Ithaki lies 2 nautical miles from Cephallonia. Its land mass is 96 sq. km and its
coastline 101 km. It has a population of about 3,675 people.
It's a favorite with sailors because of its fine harbors.
The island is
mountainous and has a rugged coast and good harbors but no really
nice sandy beaches (wave walker shoes recommended). Its western
coast is green while its eastern is rocky and barren.
the main town and harbor sits in a beautiful bay, surrounded by mountains,
with the ruins of two fortresses at each side of its entrance. There
are other small villages, Stavro, Frikes and Kioni.
Many come here in
search of proof of Homer's Odyssey. Every four years
at Vathi's Center for Odyssean Studies there is
an international congress.
This is a good island for walking. There are excellent trails.
Vathi, Ithaki's Harbor and Capital
The harbor, Vathi
(or Vathy) is guarded on its two sides by the ruins of the forts Loutsa and Kastro, built by the French in 1805. The small wooded islet of
Lazaretto, with its chapel, lies within their embrace. At one time the
islet was a quarantine station and then a prison. There is a small beach
by the castle of Loutsa.
Vathi is also known as Ithaki Town. The town center is small, with a few shops and cafes around the central square.
The town was rebuilt after the earthquake of
1953 in the traditional style with red tiled roofs and is considered
a traditional settlement by the government. This means that unlike many
other earthquake devastated island villages, future building must conform.
El Greco fans will enjoy an icon of Christ attributed
to him in the Church of the Taxiarchos. The Archeology
Museum rests one street back from the Limani (port) in a low modern
building and displays a variety of finds from around the island. The Cultural Center next door houses a very rare Japanese translation
of Homer from 1600. The Folklore Museum is also nearby.
Local beaches are reachable by water-taxi or road and include Sarakiniko, Bimata,
Skinos and Filatro.
Southern Ithaki and Traces of Odysseus
Some of the sites identified as being on the Trail of Odysseus are within walking distance of Vathi. Marmarospillia (The Cave of the Nymphs) is a 4 km walk west of Vathi
and purportedly where Odysseus hid the gifts of King Alcinous. Bring
a flashlight and ask before going as it may be locked.
Just below, the inlet
of Dexia is thought to coincide with the Harbor of Phorcys where the sleeping Odysseus was put to shore by the Phoenicians who brought
him home after 20 years of travail. There is a bar and small cantina.
km south of Vathi is the lovely Marathias Plateau and about 4 km along a donkey path to
its left is signposted the Fountain of Arethusa, another
mythological spot. Below, by the sea, is the Perapigadia or Homeric Asteris where Penelope's murderous suitors hid, awaiting
Telemachus' return from Pylos.
Northern Ithaki and Traces of Odysseus
Ithaki is dwarfed by its neighbor Kephallonia, the larger of the two major islands in the photo. On Ithaki, the narrow
mountainous stretch which connects Ithaki's northern and southern sections
is called Eagle or Aetos and only 500 m wide.
Perched there, overlooking three seas, is the so called Castle
of Odysseus even though its citadel of cyclopean walls dates from
the 8th Century BC. It's thought to be the town of Alalkomenes. It's an impressive site and has been excavated extensively.
Below that is a pebble beach and to the east in the small
harbor of Piso Aetos is another good beach.
Here ferries from Kefallonia's port of Sami call in.
North of Aetos
is the Field of Laertes where Odysseus was tearfully reunited
with his dear old dad after dispatching Penelope's suitors. There's a 2,000
year old olive tree there as well, named for Laertes.
Further north one finds
the Monastery of the Katharon high on the slopes of Mt.
Nirtos (784m).The Monastery was built on the site of a Temple of Athena. At the summit is the village of Anogi (top
of the world). Anogi has Venetian ruins and interesting geological features. If you want to show off a photo of a very phallic 25ft monolith named Heracles when you get home, you can take a photo in Anogi.
sea level the pleasant village of Aghios Ioannis (or St. John) has a very
nice and often deserted white beach, Aspros Gialos. A coast road follows the
western shore of the island north from Agros as well.
Two raods meet at Stavros,
the largest of the northern villages, which overlooks Polis Bay. This bay at
one time was home to the Lost City of Ieroslaem which sank during the earthquake
of 967 AD. The Cave of Loizois to its right has now collapsed, but earlier finds
of prehistoric ceramics, Mycenaean Amphorae and inscriptions attest to the possibility
of it being the Cave of the Nymphs as well.
the north of Stavros another Palace of Odysseus may have
been discovered at Pilikata (or the Hill
of Hermes). The uppermost ruins are Venetian but below evidence
points to occupation as far back as neolithic times. Within
these lower Cyclopean wall were discovered inscriptions in Linear A & B
which may be seen at the Stavros Archeological Museum (open
9-2, closed Mon).
the road leads north to deserted Exogi (Beyond the Earth) and the island's most remote
village set high above terraced plots. It provides wonderful views of the surrounding
areas. A road descends to the islands eastern shore and the villages of Frikes and Kioni, both enchanting fishing hamlets. There are good beaches and even a hotel. Water-taxis await to take you to surrounding beaches.
The area is sprinkled here and there with ancient ruins. Kioni is draped around a green hillside and has a picture perfect small harbor popular
Drinking and Dining
There are good seafood and lamb dishes in the cafes and tavernas of both Vathi, and Frikes and Kioni.
much like Arcadia has become a universal symbol for all that is good
about "home or journey's end " (and much that isn't come to think of it). If you've
read your Homer you'll know what I mean. For those of you who haven't read
Homer's Odyssey recently; scholars agree that much of what he wrote
coincides with present day Ithaki. It is "narrow and rocky and unfit
for horses." Certain caves and springs exist that he wrote about. It really doesn't make too much difference as to your enjoyment of
the Odyssey but this island is the likely spot. Ancient inscriptions testify
to the worship of Odysseus as a divine hero. Coins bearing his image and
pottery decorated with his sigil the cockerel have been discovered.
Visit the Archeology Museum in Vathy (open 8:30-2:30,
closed Mon) and decide for yourselves.
have unearthed items dating from 4000 BC and remains of buildings and
walls from the early Hellenic era as well. In the Cave
of Loizos early relics of pagan worship have been discovered. During
Mycenaean times, because of its central location, Ithaki was the capital
of the Kingdom of Arikious encompassing parts of
the Peloponnese, Kefallonia, Zakynthos and Lefkada. Under Odysseus the
island sent 12 ships to the Trojan Wars.
his great discovery at Troy, Henrich Schliemann, the
father of modern archeology, visited the island and almost immediately discovered
a large structure dating from 700 BC. Even though it was from the wrong
period, he dubbed the Palace of Odysseus. Homer
describes the Palace of Odysseus as "above 3 seas" and the description
fits. The palace is just north of Pisso Aelos.
the Mycenaean's the island lost all importance and remained under the Venetians,
French, and then the British until 1864 when it was unified with Greece.
This unification resulted in many islanders immigrating to other countries
such as Australia and South Africa.