Kefalonia

Culture & History

History of Kefalonia

Kefalonia with an extent of 786sq.km is the biggest of the Seven Islands. According to the general census of 2001, its population is 36.404 residents; along with Ithaca, they constitute the Prefecture of Kefalonia. The political, administrative and commercial centre of the island is Argostoli.

Landmark in the historical era of Kefalonia was its annexation in the Venetian conquests. Its geostratigical importance was shown at the end of the 15th century, when Venice lost her stronghold in the area of Peloponnesus. With the aid of Spanish forces, Venice decided to conquer Kefalonia. The siege of the Saint Georgios fortress, where the Ottoman troops had resorted to, lasted until the Christmas of 1500. That is when the occupation of the island was completed.

The fall of Handakas in 1669 signaled the rise of Kefalonia as a conquest of ultimate importance for Venice. The geographical position of the island offered Venice the opportunity to control the Ottoman-conquered areas of Sterea, Peloponnesus and Lefkada. Moreover, it was an important stop for the commercial transportation and navigation of the Serenissima. These reasons urged Venice to reinforce further her Asos fortress, which was situated opposite the southern coasts of Lefkada and, even from the end of the 16th century, was an important link for the Venetian defense from the Adriatic Sea to Crete.

The inhabitants of Kefalonia took part in the Venetian attempt to conquer Peloponnesus in 1684, in the Orlof movement in the beginning of 1770 as well as in the movement of Lambros Katsonis in Aegean, in the beginning of 1790.

The Venetian authorities settled in the Saint Georgios fortress and remained there until 1757, when Argostoli became the new capital.

The General administration consisted of the Prudent, who had both political and military authority as well as of two counselors. At the same time there were the Administration of Lixouri, the Administration of Asos and the Counsel of the community of Kefalonia, which had the possibility of taking decisions concerning the internal affairs of the island. Only the nobles from Kefalonia who were registered in the Golden Book could attend the Council and from them, the most important dignitaries of the local administration were elected (trustees, censors and judges). The imposition of discipline and legality in the Council meetings was often attempted. That was due to the fact that the origin of people attending the meetings was irrelevant. Furthermore, some of them were incompetent in the managing of public posts.

As far as the military organization of the island is concerned, the Prudent was the upper military commander. He controlled the governors of infantry and cavalry. Mercenaries as well as the indebted in recruitment residents of Kefalonia took part in the upper corps. Permanent marine force in the island did not exist since the General Administration of navigation had its base in Corfu.

Lastly, as far as the ecclesiastical policy of Venice is concerned, the latter founded the Catholic Bishopric of Kefalonia and Zakynthos, maintaining at the same time, the Orthodox Bishopric and granting the clergy with the right of the election of their own leader.

The society of Kefalonia was divided into three social classes: the nobles (nobili), the bourgeois (civili) and the people (popolo). Trouble was often caused by the arbitrariness of the nobles against the Venetian authority and the suppression that was caused on the peasants. Moreover, arguments between the nobles and the bourgeois were also caused because the bourgeois were excluded from the council of the island (only the nobles had the right to participate in it). The conflicts were terminated at the end of the 17th century when the bourgeois were allowed to participate in the council. At the beginning of the 17th century, the popular class begins to demand its civil rights, and mainly the possibility of conversing with Venice. Regarding the ecclesiastical policy of Venice, the latter founded the Catholic Bishopric of Kefalonia and Zakynthos.

Venice constituted in the Seven Islands five economic regions with separate public funds. Kefalonia, along with Ithaca, constituted a separate economic region whose main concern was the unhindered collection of taxes. At the same time, it took measures to reinforce cattle-breeding and agriculture and gave emphasis on oil tree cultivation in order to decrease the import of oil in the island. An important step for the economic history of Kefalonia was the decision of Venice to render raisin as a monoculture that led to the reduction of production of crops and corn and caused problems of survival in the island.

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