History and Myth

Ithaca is synonomous with the Odyssey (Ulysses) and trials and tribulations of this mythological tale that determines the Ithaki psyche from the core outwards. The myth is an epic drama which spans decades, has been the premise of many movies and books and is unto this day, one of the most disputed in regard to the location of 'Ithaca'. Claims that the 'Ithaca' in Homer's writings could be Kefalonia, is not even lightly entertained by Ithacans, and although the search continues, Ithaca and the Odyssey are seeded in the rock, the sea and shoreline of this small island in the Ionian.

Neolithic Period c. 4000 - 2800 BC
Helladic Period c. 2800 - 1100 BC
Mycenaean Period c. 1500 - 1100 BC
Dorian Invasion c. 1100 - 800 BC
Hellenistic Period c. 300-180 B.C.
Roman Rule c. 180 BC - 396 AD
Norman Occupation c. 1185 - 1204 AD
Toques Family c. 1357 - 1479 AD
Venetian Rule c. 1504 - 1797 AD
Allied Russia/Turkey c. 1798 - 1807 AD
British Rule c. 1809 - 1864 AD

Geometric Period c. 900-670 B.C.
Archaic Period c. 700-500 B.C.
Classical Period c. 500-300 B.C.
Hellenistic Period c. 300-180 B.C.
Byzantine Rule c. 394 - 1185 AD
Orsini Fam of Rome c. 1204 - 1357 AD
Turkish Empire Rule c. 1484 - 1499 A D
French Democrats c. 1797 - 1798 AD
French Rule c. 1807 - 1808 AD
Greek Rule - c. 1864 AD onwards

History and Myth

Neolithic finds in the north of Ithaca date it's earliest inhabitation back to at least 3000 BC. According to it's infamous mythology, the island was named after either Ithacus , son of the sea-god 'Poseidon' or Ithacis, the son of a Kephalonia king who settled there. It's earliest settlers lived in the north of the island, but by 1500 BC, southern Ithaca was also inhabited. During the Mycenaean period, Ithaca became the power seat for the Kephalonian state which embraced all the Ionian islands and parts of the Arkarnanian mainland.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD, the Normans and Franks ruled Ithaca. The small Ionian island reached it's peak around 1000 BC, which seems to correspond with Homer's writing of the much disputed Odyssey . Archaeological finds from this period have been used to support the reading of this epic as a literal description of historic events and can be seen in Vathy's Archaeological Museum. When Ithaca fell under Dorian rule, it wasn't long before it's power and glory slipped away to mere insignificance. 800 --185 BC, under the Corinth state, Ithaca became a political backwater and remained so even after power was transferred to Rome in 200 BC During the Byzantine era 395 -1185 AD, Ithaca was annexed to Kephalonia and from then on shared much of it's larger neighbours' history.

As with other smaller islands, Ithaca was invaded by pirates and Turkish invaders over the centuries. It stood it's ground and it's internal strength until 1479, when the island was ransacked and violently thrust upon by Turkish forces. Most survivors abandoned the island. Turkey ruled for 30 years. When the Venetians began their rule over Ithaca, they were forced to offer land and tax exemptions to lure settlers back.

By the 1500's, Ithaca had a new fortified coastal capital, Vathy. The generous and natural harbor gave name to it. 'Vathy' means 'Deep'. With the persistent enticements of the Venetian rulers, Ithaca once again began to grow and prosper, and the small population of only 60 families in 1560, grew to 12.000 at it's modern day peak. Towards the end of the 18th century, Ithaca was ruled by the French until they were conquered by the British in 1809. In 1821, Ithacans, led by the ' Friendly Society' , were prominent activists during the ' War of Independence' against the Turkish rule of mainland Greece. The bloody battles finally ended in 1864 and Ithaca was liberated.

During the early 1900's, Ithacans began to emigrate to countries all around the globe, gaining them a widespread reputation for their seafaring skills. The wealth and ideas brought back to the island, in turn transformed it back to it's former glory of wealth and power. During WW2, Ithaca was thrust upon by both German and Italian forces, sending inhabitants into the mountains to escape persecution, but there were no deaths reported Ithacan soil due to the War. Ithaca was again struck down by forces beyond it's control with the earthquake that many locals still speak about as being the most ferocious ever experienced in 1953. It destroyed most of the islands' buildings, forcing many to leave Ithaca to find refuge elsewhere. Ruins of that time are scattered all over the island, but there are a few houses to have survived it's devastating impact. Most houses however, were built anew after the quake and are no more than 50 years old.

Odysseas Ulysses Fact or Fiction
Odysseus (called Ulysses in Latin) was the son of Laertes and was the ruler of the island kingdom of Ithaca. He was one of the most prominent Greek leaders in the Trojan War, and was the hero of Homer's Odyssey . He was known for his cleverness and cunning, and for his eloquence as a speaker.

Odysseus was one of the original suitors of Helen of Troy. When Menelaus succeeded in winning Helen's hand in marriage, it was Odysseus who advised him to get the other suitors to swear to defend his marriage rights. However, when Menelaus called on the suitors to help him bring Helen back from Troy, Odysseus was reluctant to make good on his oath. He pretended to have gone mad, plowing his fields and sowing salt instead of grain. Palamedes placed Odysseus' infant son in front of the plow, and Odysseus revealed his sanity when he turned aside to avoid injuring the child.

However reluctant he may have been to join the expedition, Odysseus fought heroically in the Trojan War, refusing to leave the field when the Greek troops were being routed by the Trojans, and leading a daring nocturnal raid in company with Diomedes. He was also the originator of the Trojan horse, the stratagem by which the Greeks were finally able to take the city of Troy itself. After the death of Achilles, he and Ajax competed for Achilles' magnificent armor; when Odysseus' eloquence caused the Greeks to award the prize to him, Ajax went mad and killed himself.

Odysseus' return from Troy, chronicled in the Odyssey, took ten years and was beset by perils and misfortune. He freed his men from the pleasure-giving drugs of the Lotus-Eaters, rescued them from the cannibalism of the Cyclopes and the enchantments of Circe. He braved the terrors of the underworld, and while in the land of the dead, Hades allowed Thiresias, Odysseus' mother, Ajax and others to give him advice on his next journey. They gave him important advice about the cattle of the sun (which Apollo herds), Scylla and Charybdis and the Sirens. From there on the travels were harder for Odysseus, but they would have been much worse of it wasn't for the help of the dead.
With this newly acquired knowledge, he steered them past the perils of the Sirens and of Scylla and Charybdis. He could not save them from their final folly however, when they violated divine commandments by slaughtering and eating the cattle of the sun-god. As a result of this rash act, Odysseus' ship was destroyed by a thunderbolt, and only Odysseus himself survived. He came ashore on the island of the nymph Calypso, who made him her lover and refused to let him leave for seven years. When Zeus finally intervened, Odysseus sailed away on a small boat, only to be shipwrecked by another storm. He swam ashore on the island of the Phaeacians, where he was magnificently entertained and then, at long last, escorted home to Ithaca.

There were problems in Ithaca as well, however. During Odysseus' twenty-year absence, his wife Penelope, had remained faithful to him, but she was under enormous pressure to remarry. A whole host of suitors were occupying her palace, drinking and eating and behaving insolently to Penelope and her son, Telemachus. Odysseus arrived at the palace, disguised as a ragged beggar, and observed their behavior and his wife's fidelity. With the help of Telemachus and Laertes, he slaughtered the suitors and cleansed the palace. He then had to fight one final battle against the outraged relatives of the men he had slain. However, Athena intervened to settle this battle and peace was restored.

"Odysseus." Encyclopedia Mythica.
[Accessed April 06th, 2003.]

Area History

Aetos - At Aetos, in southern Ithaca, the town Alcomenae was founded after the Corinthian rule 180 BC. From this period many objects of important historical value were found through excavations of the area. Among these objects were the coins imprinted with the name Ithaca and the image of Ulysses, leading to the thought that the village during that period was self-governed.

Anoghi - Distance from Vathy - 16 k. Altitude - 500 m. Anoghi is the second most important medieval settlement of the island and has a beautiful Byzantine church 'Panaghi' dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The church and it's wonderful Frescoes have been restored with accent to fine detail.

The village was established during the Middle Ages, but after the 16th century, most of the population moved to the coastal areas of Stavros and Kioni. The customs and dialects of Anoghi still relate strongly to Venetian rule, even today. Ruins of the old village can still be seen just above todays village of Anoghi, which is surrounded by an eerie, desolate and rocky terrain with enormous formations of rock shapes accenting the mountain slopes and plateau. The Irakles rock with it's peculiar shape and symmetry is 8 meters high and located east of the village.

Anoghi has few inhabitants today and only a small Taverna at its centre. During winter the village, due to it's altitude, is usually assured some snowfall and low cloud cover which regularly obscure views beyond a few meters.
The high country of Ithaca is 'otherworldly' to say the least, but on clear days, has amazing views of the lowlands and of the islands spotting the Ionian. It has the propensity to make one ponder the history and the myth of Ithaki.

Exoghi - Distance from Vathy - 20 k. Altitude - 340 m. During the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Venetian period, Exoghi was one of the main habitations of Ithaca and is one of the oldest villages on the island. It granted safety from the pirates through its high position on Mt. Neion, and a good view of the channel, the sea, and the bays around the northern part of the island. Following the effacing of the pirates in the 16th century, part of the population moved closer to the coast, forming the villages of Stavros and Platrithias.

The church of Aghia Marina in the centre of Exoghi is the villages' far seen icon with its bell tower standing high over northern Ithaki. Excavations at the east side of Exoghi, towards Platrithias, discovered that the area was full of ancient and Byzantine ruins. Evidence of buildings, wells, interesting objects, tools and coins from different periods were uncovered.

At the top of the village, a dirt road leads up to mountain's top to the site called Pernarakia and ends at the uninhabited monastery of Panaghia (Holy Virgin). The Monastery was operational until the last World War.

Frikes - Distance from Vathy - 20 k . Altitude - Sea Level. The name Frikes is said to have originated either from the ancient god Frikon or from the pirate Frikon who used the bay of Frikes as his base.

The area was uninhabited during the Middle Ages due to the presence of pirates, until the end of the16th century when inhabitants of Exoghi and Stavros felt less threatened by pirate invasions, making mountain living less imperative and coastal living more attractive. They founded Frikes, cultivated the small valley and used the bay for fishing. With the port of Frikes being the closest to the mainland, the island of Lefkas, and other smaller islands of the Ionian, Frikes became the port for trade and merchandise supply.

W.W.II impacted on the small village when young resistance fighters from the island captured a German U-boat the "Antuanetta" and it's crew in the harbour on the 13th September 1944. In retaliation, there was bombing by the Germans in some of the villages, which had the communities retreating to the hills to escape persecution. Most of the resistance fighters were taken to Anoghi and shot after being discovered.

Today there are no more than 80 people living in Frikes and its main source of income is tourism.

Kioni - 25k from Vathy. Altitude - Sea Level. During the Middle Ages, according to tradition, a column was set down on the beach for pirates and fishermen to secure their boats, thus it is said, the name Kioni derived, which means 'small column'.

The people who lived in the mountain village of Anoghi, founded Kioni at the end of the 16th century, and it became a thriving port village until after the earthquakes of 1953 when many inhabitants decided to leave the island.
The central church of the village, Ag. Ioannis, was destroyed by time and rebuilt, and then destroyed again by earthquakes, but fortunately the reredos and icons were not harmed. They still dwell in the church, which stands today.

Few buildings survived the earthquakes of 1953. The ones left standing, especially the 2 remaining around the harbour area, which have renaissance characteristics, still stand today and remain icons of a time gone by.
The three semi-ruined mills standing at the bay's entrance operated when Ithaca had a large production in wheat, which was until the beginning of the 20th Century.

Just outside of Kioni under the hills of Raxi, a road and path leads down to the bay of Mavrona, where a battle took place between the inhabitants and invading pirates in the 1650's. After the communities victory over the pirates the people decided to establish the Monastery of Ag. Nicholaos at the site, which functioned until the end of the 19th century. The Monastery buildings were destroyed by the earthquakes of 1953, but the church was left standing. An interesting and unusual object in this church is the ancient column set at the Alter which is assumed to be from an ancient temple that once stood in the area.

Platrithia - Distance from Vathy - 20 k. Altitude - 100 m Platrithia is surrounded by the small settlements of Kollieri, Kalamos, Aghia Saranda, Mesovouno, and Lahos. All these villages lie at a distance of one to three kilometres from each other. The name Platrithias is a combination of the words "platy" and "reithron" which mean "wide rivulet".

The area has been inhabited since ancient years, with an interruption during the Middle Ages due to the presence of pirates which caused the population to move to the mountains. What attracted people to reside in this area was the fertile land, an abundance of water and the quick and easy access to the bays of Aphales and Frikes.

Paliohora - Paliohora, literally meaning Old Village. It was the capital of the island during the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Venetian period. Only ruins remain of the village now. Paliohora was abandoned by its inhabitants around the middle of the 16th century. They relocated to the coast when pirate raids became more infrequent.

The houses in Paliohora were built of wood and stone with narrow windows, like small fortresses, which defended the community from pirates. The inhabitants of Paliohora were not just mistrusting of pirates, but also of each other. Unlike communities, which sheltered from a common enemy in one large fort, the people of Paliohora built their small forts at reasonable distances from one another to ward off enemies from without and from within.

Ruins of houses and old churches, with their fine Byzantine frescoes, are what remain of the village.

Stavros - Distance from Vathy - 17 k. Altitude - 110 m Stavros is the capital of northern Ithaca and the main link to the villages of the surrounding area. It stands at the foot of Mt. Neritos and overlooks the Bay of Polis, the Channel and the neighbouring island of Kefalonia.
Stavros also contains the small settlements of Pilikata and Kalyvia. The inhabitants of the mountain villages of Anoghi and Exoghi founded the town in the 16th century after pirate attacks on the island diminished.

Stavros is a town of churches - Sotiris (The Savior), Agia Varvara (St. Barbara) and Zoodochos Pighi, tradition and community. A fine sculpted bust of Odysseus (Ulysses) stands in the Town Square and a few traditional houses, which survived the earthquakes of 1953, stand as proud reminders of the Venetian rule. One of these s Tzovanatos house.

Polis Bay bay below Stavros, with its lovely port; boasts the Cave of Loizos, which was used as a temple to worship the Nymphs, Artemis, Hera, Athena and Odysseus (Ulysses) during ancient times. Excavations in the cave have brought to light various tools, pottery and everyday objects used to worship the gods and recently twelve tripods, similar to those the Phaeacians had supposedly given to Odysseus, and the important archaeological find of the female face mask, made of clay and engraved with the words EYXHN OAYYEE (Dedicated to Ulysses), were also uncovered. These and many other interesting objects can be found at the Stavros Archaeological Museum.

Stavros is steeped in history. Deep in the bay of Polis, lies the Byzantine city of lerousalem which was destroyed and sunk by a strong earthquake in 967 AD and about 1 kilometre north of Stavros, at Pilikata; the excavations on the hillside between the bays of Polis and Frikes, brought to light remains of a small Bronze Age settlement. The finds unearthed there reinforce the theory that the ancient city of Ithaca lies somewhere in the vicinity.

Vathy - Altitude - Sea level. 3 kilometres to the northwest of Vathy lies the so-called Cave of the Nymphs (Nimfon Cave). According to the myth, it was here that Odysseus hid the gifts bestowed upon him by the Phaeacians, who deposited him upon Ithaca's shores ten years after the end of the Trojan War.

During the Middle Ages this area was called "Vale di Compare" (Port of the Godfather). Today the official name is Ithaca, but everyone refers to the capital as Vathy or Hora (town).
Prior to the Middle Ages there was no organized inhabitation in Vathy, what settlement did exist was forced to move up the mountain to live safely away from pirates who used the port as a hideaway.

Vathy was founded in the 16th century and became the capital and main port of Ithaca. It is built ampitheatrically around a deep and naturally sheltered bay. On each side of the narrow port entrance stand the ruins of a fort, built by the French in 1807 to protect themselves from the powerful fleet of the English. In the middle of the port lies the islet named "Lazareto", on which stands the church of "Sotiros" (Savior). built in 1668, In 1836, integrating some stones from ancient ruins, another building was constructed on Lazaretto which functioned as a quarantine all through the English period and in 1864, when the English retreated and Ithaca was united with Greece, the building became a prison until 1912. During the following decades there was no official use for this building and it was not rebuilt after being demolished by the earthquakes of 1953. All that remains are the ruins and a small, whitewashed church. Passing through the entrance on the left of the shore is "Loutsa". Here a famous dockyard operated all through the 19th century, constructing over 200 ships.

The earthquakes of 1953 almost completely destroyed Vathy, leaving few buildings untouched by it's force. Fortunately, most of the destroyed Venetian structures were rebuilt in their original style, and as Vathy is classified as a heritage listing, it continues to be ruled by the law passed in 1978 which determines the style and colour of new buildings remain in keeping with the islands' historical beginnings.

Since 1975, every summer, the municipality organizes cultural festivals with theatrical plays, concerts, debates and art exhibits of which artists and people from all over Hellas take part and since 1981, an annual International Odessa Congress takes place with the participation of scientists from all over the world who specialize in Homeric studies.

On setting out to discover our ancestral past, we eagerly covet the stories that can lead us there. The ancestral house, or its ruins, becomes the touchstone from which an understanding of our heritage can begin. In Passage to Ithaca the past finds a voice through the exploration of the island's surnames and their origins. In the process it sheds light on the formation of Ithacan society from the Middle Ages to the mid 20th century. A history of intermittent arrival and settlement, following major political and natural upheavals, has shaped a community with a distinct identity. The author's extensive use of primary sources from the archives and oral tradition, provides material that will prove indispensable to any Ithacan family historian. Email here to purchase: ithakibook@gmail.com

“Passage to Ithaca” by George Paxinos, reviewed by Peter Kanges
Mr Paxinos has spared neither time nor effort to research thoroughly the movement of people into Ithaca and through Ithaca, the journey of names and nicknames and, indirectly, the ensuing customs and culture. Information from hundreds of documents, topped-up by personal field work and oral tradition, has helped add to the mosaic of what makes Ithacans today. The complex blending of immigrations, transits and emigrations over several centuries and all the knowledge, customs and amalgam of experiences that people carried with them has added to their flexible and adaptable nature and soul. This changing kaleidoscope has been influenced by Ithaca’s geopolitical position and by the many foreign powers that have occupied or held ownership of the island. A scholarly piece of work which is structuring and adding to what is known or believed about Ithaca and her people. There should be a copy of this book in every Ithacan household, both in Greece and overseas. Although the subjects covered are complex, Mr Paxinos has used a language which keeps readers interested and helps them relate the text to their own knowledge and family history. Peter Kangis.

Setting out for Ithaca ... "As the poet Cavafy wrote in his poem Ithaka 'pray that the journey will be full of discovery ' Did you know that there was once a city named Ithaka on the island, that there were Monasteries, that you can still see a Venetian Mansion? Read about those and other fascinating features in the book Kefallinia-Ithaki: A Historical and Architectural Odyssey by Architecture Professor Nicholas Patricios.

Ithaca Archivist, the late Andreas Anagnostatos', book - Analecta: Collected from the History and folklore of Ithaca. This is a comprehensive book on Ithacas history from 1800 - 2000. It has all the important dates as well as interesting local facts about language and imported culture etc. Available in Greek and Greek/English.
Order from the DHMOS (Council) ITHAKIS at ithaki@otenet.gr
Andrea Anagnostatos Click Here


History and Mythology of Ithaki Greece. Greek Island history & myth in the Ionian. Ithaca Greece.



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