Zakynthos (Zante), the third largest island in the Ionian Sea, after Corfu and Kefalonia, is a verdant island endowed with fertile valleys and a temperate climate. Its diverse landscape has resulted in different types of beaches: in the southeastern part of the island, there are sandy beaches in secluded coves where the tranquil waters are deep blue; yet, if rugged cliffs and interesting underwater life are to your liking, try the western part of the island.
The Venetians, who ruled Zakynthos from 1484 to 1797 and called the island Fioro di Levante (Flower of the Levant), left their stamp on the island, though an earthquake in 1953 and ensuing fire destroyed a number of historic buildings and churches. The main town on the island, which is also the island’s port, was rebuilt according to strict anti-seismic specifications, respecting former architectural glory.
On Zakynthos, great care is taken to protect two endangered animal species, namely the caretta aretta sea turtle and the monachus monachus seal.
Take a tour around Zakynthos town and visit:
• Solomos Square surrounded by buildings with traditional architectural features of the island, arch-shaped windows and arcades. The bust of Greece’s national poet, Dionysios Solomos, dominates the centre. Here you can also find the Public Library (with 55.000 volumes).
• The Post-Byzantine Museum of Zante in Solomos Square, exhibits treasures such as statues trimmed with gold, icons and art woodcuts.
• The coastal road known as Strata Marina (K. Lomvardou street), is one of the most frequented parts of the town, with cafes, bars and restaurants, that run from Solomos Square up to the church of the island’s patron-saint Agios Dionysios.
• Agios Markos square. This paved square is the main meeting point for locals and visitors. Here, you will find the Museum of Solomos, Andreas Kalvos and other Eminent Zakynthians.
• Rouga: Also known as Alexandros Romas street, starting at Agios Markos Square, this street with its impressive arcades has been the main commercial centre of the town for centuries.
• The Venetian Castle is situated on a hill overlooking the town and was built on the old acropolis.
• Stranis Hill, 2km away from the town, offers a spectacular view of the island. Here, the poet Dionysios Solomos was inspired to write the Hymn to Liberty (the first verse of which forms the Greek national anthem) and the Free Besieged regarding the Turkish siege of the city of Messolonghi on the Greek mainland during the Greek War of Independence.
Visit the remarkable churches of Zakynthos
• Agios Nikolaos tou Molou (Solomou Square): a 17th century Renaissance church with a belfry dating back to the Byzantine period.
• Agios Dionysios (at the new pier of the port): where the relic of the patron-saint of the island is kept in a silver larnax.
• Agios Markos (1516): The belfry of this catholic church situated on Agios Markos Square is a copy of the belfry in Saint Mark’s basilica in Venice.
• Agios Georgios: Many famous heroes from the 1821 Greek War of Independence took their oaths of loyalty to the Greek cause on the icon kept in this church.
• Panagia Pikardiotissa is situated on the outskirts of the castle.
Zakynthos is famous for its cultural life
Some of the famous cultural events are:
• Carnival: A traditional town crier goes around the island proclaiming the programme of carnival festivities. The procession of the carnival king takes place on the last Sunday of the carnival. The festivities end with the ‘Mask Funeral’.
• Agios Dionysios: Religious and artistic events for Agios Dionysios, the island’s patron saint, are held on 24 August and 17 December.
• Easter: Holy Week on Zakynthos is a unique and unforgettable experience for locals and visitors. At noon, on Good Friday, crowds of worshippers take part in the procession of the Crucified Christ through the town. In the early hours of Holy Saturday morning and starting from Agios Nikolaos Church, the epitaphios procession takes place, while the Resurrection is announced at sunrise. At the first chime of the bell, white doves are released while from the bell tower clay vessels are thrown onto the road just as is done by all the inhabitants of the island out of their windows.
Courtesy of GNTO