hitler decided to send a battalion to Kefalonia. The Italians did not want to cooperate with the Germans and decided to resist. Italian positions were then bombed by the Germans, who were forced to surrender. Many Italian prisoners were executed and many died during transports to German labour camps. In total, around 10,000 Italian soldiers and officers died.
After the war, Kefalonia was in the news one more time because of the earthquake of 1953 with a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale, which hit the island hard. Argostoli and almost all its villages were completely destroyed and many were injured or killed in the natural disaster. Only the northern village of Fiskardo was not affected by the earthquake. Many survivors left for the Greek mainland or found work in the shipping industry. This caused the population to plummet even more and a period of cultural, economic and social stagnation followed. The turnaround came in the early 1980s.
In 2001, Kefalonia had the fastest growing population in Greece. Today, Kefalonia is considered one of the fastest growing tourist areas in Greece.
In 2003 and 2005, an earthquake caused considerable damage to buildings and homes in the capital Argostoli and its immediate surroundings.
In July 2007, during a heat wave, a very extensive forest fire broke out in the south of Kefalonia. The fire was fought with, among others, fire-fighting planes. Thousands of hectares of forest and scrub fell victim to the flames.
At the end of January 2014, Kefalonia was once again rocked by a strong earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was about six kilometres northeast of the capital Argostoli. Fortunately, the damage was limited and there were only a few minor injuries. A few months later, geologists from the University of Athens announced that new beaches had formed along sections of rocky coastline. In other places, the sandy beaches have been raised by up to 20 cm.
In September 2016, there was another earthquake, measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was in the sea at a depth of 5 kilometres and about 7.2 kilometres southwest of Argostoli.
Also in June 2017, Kefalonia was hit by an earthquake, this time with a magnitude of 4.3 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was about 25 km northwest of Argostoli.
See also the history page of Greece.
Leistra, M. / De Griekse eilanden
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