Zakynthos is one of the Greek Ionian Islands located off the west coast of the Peloponnese. The island is one of the greenest and most beautiful in the archipelago and boasts some superb sandy beaches. It's the beaches of Zakynthos that make the island a magnet for the package holiday hordes that migrate here between Easter and October. The busiest seaside resorts rival those of Corfu in terms of their frantic nightlife and all-action beach scene. But if you venture further afield than the main resort areas you'll find some lovely secluded coves, dramatic mountain scenery and unspoilt inland villages.
Tour groups fly directly to the island's international airport, six kilometres south west of the capital Zakynthos Town. There's at least one daily flight to and from Athens and regular bus services connect the island capital with the mainland port of Patras (3.5 hours) continuing on to Athens (another seven hours).
If you're an independent traveller planning to visit in high season be warned that most of the hotels, especially those in the south coast resort areas, are block booked well in advance by the tour operators.
The island's mega resort is Laganas on the south coast where 14 kilometres of golden sand gently shelves into shallow water. The main beachfront is chock-a-block with bars, restaurants, hotels and apartment blocks and you'll find all manner of watersports and leisure facilities including ballooning and glass-bottomed boat rides. If you're after 24-hour partying, Brit bars, curries and quiz nights then this is the place for you.
You may even find yourself swimming alongside the beautiful loggerhead sea turtles which use the soft sand of the south coast beaches as their nesting grounds. Sadly the turtles, which have been migrating to these shores from Africa for thousands of years, are now one of Europe 's most endangered species primarily because of the ravages of mass tourism. Environmentalists are increasingly finding themselves at loggerheads with the tourist industry which has fiercely resisted various controls designed to protect the turtles.
The tourists themselves will ultimately have to take responsibility for the demise or survival of these delightful creatures. Rules such as the ban on visiting designated areas from dusk till dawn during the breeding season should be strictly observed.
A favourite island excursion is a boat ride to the Blue Caves in the north where the sea is so clear and such an exquisite colour that your skin appears blue when you swim in it. The famous Shipwreck Beach, at the north western tip of the island, is also on most excursion boat schedules. It's a superb beach, named after the skeleton of the cargo ship which ran aground here in the 1960s, and despite the hordes of day trippers who arrive here daily in the summer months it's mercifully free of tourist trappings.
If you hire a car or sturdy motorbike you'll be able to explore the island's pretty inland villages and impressive western coastline with its dramatic cliffs and breathtaking sunsets.
The History of Zakynthos Island
The oldest findings of bone fossils in the bay of Laganas are from the Palaeolithic era.
According of Homer, the first inhabitant of the island was Prince Zakynthos, the son of King Dardanos of Troy, who arrived here between 1500 and 1600 B.C. Thereafter, the island was inhabited by the Arcadians, whose culture developed through the exploitation of the fertile soil. They went on to found colonies (the well-known Zakantha in Spain, whose culture flourished for more than a thousand years, until 218 BC when it was destroyed by Annivas). Another colony was also Kodonies in Crete.
Afterwards, Zakynthos was conquered by King Arkisos of Cephalonia and was subsequently reconquered by the famous Ulysses. Upon Ulysses return to Ithaca and with Neoptolemos' mediation, a treaty was signed granting autonomy and democracy on the island, the first in the Hellenic area.
In the 6th century BC, silver currency was initiated, which depicts Apollon three-legged. At the beginning of the Persian War Zakynthos remained neutral, but in the battle of Plataies it took part against the Persians, and they beat them back to Asia.
From 455 B.C. Zakynthos was allied with the Athenians and with Corfu, and faced together the Corinthians. After the defeat of the Athenians in Cicily, Zakynthos was conquered by the Lacdaimonias (Sparta), who imposed an oligarchic regime. Later on, the inhabitants rebelled and re-established democracy.
During the Macedonian War, the island was occupied by the Macedonians, and afterwards by the Romans. After the first years under the command of a Roman governor, the island was granted the right to be governed by its own laws, have its own municipality, parliament, legislature, and currency with a local symbol. This era contributed to a great cultural development on Zakynthos.
In 34 A.D. Maria Magdalena and Maria Klopa, on their way to Rome, brought Christianity to the island and the name of the village Maries is a proof of this fact. Every year there is a great ceremony and feast to commemorate this event.
Constantine the Great, during the Byzantine era, included Zakynthos in the province of Illyria. During this time the island suffered from pirates and, later on, also from the Crusaders, passing from the East to the West.
In 1084, the island was occupied by the Venetians; and from the end of the 12th century until 1357, by the French.
In 1357, the De Toki dynasty settled on the island. They contributed to administrative and economic organization, which resulted in an important growth and development of Zakynthos until the Turks attacked and the people had to escape from the island to the Peloponnesian mainland.
In 1485, the Venetians occupied the island again and called back the inhabitants to their fields and homes. In the famous Libro d`Oro are recorded the names of the Venetian nobility. The island developed, and the city was reconstructed in an impressive architectural style. From these times on, Zakynthos was named the Florence of Greece. Separation of the population into "nobili", "civili" and "popolari" took place. The popolari rebelled against the nobili. The revolution is also well known as the "rebellion of the popolari".
With the French Revolution in 1789 the Zakynthians brought the ideals of social equity and justice on the island. On July 4, 1797, the French democratic flag was raised on the castle of Zakynthos. Dicrimination was abolished and schools for all children were established.
In October 1798, the Turkish fleet occupied Zakynthos. On March 21, 1800, a treaty between Turkey and Russia was signed. This contract established the first independent Greek State of the Seven Islands and was effective for seven years.
In 1809, the British fleet occupied Zakynthos, and Zakynthos then became the titular capital of the Ionian State. At the same time, the rest of Greece was under Turkish occupation. With a base in Zakynthos, the Philiki Etairia (Company of Friends) promoted the rebellion against the Turks.
In 1830, Greece became independent. Then in 1851, a member of Parliament Ioannis Typaldos Kapelatos suggested the union of the Seven Islands with Greece. The British reacted violently, but the Zakynthians under leadership of Constantine Lamvardos carried on the struggle for the union with Greece. Finally, on May 21 in 1864, the Greek flag was raised on the island.
During World War II, the Italians and the Germans occupied Zakynthos until its liberation on September 12, 1944.
The big earthquake in 1953, together with a seven-day firestorm, destroyed most of the monuments of cultural development on the island and the few still remaining give only a slight hint of its glorious past. In the Museum, you can see the miniature of the town before the earthquake.
How to GoBY CAR – BY FERRY
In order to visit Zakynthos you have to drive to Kyllini and then take the ferry boat to Zakynthos.
In daily bases the ferries of Ferry Syndicate of Zakynthos make regular courses. Apart from the port of Kyllini, Zakynthos is connected to the port of Patra.
For more information:
KTEL OF ATHENS 210 5129432
KTEL OF ZAKYNTHOS 26950 42656, 22255
KTEL OF PATRAS 2610 220129
PORT AUTHORITIES OF KYLLINI 26230 92211
PORT AUTHORITIES OF ZAKYNTHOS 26950 28117 – 8
SYNDICATE FERRIES OF ZAKYNTHOS 26950 48301
SYNDICATE FERRIES OF KYLLINI 26230 92488, 92013
If you want to travel by plane there are every day flights from the airport of Spata to the airport of Zakynthos. The flight lasts about 50 minutes.
For more information:
AIRPORT OF SPATA 210 3530000
AIRPORT OF ZAKYNTHOS 26950 28322
OLYMPIC AIRWAYS OF ATHENS 210 9666666
OLYMPIC AIRWAYS OF ZAKYNTHOS 26950 48611
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