In the Southwest of the island, in the area of Leivathos, an ongoing archaeological field survey has discovered dozens of sites, with dates ranging from the Paleolithic to the Venetian period.
From an archaeological point of view, Cephalonia is an extremely interesting island. Archaeological finds go back to 40,000 BP. Without doubt, the most important era for the island is the Mycenaean era, from approximately 1500-1100 B.C. The archaeological museum in Argostoli – although small – is regarded as the most important museum in Greece for its exhibits from this era.
The most important archaeological discovery in Cephalonia (and indeed in Greece) of the past twenty years was the discovery in 1991 of the Mycenaean tholos tomb at the outskirts of the village of Tzanata, near Poros in a lovely setting of olive trees, cypresses and oaks. The tomb was erected around 1300 B.C, and kings and high-ranked officials were buried in these tholos tombs during the Mycenaean period. It makes up the biggest tholos-tomb yet found in north-western Greece. The size of the tomb, the nature of the burial offerings found there and its well-chosen position point to the existence of an important Mycenaean town in the vicinity.
In late 2006, a Roman grave complex was uncovered in Fiskardo. The remains here date to the period between the 2nd century BC and the 4th century AD. Archaeologists described it as the most important find of its kind ever made in the Ionian Islands. Inside the complex, five burial sites were found, along with gold earrings and rings, gold leaves which may have been attached to ceremonial clothing, glass and clay pots, bronze artefacts decorated with masks, and bronze coins. The tomb had escaped the attentions of grave robbers and remained undisturbed for thousands of years. In a tribute to Roman craftsmanship, when the tomb was opened the stone door swung easily on its stone hinges. Very near to the tomb a Roman theatre was discovered so well preserved that the metal joints between the seats were still intact!
During the Middle Ages, the island was the center of the Byzantine theme of Cephallenia. After 1185 it became part of theCounty palatine of Kephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples until its last Count Leonardo III Tocco was defeated by the Ottomans in 1479.
The Turkish rule lasted only until 1500, when Cephalonia was captured by a Spanish-Venetian army. From then on Cephalonia and Ithaca remained overseas colonies of the Venetian Republic until its very end. The Treaty of Campoformio dismantling the Venetian Republic awarded the Ionian Islands to France.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the island was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world with Zakynthos, and owned a large shipping fleet. Its towns and villages were mostly built high on hilltops, to prevent attacks from raiding pirates that sailed the Ionian Sea during the 1820s.
French, Ionian state period and British Rule
Venice was conquered by France in 1797 and Cephalonia, along with the other Ionian Islands, became part of the French départment of Ithaque. In the following year the French were forced to yield the Ionian Islands to a combined Russian and Turkish fleet. From 1799 to 1807, Cephalonia was part of the Septinsular Republic, nominally under the sovereignty of theOttoman Empire, but protected by Russia.
By the Tilsit Treaty in 1807, the Ionian Islands were ceded back to France, which remained in control until 1809. Then Great Britain mounted a blockade on the Ionian Islands as part of the war against Napoleon, and in September of that year they hoisted the British flag above the castle of Zakynthos. Cephalonia and Ithaca soon surrendered, and the British installed provisional governments. The treaty of Paris in 1815 recognised the United States of the Ionian Islands and decreed that it become a British protectorate. Colonel Charles Philippe de Bosset became provisional governor between 1810 and 1814. During this period he was credited with achieving many public works, including the Drapano Bridge.
A few years later resistance groups started to form. Although their energy in the early years was directed to supporting the Greeks in the revolution against the Turks, it soon started to turn towards the British. By 1848 the resistance movement was gaining strength and there were skirmishes with the British Army in Argostoli and Lixouri, which led to some relaxation in the laws and to freedom of the press. Union with Greece was now a declared aim. Cephalonia, along with the other islands, was transferred to Greece in 1864 as a gesture of goodwill when the British-backed Prince William of Denmark became King George the First of the Hellenes.
Union with Greece
In 1864, Cephalonia, together with all the other Ionian Islands, became a full member of the Greek state.
During the Second World War Kefalonia was occupied by the Germans and by the Italians.
The Massacre of the Acqui Italian Division by the Germans in 1943 has become very famous. There is a monument near Argostoli as a remembrance of this terrible event that killed hundreds of Italian soldiers.
The Great earthquake of 1953
Cephalonia lies just to the east of a major tectonic fault, where the European plate meets the Aegean plate at a slip boundary. A series of four earthquakes hit the island in August 1953, and caused major destruction, with virtually every house on the island destroyed. The third and most destructive of the quakes took place on August 12, 1953 with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale. It caused the entire island to be raised 60 cm higher, where it remains, with evidence in water marks on rocks around the coastline.
The 1953 Ionian earthquake disaster caused huge destruction, with only regions in the north (like for instance in the village of Fiscardo) escaping the heaviest tremors and houses there remaining intact. Damage was estimated to run into tens of millions of dollars but the real damage to the economy occurred when residents left the island. An estimated 100,000 of the population of 125,000 left the island soon after, seeking a new life abroad.