Zakynthos. Island in Greece, Europe


Island in Greece, Europe

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Zakynthos Harbour - Zakynthos
Zakynthos Harbour - Zakynthos. Photo by Anna Oates
Zakynthos, Greece (also called Zante) is the third largest, and southernmost f the Ionian Islands in the Ionian Sea. It is south of Cephalonia, and west of Peloponnese in Greece. Most of Zakynthos consists of mountains and hills, blanketed by pine and cypress forests, valleys of olive trees, and thriving vineyards. The island, stretching 158 square miles, is surrounded by 122 kilometers of sandy beaches, rocky shores, and spectacular sea caves.


Archaeologists say that it was inhabited as long ago as the Neolithic Age, but its first appearance in recorded history is in Homer’s Iliad (Wikipedia Article) and Odyssey. Homer wrote that the first people to settle on the island were none other than Zakynthos, son of King Dardanos of Troy (making him the grandson of Zeus and Helectra), and his men. According to some legends, Zakynthos freed the island from snakes, thus earning his place in the island’s symbol – his likeness holding a snake. It is theorized that he landed on the island between 1500 – 1600 B.C.

Zakynthos Town & Port -
Zakynthos Town & Port. Photo by Alistair Ford

Of course, the extraordinarily fertile land and abundant resources the island offered made it a tempting acquisition for those with the means to acquire it, and it fell into many different hands throughout the course of history. In the years following Zakynthos’ arrival, the island was conquered by King Arkeisios of Cephalonia, until it eventually fell to Odysseus of Ithaca (Wikipedia
	Article). Consequently, a treaty was signed that gave Zakynthos its independence, and the first democracy of the Hellenic era was established. This era of democratic freedom lasted more than 650 years, until the defeat of the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War (Wikipedia Article), which left the islanders under Lacedaemonian reign. The Lacedaemonians established an oligarchy until the people of Zakynthos revolted and prevailed in restoring their democracy.

The island became occupied once again during the Macedonian Wars (Wikipedia
	Article) by the Macedonians, and ultimately fell under Roman rule. At first, it was governed by a proconsul according to Roman law, but later the island was given some autonomy in return for paying an annual tax to the Romans and supplying soldiers for their legions. Eventually, the islanders were able to establish their own laws, municipality, parliament, and coinage. Cultural growth developed tremendously during this period.

Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece -
Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece. Photo by Rafal Zych

As centuries passed, the island was claimed by the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Naples (Wikipedia Article), and finally, the Ottoman Empire until the Ottomans struck a deal with the Venetians in 1484. This agreement allowed the Venetians to rule the Ionian Islands in return for taxes paid to the Ottomans and they placed Zakynthos under the authority of a democratic government with elected members once again.
The island became populated by Venetian soldiers and refugees from Constantinople, Peloponnese, Athens, and Crete. This cultural mix led to an atmosphere rich in art, poetry, theater, and painting. The Venetians, who nicknamed the island “The Flower of the East”, remained in power for a period of almost 350 years, until their republic was dismantled in 1797, and Zakynthos was awarded to France.

	Boat In Zakynthos Harbour - Zakynthos
Small Boat In Zakynthos Harbour - Zakynthos. Photo by Alistair Ford
A year later, it was recaptured by the Ottomans but ultimately fell into the hands of the French in 1807, until Great Britain conquered the Ionian Islands in 1809.

When Greece won its independence from the Ottomans, however, the islanders were inspired to rebel against the British. As a result, they joined Greece on May 21, 1864. During the World War II (Wikipedia
	Article), the island was occupied by Italians and Germans until it was liberated in 1944.

Great Earthquake

When a great earthquake struck the island in 1953, leaving only three buildings standing, nations around the world offered generous aid, but the first boat to arrive was from Israel with the message: “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor or their beloved Bishop and what they did for us”. Their gratitude came from what transpired when, during the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II, it was demanded that the Mayor and the Bishop of the island turn over a list of the town’s Jewish community for deportation to death camps. In refusal, they both listed only their own names and managed to save all 275 Jews living on the island.

After the earthquake, the island was rebuilt to withstand the fault line that runs beneath it, and when another series of earthquakes struck in 2006, the infrastructure remained mostly intact. However, the following month, wildfires raged for a week and caused significant damage.

The "Blue Caves" - Zakynthos - Zakynthos
The "Blue Caves" - Zakynthos. Photo by Frosted Peppercorn

What to See

Today, the island is still endowed with dense vegetation due to the mild Mediterranean climate and plentiful winter rainfall. Its principal exports are olive oil, currants, grapes, and citrus fruits and it is home to the beautiful and endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle species.

Navagio Beach

Zakynthos is also famous for Navagio Beach, also known as Shipwreck Beach or Smuggler’s Cove. Navagio Beach is an isolated, small, yet imposingly beautiful sandy cove and one of the most photographed beaches in Greece. The beach can be accessed by boat, but you can see it from above if you stand on the cliffs that overlook it. Make sure you have your head for heights if you decide to scale it though. The shipwreck is the remains of a smuggling ship which came to grief while carrying an illegal cargo of cigarettes from Italy in the 1980s. Famed for its crystal blue waters and golden sands, should not be missed.

Since Zakynthos is perhaps most famous for its vibrant nightlife and cultural monuments, the island's beaches don't get as much attention (except Navagio Beach). The area boasts with some of the most mesmerizing coastlines in the Mediterranean. When t comes to the beach going, the majority of tourists will stay anchored on one of the beaches of the resort they're staying ing. Of course, there is nothing wrong wth this, but we would also like to invite all those interested in exploring the island's coast a bit more. There's no chance that anyone will be left disappointed.

The main reason to go to different spots is the variety. Zakynthos' beaches differ greatly in terms of size, surface (sand/pebbles/rocks), the color of water, and even smell (e.g. Xigia beach is famous for the smell of sulfur). The island is truly a paradise for all those with an adventurous spirit and the itch for discovering new places. If you're curious about this matter, but don't know where to start, here is a list of must-see beaches (note: one-holiday trip might not be enough to visit all of them).

Blue Caves

The Blue Caves, located on island's north coast below Cape Skinari, are well worth taking a boat trip to see. Apart from the stunning natural arches that have been carved out by erosion, these caves are famous for the crystal clear and electric blue color of the water. The beautiful caves are only accessible by sea, but regular boat tours depart for the caves, often in combination with the Navagio Beach. If you visit make sure you go on a smaller boat as some of the bigger ones can't get in. Swimming and snorkeling in the caves are also an experience no to be missed.

Anafonitria Monastery

The Anafonitria Monastery has been built in the middle of the 15th century in honor of the Virgin Mary. The Byzantine monastery, known for its lace-making, rugs, and honey, is located around 20 kilometers away from the island's capital, in a tiny village of Anafonitria. Several buildings are forming the monastery, as well as a defensive tower, which is used today as a belfry. Inside you'll find some lovely painted frescoes, a painting of St. Denis and an impressive icon of the Madonna and Child, that apparently was brought to the monastery from the Constantinople.

Mount Skopos

Other sights worth seeing are Mount Skopos, a lovely climb with a stop near the beautiful Skopiotissa Monastery and sweeping island views at the top of the climb, and Saint Dionysios Church, one of only three buildings that were not destroyed in the earthquake of 1953.

Caretta-Caretta turtle -
Caretta-Caretta turtle - Zakynthos. Photo by Tieme Pool

National Marine Park

The island is famous for its endangered Caretta-Caretta turtles, also know as a rare loggerhead sea turtles. The turtles arrive in Laganas Bay during the summer to nest and lay their eggs in the soft sands. For this reason, the area has been established as a National Marine Park. Sadly, tourism is threatening the turtle population on the island, as the once idyllic beaches are over run with noisy tourist facilities and visitors. You can take turtle-spotting boat trips from Laganas, but try to book with a responsible operator that respects the rules of the National Marine Park and doesn't harass the turtles or venture into prohibited areas of the bay.

Zakynthos Town

Also make sure to visit Solomos Square (Wikipedia
	Article), the main square in the capital city named after the national poet of Greece, whose statue is situated at the center of the square. Here you can find The Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos, The Church of St. Nicholas, the culture center of the island and the library. The Church of St. Nicholas is the oldest building in the square, built in 1561, and is the only Venetian building remaining. The Church Faneromeni and The Church of Our Lady of the Angels both collapsed in the earthquake of 1953 that devastated the island but have now been restored.

Zakynthos Town -
Zakynthos Town. Photo by Alistair Ford

Culture and Mythology

Carnival -
Carnival - Zakynthos. Photo by Kostas Tourikis
Zakynthos is also well-known for its magnificent celebrations. Every year, for a period of two weeks, the island hosts a carnival and massive collective feast that invites locals and thousands of visitors from all of Greece to forget their everyday work and participate in festivities that include alluring masked balls. This tradition traces back to Venetian habits that the islanders adopted. The islanders also honor their patron saint, Dionysios, twice a year with large celebrations that fall on August 24th and December 17th. The celebrations last three days each and thousands flock to the island to honor the Saint. Greek mythology states that Artemis, the Goddess of hunting, used to wander around the green woods of Zakynthos while her brother, Apollo, played his lira under the bay trees and chanted the beauty of the island. In ancient times, the islanders organized celebrations and competitions in their devotion to Artemis and Apollo.

Nearby Landmarks

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Author: kristen7225. Last updated: Apr 23, 2015

Pictures of Zakynthos

Zakynthos - Zakynthos
Zakynthos - Photo by Max

Flying Over Zakynthos Town - Zakynthos
Flying Over Zakynthos Town - Photo by Alistair Ford

Zakynthos - Zakynthos
Zakynthos - Photo by zolakoma

Blue Caves - Zakynthos
Blue Caves - Zakynthos. Photo by Alias Rex

Blue caves - Zakynthos
Blue caves - Zakynthos. Photo by Marcus Povey


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