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Argostoli has been the capital and administrative centre of Kefalonia since 1757. Prior to this the island’s capital was nearby Agios Yeorgios, also known simply as Kastro (i.e. the castle of St. George). This fortress had provided a safe haven against marauding invaders for centuries but, when the pirate threat receded, the population started to move down to Argostoli in order to take better advantage of the trading opportunities offered by the sheltered bay off the Gulf of Argostoli where the trading warehouses were situated. As Argostoli prospered the inhabitants petitioned Venice, the colonial power, to make Argostoli the capital of the island and, much to the vexation of rival Lixouri, this request was granted in 1757.

Argostoli, around 1970
Argostoli prospered and became one of the busiest Greek island ports, exporting raisins and grain and importing mainly Italian clothes and furniture. Argostoli expanded but, in terms of administration, little changed between 1866 and 1999 when, following application of the ‘Kapodistrias Law’ of 1997, communities around the town united to form the Municipality of Argostoli, which included the settlements of Spilia, Kompothekrata,  Helmata, Lassi, Minies and ten former communities: Agona, Davgata, Dilinata, Zola, Thinia, Kourouklata, Nifi, Troyiannata, Faraklata and Farsa. The census of 2001 recorded a population of 12,589 in the Argostoli municipality with around 75% of those people living in Argostoli town. Under ‘Kallikrates Law’, w.e.f. January, 2011, Kefalonia became one unitary municipality with Argostoli as its capital.

To the east of Argostoli town, at the end of the bay, beneath the aforementioned Castle of St. George, sits the Koutavos Lagoon, a feeding ground for the loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Now a waterfowl reserve, the Koutavos Lagoon was once an almost impassable swamp with mosquitoes and malaria rife.

Under the British governor of the island, General Sir Charles James Napier, a wooden bridge was constructed across the lagoon in 1813 by Colonel Charles Philip de Bosset, a Swiss engineer in the employ of the British army. Four years later stone arches were added and, after some 26 years, the entire bridge was rebuilt in stone.

In continuous use until 2005, when it was closed to traffic, part of the bridge collapsed in December, 2011 and is currently under  renovation.

When the bridge is accessible there's a very pleasant,  mostly flat, walk around the lagoon. Almost halfway along the Drepano Bridge stands a stone obelisk built by the British to commemorate their stay. At the end of the low, dog-
legged bridge a right turn, followed by the first left, leads uphill to the small Agia Barbara church, built into the rock at the end of the narrow gorge. Continuing straight on over the bridge leads shortly to the well-tended British Cemetery and, a little further on, the equally well-tended Greek Orthodox cemetery at Drepano. The contrast in styles is quite noticeable.

The coastal road out of Argostoli to the west was known during the Venetian period as the ‘Piccolo Gyro’ (Piccolo Yiro), a very pleasant (if rather long) circular walk to some superb beaches in the (now very popular) Lassi area.

Along the Piccolo Gyro, in the Vlikha area facing Lixouri, lie the ‘Swallow Holes’ of Katovothres, a unique geological phenomenon. Sea water disappears underground and travels under the island, re-emerging some fourteen days later in the Karavomylos area of Sami, having passed through the nearby, and very spectacular, underground Melissani lake.

Katovothres (above) and  Thalassomilo (right)

The power of this sea water was harnessed, in 1835, to power a mill via a waterwheel. A further water mill, a little nearer to Argostoli, was added in 1859. This mill, with the waterwheel inside the building, is now the popular Thalassomilo (literally ‘sea mill’) café bar and taverna. A recently refurbished (and rather unsympathetically styled) bar-come- nightclub sits on the site of the first mill, next to the restored wheel by the swallow holes. The earthquake of 1953 shifted the balance of the island and rendered the mills, as they were, unworkable. You can still see the sea water trickle down the swallow holes.

fanari A little further along the Piccolo Gyro is the Agion Theodoron lighthouse, named after the small adjacent church. More commonly known as the Fanari lighthouse, this too was built during the British occupation, in 1829. The original building was destroyed in the ’53 earthquake and re-built, complete with Doric-style columns, from the original plans (which the British had, of course, filed away somewhere). Around 2002 it was tastefully restored to its former glory and remains a romantic venue for watching the sunsets.

Agion Theodoron (Fanari) lighthouse

During World War II Argostoli suffered, as did the rest of Kefalonia, at the hands of the Nazi occupation force. Argostoli was occupied by the more sympathetic Italian forces but when they tried to evacuate by sea, having surrendered to the Allies, they were bombed by the Nazis. A number of Italian officers were held captive by the Nazis in the Red Villa, almost next to the Fanari lighthouse. They were then marched along the Piccolo Yiro to the junction, on the left. Directly opposite this junction are green railings and inside is a natural horseshoe-shaped rocky pit. Here the Italians were massacred by the Nazis. A plaque on the rock face, in Greek and Italian, commemorates this in-humane event.

If you take the left turn here it leads past the Italian War Memorial, near the brow of the hill, and back down in to the Old Harbour area of Argostoli (short route). Continue past the junction for Lassi. The return route, over the hill between Lassi and Argostoli, is much shorter that the outward journey.

Original buildings that weren’t shattered by German bombing in 1943 were destroyed ten years later in the earthquake that razed virtually all of Kefalonia, apart from the Fiskardo area, to the ground. Very little remains of old Argostoli and any colour photographs you may see of ‘old Argostoli’ are invariably from the film set of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which, although set largely in Argostoli, was actually filmed in the (much quieter) town of Sami. One of the few remaining buildings is the Kosmetatos Mansion, just off Plateia Valianos, the main square in Argostoli. This is now a small, private museum (open to the public) housing a numismatic collection and sets of lithographs.

A little further along, past the prefecture offices (town hall) on the opposite side, is the Archaeological Museum (generally open from 09:00-15:00, Tuesday-Saturday, not feast days), which contains the most important finds from Kefalonia, including those from the Mycenaean tomb at Tzanata, near Poros.

Across from the Archaeological Museum is the Kefalos Theatre and, up the road to the left of the theatre, the interesting Folklore and Cultural Museum (beneath the Koryialenios Public Library – both open 09:00-14:00, Monday-Friday, not main festival days).

Opposite the Archaeological Museum are the law courts, originally constructed by the British with stone (allegedly) from the Cyclopean site at Krani.

bell tower Next to the courts is the start of Lithostroto, the pedestrian shopping centre of Argostoli which, along with Plateia Valianos, is ‘the place’ to be in the evening, when casual shoppers mingle with café society in a very pleasant ambience. Along Lithostroto, next to the Catholic Church, is a tiny museum (open some mornings and most evenings) dedicated to the soldiers of the Italian Acqui Division.

A little further along is the Bell Tower. Rebuilt in 1985 to house the original clock mechanism, the ground floor is a pleasant, community-run, street café on Campanile Square providing employment for local people with learning difficulties. A climb to the top of the bell tower is rewarded with views along Lithostroto and across the bay.

A sprawling fruit and vegetable market runs along the seafront while the local produce market is now to the right of the de Bosset Bridge and ,just behind the bus station, which connects Argostoli with the other towns and some of the villages on the island, as well as with Patras and Athens on the mainland.

Further along, by the Rock Café, loggerhead turtles can often be seen, particularly in the morning when the local fishing boats are selling their catch. Waste scraps tend to be tossed over the side of the boats and the turtles get a free lunch. This part of the seafront is busy with yachts and a few local cruise boats in the summer months, while the big cruise ships have to drop anchor in the bay behind the Port Police offices.

The main ferry port, connecting Argostoli with the mainland (via Kyllini) and Zakynthos (also known as Zante) is next to this building. The local Lixouri - Argostoli ferry (twice an hour in summer, once an hour in winter) docks just a little further along.

During the thirty-minute crossing it’s sometimes possible to catch sight of a pod of dolphins that live in the bay. A new pier, servicing the large cruise liners that call in to Argostoli, lies a little further along.

Opposite the Port Police office is a short road leading to the main square, Plateia Valianos. Behind the square are the recently restored Napier Gardens, where the vineyards once stood on the Koutoupi hill.

Although architecturally uninspiring following the post ’53 re-build, Argostoli has a certain charm about it and can manage to be busy but unhurried at the same time. The only ‘serious’ shopping centre on the island, it can be very busy week-day mornings when everyone is going about their daily business, yet it’s still possible to sit and relax outside one of the many coffee shops and enjoy an unhurried frappe while watching the world wander past

Evenings in Argostoli are even more pleasant. By 14:00 most of the crowds have drifted away and Argostoli goes very quiet: just about everything, bar some tavernas, closes for siesta. Sometime after 17:00, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the shops will re-open. With all the business completed in the morning – or left until another day – the atmosphere is very unhurried as, later in the evening, people indulge in relaxed retail therapy or meet up in the coffee shops and tavernas to sit and chat the night away.

Adapted from an original contribution to Wikipedia, 04 March, 2006

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