Culture and history info
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.