Zakynthos, the southernmost of
the Ionian Islands, owes its name to the son of
Dardanos, the king of Troy, whom according to myth
built the first city here. It is also mentioned in
"The Iliad". All who came to this island fell under
its spell. The Venetians baptized it "the flower of
the Orient" (Fior' di Levante). Others gave it just
as evocative names like "earthly paradise", and
"Perfumed isle", while Dionysios Solomos, the father
of modern Greek poetry and a native son, wrote,
"Zakynthos could make one forget the Elysian
No one who has been here can forget the emerald
green of its sea, its pine-studded mountains, its
musical people and their hospitality.
The first thing to welcome you, as soon as you step
off the ferryboat, is the town of Zakynthos. Though
it lost all but three of its buildings in the
earthquake of 1953, the town has been meticulously
reconstructed and its former layout has been
Zakynthos today has pleasantly arcade wide streets,
spacious squares, imposing buildings and cheerful
houses. The Museum of Post-Byzantine Art on Solomos
Square contains treasures salvaged from the islands
On the waterfront, one should visit the churches of
Agios Dionysios, the island's patron saint, with its
tall campanile, and of Agios Nikolas tou Molou, a
church out of the Italian Renaissance with,
surprisingly, a 17th century Byzantine belfry.
If you walk along the flagstone coastal promenade,
the so-called Strata Marina between the two
churches, at dusk, you'll get the true flavour of
the town. Sometimes it seems as if the whole
population is out enjoying the ritual of the evening
stroll. The street is lined with small cafes and
shops selling folk art.
Don't leave before tasting the famous Zakynthos
"mandolato" or nougat, it's a real treat.
The town Is watched over by the Venetian fortress on
the hill above. Only the gate, outer walls and
battlements still stand. But from this vantage point
a spectacular view can be had of the harbour,
fertile inland plain and beaches as far as the eye
can see. Nearby is another hill, the Lofos Strani
where Solomos Dionysios composed the famous, the
father of modern Greek poetry "Hymn to Liberty",
which became the Greek National Anthem.
Sightseeing on the Island
Zakynthos is almost triangular in shape, with two
green mountainous promontories extending into the
sea to form the huge bay of Laganas. There are more
pine-covered mountains and hills in the north, but
the centre is gentle and lush, richly planted with
currant vines, olive trees, almonds and seasonal
vegetables. There are dozens of beaches to choose
from, sandy and sheltered with invitingly sparkling
water. Flowers of every kind fill every available
space, filling the air with the scent that so
enraptured visitors of old.
With a sunny climate most of the year and good roads
to facilitate exploring, Zakynthos lends itself to
holiday-making in spring and fall as well as summer.
Some of the best known summer resorts are Argassi,
Alikes, Planos, Tsilivi, Vassilikos, Gerakas and
Porto Roma, while Laganas is the most famous of all.
Its long beach and wide range of facilities attract
thousands of tourists from May through September. At
Laganas, Vassilikos and Gerakas, the endangered sea
turtle Caretta-caretta also comes to lay her eggs.
Apart from its beaches, Zakinthos has many other
wonderful places to get to know:
• The village of Anafonitria, with its fascinating
15th century monastery dedicated to the Virgin.
• Maherado, with its two 14th century churches, the
half-ruined Ypapanti and the sumptuously decorated
• The mountain village of Keri, where sooner or
later everyone goes to admire the sunset and the
stupendous view of the sea-caves below.
• Heading north, don't miss Volimes or Skinari at
the tip of the island. Volimes has a wonderful
Venetian tower and lovely old churches with frescoes
dating to the 12th and 14th centuries while Skinari
is where the famous Blue Caves are located.
Inside the caves, the refraction of the sun's rays
on the water creates an unbelievable array of blue
and silver tones of a dreamlike beauty.
• Further south is the cave of Xingia, where there
is a spring of sulphurous water that bubbles up
white, clouding the sea up to 500 meters from shore.
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