An introduction to Zakynthos Island
Zakynthos Island, also often referred to as Zante, which is the name the Italians gave it, is the third largest island in the Ionian chain. Zakynthos was the name of the son of an ancient Arcadian chief, Dardanos.
Zakynthos Island is known and loved for its endless sandy beaches and its crystal clear waters, as well as for its attractive sandy coastline where the Caretta-caretta loggerhead sea turtle returns each year to reproduce its endangered eggs.
Zakynthos Island is certainly no stranger to tourism, and yet it is not a major tourism destination, at least in comparison to other islands. As such, it maintains its authentic charm, and there are many, many opportunities to stray off the beaten part and to experience a quiet, relaxed and totally idyllic island experience.
Zakynthos island has been inhabited since the Neolithic Age and Homer mentions that the island was first inhabited by the son of the great Trojan king Dardanos, known as Zakynthos, who arrived on the island around 1500 BC. The Kefalonian king Arkeisiso conquered the island as did the Ithacan Ulysses. Zakynthos later went on to become the first independent democracy to be founded in the Hellenic area and remained so for over 600 years.
Like the other Ionian islands, Zakynthos spend a great number of years under Venetian rule during the Republic of Venice, but also under other Italian rule. The island however was also occupied at various times by France, Russia, Turkey and Britain. During British rule, Zakynthos and the other islands were formed into a pseudo United States of the Ionian Islands and in 1864, they were given back to the rest of Greece.
The modern history of Zakynthos island is marred by the great earthquakes 1953, which essentially destroyed the entire island, both in terms of physical buildings and state archives. In fact, only about three buildings survived this massive destruction and they are the Cathedral of Saint Dionysus, the building housing the National Bank and the church of Agios Nikolaos. The modern island has been rebuilt according to strict anti-seismic regulations and has gone on to survive numerous recent earthquakes.
Straying away from Zakyntos town centre, you will discover some of the most picturesque villages in all of the Ionian island chain. Some of the most alluring are Katastari, Volimes, Maries and Keri. There are mountain villages and seaside resort villages, all of which have managed to keep their authentic charm and traditional architecture.
Zakynthos’ natural landmarks are as sublime as her man-made landmarks and of the most impressive are the so called Blue Caves, found to the north of the island. They are simply geological formations carved from the motion of the sea over thousands of years and their colour, for which they are famous, comes from the depth of the water deep below. The island organises many tours to these natural wonders and if you only choose one cave to visit, then make it Kianoun, the largest of the lot .
Once you’ve explored the natural landscape of this most mythical island, there are numerous other landmarks to see, such as the shipwreck of a smuggler boat which was washed ashore after engine failure around 1981.
Another must-see on the island is the picturesque monastery of Agios Gergio Kremnao. Once there, find the viewing platform and stare at the surrounding landscape in awe or starting snapping pictures and video footage of this most sublime view.
The best way to explore the Zakynthos Island is to hire a scooter or moped or, if you are fit and can navigate over hills and valleys, do hire a bicycle.
Zakynthos island is lucky to have an abundant and luscious land with excellent weather all year round, a mild winter and sufficient rainfall. This means that the flora on the island is one of its major attractions. There is beauty here with hundreds of varieties of flowers and plants growing happily along the roadside, hills, mounts and plains. Walking, hiking, climbing and camping are the major activities to be experienced on the island of Zakynthos, after the beaches and night-life, of course. Spring is the best time to be active in Zakynthos, because of the amazing bloom and also because the major tourist invasion comes in summer. Even in summer, however, Zakynthos isn’t the tourist trap that some other islands are, so that exploring the island, the main town, the cafés and tavernas. the beaches, and the architecture and museums, is relatively relaxed and enjoyable.
Before leaving the island of Zakynthos, do try the agricultural produce the island is famous for – its honey, olive oil, and wine. Do also participate in one of the islands most loved past-times and that is diving and scuba-diving. The island organises numerous excursions to show off its fascinating under-water world. The marine life around the island is miraculous, what with moray eels, seals, octopus and the famous and unique to the Mediterranean caretta caretta logerhead turtles. Also, get to know a little about 19th century poet Dionysios Solomos, who is known, apart from his body of poetry, for authoring the national anthem of Greece.