The Historical Significance of the Ionian Islands


Greece is widely considered as the ‘birthplace of democracy’. It’s a nation steeped in history, mythology and cultural significance. It’s the homeland of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; three of the most famous philosophers and scientists of all time. It’s also the nation of Homer, and the source of the inventions, ideas and innovations that have shaped the modern world as we know it.

Just off the west coast of Greece lie the Ionian Islands, which have been occupied since the Palaeolithic era situated in the Ionian Sea. Settled by Greeks as early as 12,000 BC, they play a significant part in the culture of the country. The name of the islands is thought to be derived from Io, one of Zeus’ mortal lovers who swam across the sea. Read on to find out more about the cultural and historical significance of two of the Ionian Islands.

Although Greece gained her independence in 1830, the Ionian islands was only annexed to the new nation in 1864

The magic and myths of the Ionian



Ithaca is perhaps the most renowned and significant of the Ionian islands for its relationship with Homer, and his legendary epic poem, the Odyssey. The island has been identified as the home of Odysseus, the hero of the poem who is attempting to travel back to his homeland after the Trojan War. During his adventures, he is forced to battle a cyclops, travel to the underworld and resist the temptations of the sirens.



Kefalonia is another island in the Ionian sea that basks in myth and legend. According to myth, the first king of Kefalonia was Thapius who was the son of Poseidon. During the ancient Greek period, it became a powerful empire state. It also played a key role in two of the most significant wars in ancient Greek history: the Persian War and the Peloponnesian War.

The latter of these wars was fought between Sparta and Athens. Following Sparta’s victory, which was fought for over 27 years, the concept of Greek city states suffered for decades and led to further division and hostility amongst the regions.

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Although perhaps best known to a modern audience as the setting of The Durrells, Corfu, the northernmost Ionian island, has a fascinating history that is steeped in mythology and western history.

It was here that Greece’s first university opened, and Corfu is also the only Greek island to have never fallen under Ottoman rule. Dominated instead by Western powerhouses like Venice, Britain, and France, Corfu’s culture has a distinctly cosmopolitan flavour.

According to legend, Poseidon, god of the sea, broke paxos off from the southern tip of Corfu, to provide a place to live that was worthy of a god.

Fun fact: Corfu has 37 churches, on an island of just 585km. That’s one church every 15km.


The largest Ionian island, Lefkada is home to most of the region’s charter yachts, and provides easy access to both the open northern Ionian, and the more sheltered Southern Ionian. Along with Kefalonia to the south, Lefkada forms the famed ‘Inland Sea’, where Odysseus spent many years and where thousands of holidaymakers first go yachting.

Colonised by the Corinthians in the late 7th century BC, Lefkada’s geographical position means the island has played an important role in shaping Greek history, taking part in the Peloponnese War (431- 404BC), and being variously conquered by the Macedonians, Romans, Franks, Sicilians, Turks and Ventetians. After Napoleon conquered Venice, the island passed hands between the French and British before finally annexing in 1864.

The Battle of Actium, which led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire under Octavian, took place just off the coast of Lefkas in 31BC, changing the course of history.

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Create your Greek Odyssey

The Ionian Islands are one of the most popular locations for a Mediterranean yacht trip. Steeped in history, the islands also boast beautiful beaches, harbours, nightlife and idyllic waters filled to the brim with marine life.

Build you perfect Greek charter here, or call us on 0207 632 7567 to plan your next escape.

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