The history tracks back to Greek Mythology. It is said that during the Palaeolithic Era, Kefalos was the first king of the island and therefore the island was named after him. He founded four cities: Sami, Pahli, Krani and Pronnoi, which he named after his four sons. These four cities were completely independent from each other and sometimes in conflict.
As many historians and archaeologists found out, it appears that Kefalonia was one of the first inhabited areas in Greece. Each of it’s dominators left a part of themselves in the Island. Archaeological finds demonstrate that the island has been inhabited since 10.000 B.C.
The large forest occupying the area is said to have helped inhabitants to build ships and create commercial activities between Kefalonia and other areas. The island suffered domination from many western and eastern countries over the years, but these experiences heavily influenced Kefalonia’s music, art, paintings and architecture.
Between 431 - 404 B.C Kefalonia fought alongside Athens against Corinth in the Peloponnese War.
In 404 B.C, Kefalonia was occupied by the Macedonian King Philippos II who instituted Koryntho’s assembly. When King Philippos II was assassinated in 336 B.C, his son Alexander the Great took power. Luckily the Macedonian influence did not last long and after Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C, Kefalonia became a part of the Aetolian league. In this way the Etoli used Kefalonia to travel to Sicily and Kefalonia became more involved in the trade business.
After the second Punic War (202 B.C) the Romans’ strategy was to expand and take over Greece. The Etoli formed an alliance with the Romans but soon ended this pact when they realized they had nothing to gain. So the Romans used this as an excuse to take over Kefalonia. Between 189 B.C and 30 B.C. they established a strategic point to control the rest of Greece, and therefore turned Kefalonia into a naval base. However it became dangerous as it was subject to pirate threats for example by the Saracens during the Byzantine period (4th century A.D). Many Roman remains can be found in the Archeological Museum of Argostoli.
In the 11th century, the Normans attacked the Ionian islands and ended up conquering Corfu. Kefalonia resisted, but it was finally conquered in 1185. This occupation did not last long as the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos defeated the Normans with the help of the Venetians. The Normans however did leave their influence in the beautiful Norman ruins of Fiskardo, where there are still remains of a church. It was built in the 11th century to contain the tomb of Guiscard, the most important Norman leader who named the village of Fiskardo. There are also two watch towers with the foundations of a Venetian lighthouse.
The Greek islands were conquered by the Venetians (1204) and the rule passed from the Orsinis to the Andeans and consequently to the Toccans. This rule lasted around 300 years until the Turks took possession of many Greek islands with the exception of Corfu.
The Venetians had a significant influence on Kefalonia on a historical and cultural scale. Music was also heavily influenced by the Venetians and so was painting and architecture. The Venetians took care in the building of roads, bridges and public buildings that set a trend to the architecture of the island. The western influenced many masterpieces. These incredible paintings were displayed in many churches, but unfortunately many were damaged and destroyed in the earthquake of 1953.
Conquered by many civilizations the richness of the island lies in the ruins and the memories of its history. For example, in 1757, the fortress of Agios Georgios was built and turned into an important seat of the Venetian administration. This is an ancient Byzantine castle probably built by the emperors in the twelfth century.
In 1795 Napoleon Bonaparte declared war on Venice and with Venice’s defeat, Napoleon sent troops to administer the Ionian islands. This occupation became official with the Treaty of Kamboformio on 17th October 1797 and on the 1st November the Ionian islands became part of the French State.
This domination did not last long as the following year, the Russians, Turks and English defeated the French at Aboukir. In Constantinople (March 1800) the Ionian islands came under under the supervision of the Ottoman Sultan.
In 1802, elections took place in Kefalonia with democratically elected representatives and in December 1803, a new constitution was created which established the Democracy of the Ionian Islands.
On the 19th September 1809 the English occupied Zakythos, and this occupation became official at the treaty of Paris with the establishment of the “United States of the Ionian Islands”. As part of this Treaty the Ionian islands became an indipendant state under the protection of the British.
The British civil and military governor of the island: Charles Napier built many roads, bridges and buildings for example the Markato in Luxouri. The Markato was the first Courthouse on the island which unfortunately got destroyed in 1953. In 1929 the British also built a lighthouse in Argostoli and named it Finari, it is a very famous landmark of the island which although it was destroyed in the earthquake, it was immediately reconstructed.
During the Second World War, Kefalonia was occupied by the Germans and the Italians. This left a traumatic impact on the Island and can be seen today. In 1943, the commander of the Italian ‘Acqui’ division (division that consisted of 11.500 soldiers and 525 officers) who was defending Kefalonia, found himself in front of a tough decision – whether to surrender to the Germans or to resist. After many negotiations, through a referendum soldiers chose to resist. The battle lasted from the 15th September – 22nd September. By the end 5000 Italian soldiers were killed, 3000 sent to concentration camps and the ‘Acqui’ division was destroyed. There is a war memorial in Argostoli to commemorate the Italian soldiers that died in the war 1943.
Due to the disastrous earthquake of 1953, Kefalonia suffered many economic, social and geological disasters. Much of its population fled and since then the scarce population has been putting a lot of effort in rebuilding this magnificent island and creating the beauty it can be seen today. Fishing, Agriculture and tourism are the most important sources of income the island has today.