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Argostoli City | The Capital of Kefalonia

Argostoli Town

Argostoli, the main town of Kefalonia, is the administrative and commercial capital of the Prefecture of Kefalonia anf Ithaki, with a population of about 9.000. It is situated on an arm of the Gulf of Argostoli, the fourth biggest natural harbour in Greece. Facing it across the harbour are Mt. Evmorfia (1.035 m.) and Mt. Evyeros (823 m.). To the east one can see the hill crowned by the Kastro (Castle of St. George), with Mt. Enos rising behind it.

The new Argostoli is the intellectual, cultural and commercial centre of the island. A walk around the town will show you how the Kefalonians live today: they belong to an island community that has learnt to live with globalization while still retaining its own traditions and distinctive characteristics. You can hardly fail to be captivated by the friendliness of the people, their love of singing and dancing, their sense of humour, the special greetings and wishes for every occasion and the traditional festivals.

The stone-arched Drapanos bridge, 900 m. long, is one of the few old structures that survived the 1953 earthquakes. It connects Argostoli with the opposite side of the bay and separates the hardour from the Koutavos lagoon. The original wooden bridge was built in 1813 by the Resident of Kefalonia, Charles Philippe De Bosset, who saw that it was needed because Argostoli was virtually cut off from most of the island. The only way to get to it from the other side of the way was either by boat or by travelling right round the Koutavos lagoon, which was then a dangerous swamp. The town council objected to the ambitious plan of building the bridge, partly because of the cost but also because it would expose the ihabitants to the risk of raids by bandits from the villages across the bay. However, De Bosset was not a man to be trifled with and the bridge was built in two weeks! The townspeople were delighted and the opposition abated. Thereupon De Bosset immediately laid the foundations of the stone bridge, which was completed by Charles Napier, De Bosset’ s successor. The obelisk in the sea in the sea about half-way along has an inscription commemorating  De Bosset as the initiator of the project and giving the date of construction (1813). With a little bit of luck you may be able to see loggerhead sea turtles ( Caretta caretta ) swimming near the bridge. These creatures mate in early summer in the shallows of the bay, and the females then swim  to the beaches near Cape Mounda, at the south-eastern tip of the island, to lay their eggs in the sand.

Near the starting-point of the Drapanos bridge is the Panayia  Sissiotissa, a historic church that was rebuilt after the earthquakes. Its iconostasis (altar screen) was moved here from the Church of Ayios Nikolaos in the Kastro. The church stands at the southernmost end of the commercial centre of Argostoli with its shops, the vegetable market and the fish market to which the fishermen bring their catches after a night’s fishing, typing their boats up to bollards on the pebbled quayside. North of the fish market is the yacht harbour, then the Port Authority, the offices of the Greek National Tourist Organization (G.N.T.O) and the berths of the car-ferries for Killini and Lixouri. Further along the quayside stands the bust of Nikos Kavvadias (1990-1975), the poet of the sea, who was a sailor himself. The recurrent themes of Kavvadias’s poems are travel, nostalgia, love, life and death. He was nicknamed Marabou (which was the title of his first published collection) and many of his poems, set to music, are well-known songs with an enduring appeal.

Island from the Port Authority is Platia Vallianou, the main square, surrounded by cafes, patisseries and restaurants, with the statue of the national benefactor Panyis Vallianos dominating the scene. In summer the square is closed to traffic in the evenings and the whole expanse is full of people socializing and enjoying themselves. The Prefecture (Nomarchia), the Town Hall (Dimarchio), the Kefalos Municipal Theatre, the Corgialenios Library, the Corgialenios Historical and Cultural Museum and the other museums are south of the square.

West of Patia Vallianou are the Napier Gardens, commemorating the fruitful period when the philhellene Charles Napier was the

British Resident of Kefalonia. Fifty metres from the gate of the gardens is the Harokopio Workshop (60, P.Harokopou St.), where you can buy traditional embroidered work done to designs copied from old embroideries in the Corgialenios Historical and Cultural Museum. The workshop also takes special orders. A little way beyond that is the one and only open-air summer cinema on the island: here you can enjoy good films, many of them old classics, in a flowery garden beneath the star-studded sky. Foreign films are not dubbed into Greek but are shown in the original language with Greek subtitles.

Going south from Platia Vallianou, you come soon to the beginning of the Lithostroto (the ‘cobbled street’), still the main shopping street of Argostoli as it has always been. Not far along it is the Church of Ayios Spiridon, which has an eighteenth-century gilded iconostasis of carved wood and some fine modern wall-paintings done in Byzantine style. One of the paintings on the north wall depicts Theodora, the dynamic ninth-century Byzantine Empress, holding an icon. The church, which is open every day, is the starting-point of the annual procession held on 12th August in memory of the 1953 earthquakes. Further along the Lithostroto is the Catholic Church of Ayios Nikolaos, and fifty metres beyond that is the rebuilt campanile with the clock in Platia Kambanas (Bell Square), which was called the Piazza del Orologio in the Venetian period. The coffee-house on the ground floor of the campanile has old photographs of Argostoli hanging on the walls. From the top of the campanile there is a panoramic view of the town.

Running north-west from Platia Vallianou is the broad avenue called Leoforos ton Rizospaston (Avenue of the Radicals), lined with palm trees and oleanders. In this road are the Argostoli Philharmonic School and one of the few old mansions to have survived the earthquakes. At the far end stands the Radicals Monument by the Kefalonian sculptor Yeoryios Bonanos, a monument to the islanders struggle for liberty. Here a commemorate the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece in 1864.

The road beyond the monument takes you past the Ionian Islands Merchant Marine Academy and the municipal swimming pool. Below the swimming pool is the fishing port. At the edge of the town, on the shore of the Koutavos lagoon, is a sports complex comprising the football courts and the Andonis Tritsis Gymnasium. The area around the lagoon is a park closed to traffic, inhabited by swans, wild ducks and other birds.

The Drapanos cemetery on the other side of the bay, on the road to Lixouri, has served the town since the nineteenth century. Next to it are the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries.

The name ‘Argostoli’ is known from 1500, but there is no satisfactory explanation of its derivation and meaning. In 1757 the Venetians decided  to move the capital from the Kastro to the then insignificant village of Argostoli, and after that it developed rapidly. Its sheltered harbour provided a safe anchorage fot the large Kefalonian merchant fleet and for foreign ships as well. Trade flourished and the town grew steadily. New public buildings and handsome private houses were built, in which Venetian baroque elements were combined with traditional Kefalonian features. Humbler houses, shops and workshops, churches with tall bell-towers, a municipal concert hall and theatre, piazzas and public gardens completed the picture of a romantic Heptanesian town. After the 1953 earthquakes Argostoli was rebuilt in modern style.

The Kefalos Municipal Thatre occupies the same site as the old theatre, which was inaugurated in 1859 with a production of Verdi’s La Traviata and was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943. In the nineteenth century it put on popular Italian operas and plays by Greek dramatists, modern building used for plays, opera, ballet and concerts, and as a conference hall. In winter it also serves as a cinema. Art exhibitions, mainly of work by Kefalonian artists, are held on the ground floor. 

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