Zakynthos is the third largest of the Ionian Islands with approximately 45.000 inhabitants.
It is a verdant island endowed with fertile valleys and a temperate climate (area: 406 sq. km; coastline: 123 km). Its landscape diversity has resulted in different types of beaches: there are sandy beaches in secluded coves where the tranquil waters are deep blue on the island’s southeastern part; yet, if rugged cliffs and an interesting underwater world are to your liking, try the western part of the island.
The Venetians, who ruled Zákynthos from 1484 to 1797, called the island “Fioro di Levante” (flower of the East) as there are over 7,000 species of flowers on Zákynthos. The island is internationally known as “Zante”. Zákynthos is said to have been the island’s first inhabitant and the ancient acropolis is attributed to him. He was the son of Dardanos who ruled the ancient kingdom of Frigia. A Venetian fort was built at later times on the site.
The Venetian architectural influence has left its stamp on Zante despite the damage sustained due to the seismic activity in the area. After the ravaging 1953 earthquake and the ensuing fire, a number of historical buildings and churches burned to the ground. Consequently, the significant treasures these buildings were housing perished. The town was rebuilt according to a plan where strict anti-seismic specifications applied and, to a large extent, respecting the town’s former architectural structure.
On Zante, great care is taken to protect two endangered animal species, namely the caretta caretta sea turtle and the monachus monachus seal.
The city of Zakynthos is the capital of the island and at the same time the island's port.
Zakynthos lies in the eastern part of the Ionian sea, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of the Greek (Peloponnese) mainland. Island of Kefalonia lies 15 kilometres (9 miles) on the north. It is the southernmost of the main group of the Ionian islands (not counting distant Kythira). Zakynthos is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) long and 20 kilometres (12 miles) wide, and covers an area of 410 km2 (158 sq mi). Its coastline is approximately 123 km (76 mi) long. According to the 2011 census, the island has a population of 45,650. The highest point is Vrachionas, at 758 m.
The western half of the island is a mountainous plateau and the southwest coast consists mostly of steep cliffs. The eastern half is a densely populated fertile plain with long sandy beaches, interrupted with several isolated hills, notably Bochali which overlooks the city and the peninsula of Vasilikos in the northeast. The peninsulas of Vassilikos on north and Marathia on south enclose the wide and shallow bay of Laganas on the southeast part of the island. The capital, which has the same name as the prefecture, is the town of Zakynthos. It lies on the eastern part of the northern coast.
Minor uninhabited islands around Zakynthos included in the municipality and regional unit are: Marathonisi, Pelouzo, Agios Sostis in the Laganas bay; Agios Nikolaos, near the eponymous harbor on the northern tip; and Agios Ioannis near Porto Vromi on the western coast.
The mild, Mediterranean climate and the plentiful winter rainfall endow the island with dense vegetation. The principal products are olive oil, currants, grapes, wines and citrus fruit. The Zante currant is a small sweet seedless grape which is native to the island.
Bay of Laganas is the site of the first National Marine Park and the prime nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Mediterranean. Caretta caretta is an endangered species – especially by the deck chairs laid out on their breeding grounds and the inevitable pollution. Every year at the beginning of June, the female turtles come to the southern beaches in order to bury their eggs in the sand. The incubation period for the nest is approximately fifty-five days, after which time hatchlings emerge from the nest and make their way to the sea. The survival rate for hatchlings is very small, and it is estimated that only one in one thousand hatchlings that enter the sea lives to adulthood. Each nest contains around one hundred to one hundred and twenty eggs, each of which are around the size and shape of a ping-pong ball. Female turtles begin to lay nests at around twenty to thirty years of age.
As mentioned before, the winter in Zakynthos island is plentiful with rainfalls but is mild and without snowfalls.
During the summer months and especially in August, rainfall is very rare, while north winds(not strong) are very common. These winds, known as "Meltemia" blow from north to south usually starting after 14:00 - 15:00 pm. The relative humidity typically ranges from 39% (comfortable) to 94% (very humid) over the course of the year, rarely dropping below 27% (dry) and reaching as high as 100% (very humid). The air is driest around July 15, at which time the relative humidity drops below 46% (comfortable) three days out of four; it is most humid around November 16, exceeding 92% (very humid) three days out of four.
Average temperature, precipitation and humidity are indicated below:
Zakynthos is famous for its cultural life. Some of the famous cultural events are:
During the Middle Ages, the island was part of the Byzantine theme of Cephallenia. After 1185 it became part of the County palatine of Cephalonia and Zakynthos under the Kingdom of Naples until its last Count Leonardo III Tocco was defeated by the Ottomans in 1479. The Turkish rule lasted only until 22 April 1484, when it was swapped with the Turks by Venetian secretary Giovanni Dario, negotiator of the treaty of Constantinople (1479), against neighboring Cephalonia and an annual tribute of 500 ducats. From then on Zakynthos remained an overseas colony of the Venetian Republic until its very end in 1797, following the fate of the Ionian islands, completed by the capture of Cephalonia in 1500 and Lefkas in 1684 from the Turks.
Venetian rule protected the island from Ottoman domination but in its place it put a feudal oligarchy. The cultural influence of Venice (and of Venetian on local dialect) was considerable. The wealthy made a habit of sending their sons to Italy to be educated. Good examples are Dionysios Solomos, a native of Zakynthos and Greece's national poet, and Ugo Foscolo, also native of Zakynthos and a national Italian poet. However, both the Greek language and Orthodox faith survived intact. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, it was one of the largest exporters of currants in the world together with Cephalonia.
Zakynthos or Zante Town is the capital and commercial center of the island. The houses, shops and buildings were rebuilt in the traditional Venetian Style after the destructive earthquake of 1953, that ruined the majority of the buildings in Zante Town and forced the inhabitants to rebuilt them, giving significant emphasis on the protection against earthquakes. Subsequently, the main town of Zakynthos has a very Venetian feel, but with some typical Greek Island sites added into the mix. The quaint harbour, beautiful Orthodox churches, buzzing shopping streets, and fantastic cafe bars all make this an ideal Greek island town– don’t miss visiting here while you stay in Zante.