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History

History

Zakynthos is famous since the time of Homer and the Trojan War as a part of the kingdom of Ulysses. The dominant view concerning its settlement states that the first settler was Zakyntho, son of the king of Troy, Dardanos. The more recent historian P. Chiotis, having researched older historians, comes to the conclusion that the settlers, who came with Zakyntho, were Arcadians from Arcadian town by the name of Psofida and he supports that Dardanos was of Arcadian heritage but that he had immigrated to Asia Minor. Thus, his son came from there to Zakynthos and gave his name to the new city and he named its castle Psofida.

The special bent that the ancient settlers of the island had for music and the worship of Artemis, which are specific characteristics of the Arcadians, certifies this relationship. After the Trojan War the people of Zakynthos become autonomous from the kingdom of Ithaca and they established a democratic regime. This island is democratically governed for approximately the next 650 years. During this time Zakynthos flourishes, develops population wise and establishes its first colony in Spain, which was named Zakantha.

During the Persian wars the people of Zakynthos take a neutral stance, while during the Peloponnesian war they take the side of the Athenians. Zakynthos goes on to be subjugated by the Macedonians and later on by the Romans who grant the island relative autonomy.

Christianity spread to the island in 34 B.C. by Mary Magdalene who set down on the island on her way to Rome or by Saint Beatrice according to other traditions. During the Byzantine years pirates, would-be conquerors and barbarians subject it to many attacks. With the Crusades of the westerners the Ionian Islands would be in for new vicissitudes.

Zakynthos, like the other islands, are taken over successively by the Venetians, the Franks, the Andigavous, the kings of Naples, the Tokous (Florentine princes). When the Turks occupied all of Greece, Zakynthos and the other Ionian islands were part of the Venetian dominion (1484).

During the Venetian occupation, Zakynthos became organized and was influenced by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The Venetians colonized the island’s capital, they built the castle, they created works of infrastructure and the new city started to expand beyond the limits of the Castle, the ancient settlement of Psofida, and to move down towards the sea shore, where over the years a large, commercial port was created.

However, the Venetians brought with them their typical aristocratic, oligarchic regime and the populace was separated into the nobility, the bourgeois and the common plebeians. That is why, when the French democrats arrive in Zakynthos in 1797, they are welcomed with enthusiasm. However, neither the social nor the economic problems of the island are resolved. Thus the Zakynthians seek out new protectors.

In 1798 the oligarchy returns with the dominance of the Russian Turks (1799-1807). They will be succeeded by the French imperialists (1807-1814) and finally the English (1814-1864).

The English conquerors made sure both the governing body and public works were modernized. The new ideas of the time and Greece’s independence from the Turks created a powerful, radical movement, whose actions contributed to the unification of Zakynthos and the other islands with the rest of the Greek islands on 21 May 1864, when the Greek flag was finally raised on the island.

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