Zakynthos is the sixth of the Ionian islands, west of the Coast
of Ilias. The other Ionian Islands are Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaka
and Kefallonia. Homer refers to Zakynthos in The Odyssey
as 'woody Zakynthos'. South east of the island lies the Pit of Inoussae,
which is the deepest part of the Mediterranean sea at 5090 metres.
Due to the geology of the region, a series of earthquakes formed
the island, with its steep cliffs and many smaller islands around
Zakynthos itself. This area of the Ionian sea has (and still is)
an area of seismic activity. On August 9th 1953 a devastating earthquake
hit the island, destroying seventy percent of the buildings on the
island. Zakynthos Town, previously known as 'The Venice of the South'
was ravaged by a fire that spread from the taverna kitchens.
The west and east sides of the island are contrasts of the geological
development. To the west, steep limestone cliffs dominate the
landscape and to the east the calm waters formed sandy beaches.
In 150 BC, general Fulvius vanquished the Aetolians and successfully
reconquered Zakynthos for Rome. During the early Christian years,
piracy in the Ionian brought a number of invasions to the island
and after several hundred years of Roman rule the island gained
independent governance with the caveat that taxes were paid to
Zakynthos gained cultural respectability in the region and was
a regular host to Roman scholars and intellectuals.
Following the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the region
succumbed to the insatiable greed of pirates. In the decades that
followed, Vandals, Huns, Goths and Barbary corsairs would plunder
the Ionian islands and the western Mediterranean in general.
Constantine the Great founded the Byzantine empire and Zakynthos
became part of the province of Illyria. Under the patronage of
Constantinople, Zakynthos became less vulnerable to the invading
forces of the region and enjoyed a period of cultural and economic
During this period, it is believed that Christianity came to the
island. Mary Magdalene allegedly visited the island in 34AD via
Jerusalem to Rome where she is believed to have imparted the teachings
In 466AD, Zakynthos once again fell to destructive invaders. The
African Vandal king Gizarich blockaded the island with sixty ships,
plundered the island and razed Zakynthos Town to the ground.
As the Byzantine empire was fading from prominence, Crusader armies
invaded in search of converts and the rich booties which lay to
the East. In the period between 1147 and 1479, the island was
ruled by aristocratic overlords who would eventually cede the
island to the expansionist Venetians in 1485. Many legacies of
this period (predominantly from an architectural point of view)
remain to the present day.
the early years of Venetian rule, Zakynthos enjoyed a new period
of growth, both in terms of population and economic activity.
Venetian rule created conditions for politic stability and the
growth of the new town (Zakynthos
Town) through self-government under a council of Nobles. The
island was less vulnerable to the Turks than other parts of this
you would like to read more about the conquest and request of
the Ionian Islands, the impact on Zakynthos and world history,
Professor J.M Roberts' seminal text History of the World
is a very fulfilling read.
J.M. Roberts, The Penguin History of the World (Penguin,1997)
After the Cretan War in 1669, the Republic of Venice was in decline
and lost its overseas territories one by one. The ruling classes
on the island felt threatened by the spread of eighteenth century
liberal ideas and in a desperate attempt to usurp this social
revolution, murdered the Jacobins, the primary political group
on the island.
This was to be the last bloody stand for the Venetians who surrendered
the town and the island to the French in 1797.
Republic and the Russo-Turkish Occupation
Under the French, Zakynthos became the regional council for the
Prefecture of the Aegean and during the next fifteen months began
a period reconstruction before the Russo-Turkish fleet forced
the French to leave the island.
In 1800, Russia and Turkey signed a treaty in Constantinople which
founded the Eptanissos State of the Ionian Islands. This would
be a self-governing part of the Russian Empire whose constitution
declared that local government be drawn from hereditary nobles.
The people of Zakynthos, haunted by the legacy of previous nobles,
revolted and raised a Union Flag on the Zakynthos
Town fortress in the hope of attracting British forces to
defend their independence. It would be another nine years of instability
before the British would finally impact upon the island's independence.
The early period of British rule brought a series of improvements
to the quality of life on the island. During this period, Zakynthos
was still viewed as a territorial prize and was a British protectorate.
Once again, foreign rule, this time under the administration of
Thomas Maitland, the British High Commissioner, was cruel and
When the Greek revolution was declared, the people of Zakynthos
found fresh impetus to fight on the side of the Greeks. In 1864,
recognising Free Greece, England abandoned her status as protector
and the Greek flag was raised in Zakynthos
is 406 square kilometres in area and has 123 kilometres of shoreline.
The island is triangular in shape and can be divided into three
distinct regions. To the north west, barren mountains rise from
the jagged shoreline. The central region of the island is fertile
due to the benefits of good irrigation and numerous underground
springs. In this region, limestone rock strata and clay beds dominate
the geology and natural sulphur and bitumen springs. To the east
and the south are the beautiful bays and abundant beaches.
tectonic plates plates meet in the region of Zante, Kefalonia
and Ithaki. These plates are in constant, minute motion (called
"subjunction") and cause tension between the plates
leading to seismic tremors
spite of the advent of tourism on Zakynthos, the agricultural
legacy of this fertile island is a predominant source of income
for the islanders. Today, the main crops are raisins, olives,
vines and citrus fruits. There are many small fishing ports around
the island which supply the increased demand for seafood during
the summer tourist season.
There is little heavy industry on the island but light engineering
companies near to the airport are evidence of the island's economic
development. To the north of the island, manufacturing is limited
to handicrafts such as ceremics and weaving.
Monk seals having being living on earth for 15 million years.
Only three of the species live in warm water and since the extinction
of the Caribbean monk seal, only the Hawaiian and Mediterranean
monk seals remain. It is the most endangered species in the European
Union and it is estimated that there are only four hundred left.
The Mediterranean monk seal is native to the waters of Zakynthos
and is part of the rich wildlife on this island.
of the highlights of a visit to Zakynthos is sighting the beautiful
loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). The turtle is an endangered
species and can be found both on Zakynthos and Kefalonia.
More turtle information here.
You can view a short video here
not quite at the mercy of mass tourism, Zakynthos has seen a number
of rapid developments along the eastern and southern coasts over
the last ten years.
Presently the island's number one industry, the vast majority of
visitors are from the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland and Scandinavia.
The island has benefited from a new airport in the plains to the
north of Laganas which caters for more than 300,000 visitors each
year. Zakynthos has a base population of about 30,000.