Ithaca is the second smallest of the inhabited Ionian Islands. It is 29 km in length and 6.5 km wide and has a coast line of 100 km. It consists of 2 peninsulas that are almost equal in size and they are joined by the isthmus of Aetos (or Eagle bay). The island is long and narrow and is almost divided in half by the sweeping bay of Molos. Ithaca is 2 nautical miles west of Kefalonia and as the island does not have its own airport, most visitors reach Ithaca by ferry boat from Kefalonia. The highest mountain peak on Ithaca is Mount Neritos, which is 800 m high. Vathy is Ithaca’s capital town, and has been since the Venetian times and is located in the south east of the island. Vathy is one of the world’s largest natural harbours.
Ithaca is thought to have been named after the son of a Kefalonian King, Ithacis, who settled here and together with his brother built a fountain that provided the whole island with water. It is known that in the Mycenaean times that Ithaca was the capital of Kefalonia. There have been archaeological finds that date back to 4000- 3000 B.C, here on Ithaca.
Ithaca is most famous for being Odysseus’s homeland. Although there are no substantiated archaeological discoveries to support Homer’s writing, that it was the birth place of Odysseus, it fits his description completely “There are no tracks, nor grasslands…it is a rocky severe island, unsuited for horses, but not so wretched, despite its small size. It is good for goats.” Odysseus after fighting in the Trojan Wars endured a 10 year ordeal to get back home to Ithaca and his wife Penelope. Due to this many people feel that Ithaca symbolises life’s journey and destiny. In a poem called Ithaca, by Cavafy, he writes“When you set out on your voyage to Ithaca,
Pray that your journey may be long,
Full of adventures, full of knowledge.
There are two Odysseus sites on Ithaca and they are well worth visiting. Arethousa spring has interesting surroundings, as towering above it is a crag known as Korax, or the raven in English. This was described by Homer, on Odysseus’s return to Ithaca when he met the swineherd Eumaeus. It is located south of Vathy. The other site to visit is the Cave of Nymphs or sometimes known as Marmarospili which is a large cavern about 2500 m south west of Vathy. This is reputed to be the place where Odysseus hid his treasures. It is known that here was a place of worship to the ancient Greek gods. There is an archaeological museum on Ithaca. Also worth visiting is the Monastery of Virgin Mary which was built in the 16th or 17th century and has very good examples of religious icons as well as pleasant surroundings. If you are planning on visiting in August, you may be interested to know that there is a Cultural Festival featuring artists and orchestras from around the world.
Ithaca like most of the Ionian Islands has at various times come under foreign rule. Ithaca has been dominated by Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Franks, Turkish, Venetians, French and British until it gained its independence in 1864 to join with the rest of Greece, along with the other islands in the Ionian Sea. It also suffered from the devastating earthquake in 1953 which destroyed much of this Island. Therefore not many of the buildings are over 50 years old and new buildings have been built in a way to withstand earthquakes. The Venetian influence is still in evidence here though with its pretty architecture. The best example of the Venetian influence is in Vathy the islands capital.
Ithaca offers those who like walking some excellent walking opportunities, in the fabulous scenery. There are many types of wild flowers and wildlife to see. With picturesque towns such as Kioni and Friskes, Ithaca is a lovely little island to explore. Ithaca is an island unspoilt by tourism, it is calm and beautiful and perfect for a relaxing holiday. It has very clear waters so is excellent for snorkelling and there are many different kinds and colours of fish to see. The island is popular with celebrities and Charles, the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, spent part of their honeymoon here. After a visit here you will see why Odysseus spent 10 years struggling to get back home, to this wonderful island.
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