Zante Town Harbour

History of Zante

The History of Zante. The island of Zakynthos is steeped in history dating back to before records began. Zakynthos even plays a part in ancient Greek mythology and is mentioned in the oldest western texts ever discovered. Zante was said to have originally been called Hyrie and was so renamed after the first settler; Zakynthos, Son of King Dardanus. The beautiful island has been conquered and changed hands many times over the years due to its luscious resources and strategic location in the Mediterranean.

Zante and Greek Mythology

Long before there were human settlers, Hyrie was the Paradise of the gods. Enchanted by the beauty of the Island, twins Artemis and Apollo were known to love it here.

Apollo

Apollo, the God of Light and Music was courageous and strong. He was famed for being tall and handsome and for his many acts of bravery. It is said that he had once slain a dragon which had plagued the religious centre of Delphi. Apollo was also known for his love of women and it is said that Apollo used his charm to seduce nymphs and maidens by the hundred. One such maiden, Daphne, wished to save her virtues and was so horrified by the attentions of Apollo that she begged her father to turn her into a tree. A little over the top perhaps, but effective! Apollo’s twin was his Sister Artemis.

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Artemis

Artemis was the Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt. Unlike Apollo, Artemis valued her virtue and begged Zeus to allow her to remain unmarried. She spent her time wandering the forests with deer and the other wild fauna. Artemis was known to be a pleasant young lady although like most women; she did have a temper that was to prove the downfall of a young man named Actaeon.

Whilst out hunting, Actaeon had chanced upon the naked Artemis bathing in a pool deep in the forest. To prevent Actaeon from telling what he had seen, Artemis turned the young man into a stag. When he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the water he ran away. This caused his very own hounds to chase him down and tear him to pieces.

Also, despite her virginity, Artemis is often depicted as a symbol of fertility and is seen as the protector of women during childbirth.

Old Western Literature

Generally considered the oldest literature ever discovered, Zakynthos is mentioned in the texts written by ancient Greek storyteller Homer. There is still much discussion about the true age of the papyrus text and they are dated between the 3rd and 8th century BCE.

In Greek mythology, Hyrie was renamed after the island founder ‘Zakynthos’ who was the son of legendary Arcadian King Dardanus. It is said that  has brought his fleet from the city of Psofisa and made his way to the island and founded this Greek Acropolis. Legend says that Zakynthos made coins and symbols of the island. The symbols and imagery were of himself holding a snake as according to these legends, he had rid the island of all its snakes.

Zakynthos as it was now known was then conquered by Arkisios, the King of Kefalonia and then Ulysses, the King of Ithaca.

Ulysses now had Zakynthos and he took vessels from across his lands and headed into the War of Troy; quoted by Homer in the ancient text lliad. Zakynthos is also mentioned in the second of the ancient texts; the Odyssey; Homer mentions 20 nobles from Zakynthos among a total of 108 of Penelope’s suitors.

In Odyssey, Homer also refers to a rebellion in the Ionian Islands that put an end to the power of Ulysses; and for the first time Zakynthians had the right to a democratic government. To be free.

Roman history of Zante

Ancient Greece

Zakynthos allied themselves with the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War 459 and 446BC. After the war, this alliance became very profitable for the Athenians as they used another of Zantes natural resources for their ships. At the bottom of the Keri lake there is a naturally formed deposit of tar. This tar was the most effective agent of the time used to protect ships planking.

Macedonians

King Philip V of Macedon conquered Zante in the early 3rd century BC when it was a member of the Aetolian League. In 211 BC, there was an attempted takeover by Roman praetor Marcus Valerius Laevinus. Laevinus managed to sack the city of Zakynthos although he didn’t manage to take the citadel. The takeover attempt was unsuccessful and the city was soon restored back to the control of King Philip V of Macedon.

Roman Empire

The Romans did finally conquer Zante themselves. Roman Admiral Marcus Fulvius Nobilior conquered Zante in 191BC and imposed the law of Rome. With both the Romans and Zakynthians living on the same island they started to improve their relationship. They joined forces in 87BC and managed to stop an invasion from Archelaus and the Mithridates.

Byzantine Empire

After the Western Roman empire fell, Zakynthos and the other Ionian islands; along with the colonies on the western Mediterranean coast; suffered decades of uncertainty. That was until Constantine re-organised what was left of the Eastern Roman empire and saw in the start of the Byzantine era. The Byzantine era saw the islanders separated into three different social classes. The most important class were the landowners of the island. Next, there were the tradesmen of the island and third were the peasants or lower classes.

Venetian Rule

In the history of Zante, by 1185AD the Byzantine empire had begun to decline. Zante then faced three centuries in which the Orsini, the Angioini and the Tocchi succeeded one another. Under the latter dynasty Zakynthos started to grow the borders of their country and conquered part of continental Greece. This improved their economic standing so much so that the Venetians decided to include Zante in to their province in 1485.

From 1492 the Venetians started to transfer many citizens to the province of Zakynthos. This gave them a period of rebirth and prosperity. The Zakynthians and the Venetians lived in peace and harmony and had religious and social freedom. The Venetian rule was important part in Zakynthian history although it lasted less than three centuries. This period allowed the beautiful Island of Zakynthos to flourish; both in culture and architecture; to the extent that Zante was given the name Fior di Levante (Flower of the East).

French Era

Following the fall of the Byzantine Empire, French liberal ideas spread across all of Europe. These ideas reached Zakynthos and were greeted with a lot of enthusiasm; and subsequently the island was subjected to the democratic French. The island became the headquarter of the Ionian islands and Napoleon himself once promised that he would free the island.

The freedom the French brought to the island collided with the nostalgia of the noble class for its old ways. The French burned all of the books like ‘Libro d’oro’ that contained the rights for the nobles of the island.

Ottoman Empire

Zante was very briefly governed by the the Turkish led Ottoman Empire. In 1798 the noble’s favoured the occupation that would see their privileges re-instated. Shortly after, in the year 1800; the Sultan created a new Ionian state which was founded in Constantinople. This new government consisted only of nobles which led to a constant rebellion between themselves and the islanders.

After 2 years of rebellion; the year 1802 saw Count Motsengio sent to try and establish a democratic way of electing officials for the island. 1807 however saw the Turkish give the island back to the French.

This made the islanders of Zakynthos very happy. This gave them hope that a better life and the history of Zante would once again be theirs.

Culture

English Colony

The history of Zante did not stop there. The English conquered Zakynthos in 1809. This English rule led to many developments on the island. The English built roads, harbours, bridges and schools. Even though the English ruled the island, during 1821 the Greeks fought for their independence. Zante played a crucial role during the conflict; they helped by donating money and soldiers and Greece gained their independence from their Turkish rulers.

Seeing Greece win their independence; the Ionian residents demanded a change to their constitutional rights and asked to be reunited with Greece.

The British then resigned their claim and gave the beautiful island of Zakynthos back to Greece in 1864.

After 2 years of rebellion; the year 1802 saw Count Motsengio sent to try and establish a democratic way of electing officials for the island. 1807 however saw the Turkish give the island back to the French.

This made the islanders of Zakynthos very happy. This gave them hope that a better life and the history of Zante would once again be theirs.

Modern Era

The War

During WWII Zante was yet again occupied; this time by the Italian and the German forces. Many of the islanders tried to resist and shield the Jewish community on the island. The soldiers wished to deport them and send them to death camps to die during the holocaust.

It is said that all 275 Jews on the island survived this devastating war. The reason for their survival was due to the quick thinking and intelligence of Bishop Chrysostomos and the Mayor Loukas Carrer. Both were ordered at gun-point to hand over a list of the names of all the Jews on the island; they only wrote 2 names on the list; their own. Whilst this was happening, the Jewish people were taken out to the hills and hidden; their whereabouts never revealed.

The Earthquake

After the war was over there was another big shock to hit the island of Zakynthos. In 1953, a strong earthquake hit the island which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale. This earthquake shook the area so badly that it also virtually destroyed the neighbouring island of Kefalonia too. People all over the world including Greece, United States, England, France & Norway came to support during this tragedy. Each nation offered great donations of money, medical resources and aid.

The history of Zante says that the first boat to arrive containing aid contained a note that read; “The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their Mayor or their beloved Bishop and what they did for us”. The note was from Israel.

Thanks to all the help they slowly rebuilt the buildings on the island, fortifying them in the process.

History

The Airport

1972 marked a momentous occasion for all those that lived on the island. Dionysios Solomos airport opened and the islanders rejoiced as their beautiful home became open for tourism. The islanders were so excited about welcoming people to their home, they celebrated in their thousands when the first aeroplane arrived. The history of Zante would never be the same.

The Culture

The foreign occupation throughout the history of Zante is evident in its arts and cultures. The mix of styles from different countries and era’s are combined in a way that is uniquely Zakynthian.

Zante is also the birthplace of Greek poet Dionysios Solomos. Dionysios Solomos is known throughout Greece as the person that wrote the poem that became the Greek national anthem.

Did You Know

  • Zante is the 3rd largest Ionian island
  • The word Zante is the Italian name for Zakynthos
  • Zakynthos is only around 9 miles from mainland Greece
  • Laganas bay is the nesting ground of the loggerhead turtle