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Ancient Times

According to mythology the founder of Zakynthos was King Zakynthos, the son of the mythical Dardanos, king of Arkadia. The island was colonized around 1500 BC. New inhabitants built an acropolis on the island, which Zakynthos called Psofida in honor of his hometown in Arkadia the Peloponnese. At first, the island was named Iria, but over time she took over the name of her son Dardanos. The first to refer to the island was Homer “Iliad”, where we read that Zakynthos along with Kefalonia, Lefkada and Acarnania were part of the territory of Odysseus, the legendary king of Ithaca! Ancient coins found in this area suggest that they worshiped the gods of Olympus, mainly Apollo and Diana. The image of Zakynthos with a snake was also often shown on coins, because according to some accounts he freed the island from them. The two most powerful centers of Athena and Sparta grew on the continent. Probably, the island was neutral territory and did not participate in the Persian wars. However, in the fifth century BC Zakynthos supported Athens in the Peloponnesian wars against Sparta and took part in the expedition to Sicily. After defeat in this war, the island was conquered by Sparta, later it came under the influence of Macedonians, and eventually fell into the hands of the Romans.

Roman and Byzantine Period

The Romans attacked and seized Zakynthos in the 2nd century BC At first, the island’s inhabitants did not accept the Roman rule and rebelled against them several times without success. Over time, citizens gained some independence in exchange for the obligation to pay an annual tax to the Empire and to provide soldiers to Roman legions. There is no confirmed information when Christianity came to Zakynthos, but it can be said that it was the dominant religion in the second half of the 3rd century CE Local legend has it that Maria Magdalena and Maria Kleopas stopped on the island, being on their way from Jerusalem to Rome. Shepherd Apollodoros hosted them near Porto Vromi. It happened in 34 years. Maria Magdalena visited neighboring settlements and preached Jesus’ teachings. Her stories convinced the local people that she founded the first Christian community. The place where she taught was named Maries (west of the island) to commemorate this event. Under Roman rule, the island developed and flourished culturally. The fall of the Empire made the island invaded by Goths, Vandals and Arabs and pirates for the next decades, which brought the local population to the brink of poverty. At the beginning of the second millennium, when the Byzantine Empire was in decline, a new threat appeared. Under the pretext of the liberation of the Holy Lands, crusader forces and groups of adventurous treasure hunters invaded the farthest Byzantine lands.

Franks

In the 18th century, the French took over the island and ruled for three centuries. The Orsini and Tokki families served as supreme superiors. Their rule was characterized by conspiracies, intrigues and murders. During Tokki’s rule, despite many scandals, the island’s living conditions were improved a little. In 1479, the Turks conquered and destroyed Zakynthos and the last of the Tokki family left the island, unable to defeat the enemy.

Ottoman Turks

In 1479, the Turks appeared on the island. The Turks did not have friendly intentions to plunder the island, and the population who did not manage to escape decimated.

Venetians

The Venetians appreciated the location of Zante between the lands of Greece and Italy. After a quick war and diplomatic games, they conquered the island in 1485. Venetian domination brought a period of peace, stability and development opportunities. The island’s population has been strengthened by many Venetian citizens and Greeks seeking shelter after their occupation by the Turks. In this way Zakynthos became a center for persecuted Greeks and a center of Hellenism. Greek consciousness and tradition combined with Western influences gave a new quality that was expressed in new forms of art and architecture. According to the Venetian right, the inhabitants of the island were divided into three groups: nobility, citizens and ordinary people (common people). Only the nobility had civil rights, and members of this group were registered in the so-called “Golden Book”. Greed of the nobility and oppression of ordinary people led to a social rebellion in the years 1628 – 1632, known as the People’s Rebellion. It was the first social revolution in the history of modern Greece and unfortunately it ended in a very bloody way. On the island during the Venetian rule, painting, literature, poetry and music developed. It was a time of cultural and intellectual development and flourishing. Despite the strong pressure of the Venetians, Zakynthians never lost their national identity and despite the fact that Italian was the official language, Greek remained the language of the nation. The end of the Venetian rule ended the French Republicans who appeared on July 4, 1797 in Zakynthos.

French First and Secont Occupation

In 1789 the French Revolution broke out, which was received on the island with great enthusiasm. The Association of Jacobins was founded to combat social inequalities. On July 4, 1797, a French flag was hung on the island. A few days later, during the demonstration, the “Golden Book” was burned. Inhabitants of§ Democrats have been advocating the introduction of democratic rule and the abolition of noble titles, and this is what happened. It did not last long, however, because the French authorities remained on the island for only 15 months. In October 1799, the French garrison was forced by the Russians and Turks to surrender. In 1800, two powers decided to establish an independent state under the name “State of the Ionian Islands”, of course, under the supervision of Russia and Turkey. The state of the Ionian Islands lasted seven years and was the first independent Greek state with its own constitution and flag. Zakynthians, however, enjoyed their apparent freedom for too long. In 1807, the French under Napoleon conquered the Ionian Islands and returned to the island. However, they ruled for only two years, because the British fleet reached Zakynthos and took the fortress in Bochali.

Britich Occupation

British rule (1809-1864) was the last before Zante was united with Greece. Many investments were made during this period. The English put the infrastructure of the island on its feet, built waterworks and roads, modernized the port. They carried out renovations in public buildings and churches, organized health care. They also placed great emphasis on education, they founded the first college on the island. Zakynthians made secret preparations for the Greek Revolution against Turkey for many years to support their compatriots from the continent. This fact led to many conflicts between islanders and the British administration. The conflict exacerbated in 1821 after the outbreak of the Greek Revolution. After the liberation of Greece and the creation of the Greek state, the Greek Islands proclaimed unification with Greece. Despite its strong opposition, Great Britain (together with France and Russia) signed a treaty in London on June 5, 1863. Under it, Britain gave up its role as protector of the Ionian Islands.

Present Day

On May 21, 1864, the Greek flag hung for the first time at Bohali Castle. Since then, Zante and the other Ionian Islands have shared history with the rest of the country. During World War II, all Greece was subject to Italian and German occupation. Many islanders participated in the resistance movement against the occupier. After many conflicts and sacrifices, the island was liberated from German occupation in 1945. A few years after the Second World War, a civil war broke out between the communists and the right-wing forces. In August 1953, a terrible earthquake shook the islands in the Ionian Sea causing massive damage to Zante. Almost all old palaces and churches were razed to the ground. The capital was rebuilt according to strict regulations, aimed at protecting the building against subsequent quakes.

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