Early European Tourists Describing Zakynthos

(1300 - 1800)

Textbook 2013 72 Pages

History - Miscellaneous





Lionardo Frescobaldi

Simone Sigoli

Jacob Marcellus

Jerome Maurand

Philippe Fresne Canaye

Jean Palerne

Giovanni Zuallardo

Thomas Dallam

William Biddulph

William Lithgow


Sieur de Loir



Bernard Randolph

Jacob Spon

De Mirone

Alexander Drummond


Thomas Watkins

Saint- Sauveur

John Sawrey Morritt




Charles Rulhi



Studying for several years the travelling literature I have gathered a lot of information concerning various places of Greece that the European travellers refer to and describe. I had earlier the thought of presenting these travelling texts and their references both for their historical and touristic significance. But my staying at Zakynthos, led me to the realization of that thought. The natural beauty of the island provoked the writing of this book, which I hope to be interesting and necessary both to the tourists and those that are concerned with the history of the island. The book intends to present a picture of Zante, Lésante, Iacinthe, Sante, Gronti in Grecia, Ganti in Romania -as the various travellers called Zakynthos- during the period between the 14th and the 18th century. I believe that the reader will enjoy this picture.


A short history of Zakynthos

During antiquity, the people of Zakynthos worshipped Apollo and Diana. According to the myth, Apollo sang, accompanied by his lyre and his attendants, because he was touched by the island’s striking beauty. Diana went hunting in the dense forests. According to Homer, the island took its name from Zakynthos, son of Dardanos, king of Phrygia. Zakynthos was the island’s first inhabitant, coming from Psofida, a town in Arcadia. The same fact is corroborated by Pausanias who claims that the island of Zakynthos was inhabited in 1500 BC.


According to testimonies from Pausanias and Thucydides, the island of Zakynthos was inhabited for the first time in 1500 BC by Achaeans from Psofida, in Arcadia. The island’s acropolis was named after these Achaeans. The new inhabitants worshipped the Olympian gods, especially Apollo, a fact corroborated by the era’s coins which depict Apollo, or his sacred tripod. Later, the island of Zakynthos, along with Leukada and Cefalonia, was conquered by Laertis, son of Arkissios, king of Cefalonia. The Zakynthians founded the powerful colonies Crete and Panos on the Iberian Peninsula. During the Persian War, the island remained neutral. Before the Peloponnesus War, Zakynthos supported the Lacedaemonians until 456 BC when the Athenians defeated Sparta. In the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, Zakynthos, supporting the Athenian Alliance, fought the Corinthians, particularly in the Battle of Leukimi (434 BC) and in the expedition against Sicily. The island's defeat led to its conquest by Sparta. In the 3rd century BC, although the Zakynthians fought hard, supporting the Aetolic Confederacy against King Philip, the island of Zakynthos remained under Macedonian rule until it was conquered by the Romans.


In the late 3rd and early 2nd century BC, Zakynthos is no longer dominated by the Macedonians, but by the Roman Titus Falaminius. During the Roman Rule, the conquerors had granted the Zakynthians with some autonomy regarding legislation. In return, the Zakynthians were obliged to pay taxes to the Romans. Although the island's inhabitants attempted repeatedly to dispense from the Roman domination, yet, whenever necessary, the Zakynthians fought together with the Romans, in order to successfully confront the attack of Archelaos and the pirate raids which were dealt successfully by the Roman Admiral Pompeius. Until 329 AD, the island of Zakynthos was part of the Roman Country of Achaia, along with Epirus, Peloponnesus and all the islands except Crete. Later, Zakynthos became part of the Country of Illyria. The decline of the Roman Empire urged several conquerors to make the most of the circumstances and people such as the Arabs, the Vandals, the Hans and the Goths attempted to conquer the island of Zakynthos. During the Byzantine period, Zakynthos was detached from the scheme of Loggovardia and became part of the scheme of Cefalonia, as were the rest of the Ionian Islands. Also during the Byzantine Period, the Zakynthians lived in tremendous poverty, with three social classes: the workers, the merchants and the nobles. The poor quality of life was strained by the constant raids from the Vandals (467-477 AD), the Goths, the Arabs and the Saracens. Under these circumstances, the island did not have the opportunity to develop, as the inhabitants' only interest was to preserve their land and freedom. At the end of the Byzantine Period, the island was attacked by the Crusaders, the Normans and the Franks. This was when Christianity was introduced to the island, and the tradition claims that Maria Magdalene preached here in 34 AD, naming the village of Maries after herself.


In 1185 AD, Zakynthos and Cefalonia were detached from Byzantium, thus forming the "Palatian Country of Cefalonia and Zakynthos" which Goulielmo II of Sicily granted to Margaritonis (alias Margaritos) from Vrindisio, today known in Italy as Brindisi. During the period 1185-1357 AD, the country was governed by the family of Orsini, who came from Italy's Pedimonte region and conquered Leukada and Ithaca. In 1194, the new governor, the pirate Matteos Orsini, constantly raided the surrounding areas. Despite malice and murders, the Orsini family governed the island for two centuries until the death of Ioannis-Nikolaos and his wife, Anna Palaiologos. In 1357 AD the Country was governed by Leonardo Tokko. During this period, the orthodox faith thrived, new churches and monasteries were built and the island's population increased significantly. Leonardo was very friendly with the people, unlike his successor Carlo A' who caused great misfortune to the poor. Throughout the period of Frankish rule, the island’s history was dominated by murders, conspiracies and intrigues, therefore prohibiting Zakynthos’ development. In 1479, the Turks, making the most of the circumstances, defeated Andonis Tokkos and dominated the island of Zakynthos for five years.


In 1484 Zakynthos came under Venetian Rule because of the treaty signed by the Venetians and the Turks. According to this treaty, the Venetians were to govern the Ionian Islands, paying in return, substantial taxes to the Sultan. This period is characterized by a significant cultural development. The local features, the traditions and the local custom were influenced by the Italian traditions and custom. Thus, the famous Ionian civilization was created. People obtained a higher quality of life and forgot their former, long period of poverty. Zakynthos's population increased considerably because of refugees from Methoni, Koroni, Nauplion, Naupaktos and Monemvasia. The head of the government was the Proveditor, who was elected and supervised by the Nobles’ Council. People were divided into three classes: the nobles, the bourgeoisie and the commoners (:Popolari). Although the status quo had improved in comparison with previous periods, the majority of the people, the commoners, had almost no rights. In the contrast, the nobles had many rights and privileges, written in the famous "Golden Book" ("Libro d’ Oro"). In 1628 the uprising of the commoners, who wanted political freedom, was suppressed violently. After being introduced to the ideas of the French Revolution, the Zakynthians founded the Battalion of the Jacobins and fought for equal rights for everyone. In 1797 Venetian Rule came to end, as the French conquered the island of Zakynthos.


On 4 July 1797, the French conquered Zakynthos. Napoleon gave hope to the inhabitants by promising to free the Ionian Islands. In the central square of Zakynthos, Agios Markos square, during celebratory festivities, the tree of freedom was planed and the Libro d’ Oro, the book of the nobles' names and privileges, was burnt. French Rule on the Ionian Islands became official with the singing of the treaty of Kamboformio on 17 October 1797. The Ionian Islands became part of France on 1 November 1797. This did not last for long, however, as in October of 1798, Russian-Turkish fleet disembarked on the island. These new conquerors reinstated the nobles' privileges. On 21 March 1800, the "Ionian State", which was under the Sultan's supervision, was founded in Constantinople. The government was made up exclusively of privileged rich nobles, which resulted in constant uprisings throughout the Ionian Islands. Under these circumstances, in 1802, after the treaty of Amien, the Count Georgio Motsenigo was sent to the Ionian Islands in order to carry out elections for new, more democratically elected, representatives. The latter, on 23 December 1803, a new constitution was drafted, creating the "Democracy of the Ionian Islands". In 1807, after signing the treaty of Tilsit, Czar. Alexander B' granted the French command of the Ionian Islands, allowing its people to hope for a peaceful life. Their hopes were soon extinguished as the English conquered the island on 19 September 1809.


On 19 September 1809, the English conquered Zakynthos and slowly, in spite of French' objections, subdued all the Ionian Islands and placed them under their rule. The English Occupation became official with the signing of a decree founding the "United States of the Ionian Islands" on 5 November 1815, according to the treaty of Paris. This decree stated that the island's government would be under the supervision of England and the English Lord Commissioner. The English Occupation was characterized by constant political re-arrangements and changes. It was the time when many important work prospects were executed, such as the creation of roads and the building of churches, bridges and part of the harbour.


Although Zakynthos remained under England’s control, it played a significant role in the struggle against the Turks during the revolution of 1821. Tradition claims that in the church of Agios Georgios Filikon, the war heroes Constantinos Petmezas, Theodoros Kolokotronis and Nikitaras took their vows. The English unsuccessfully tried to prevent the Zakynthians from participating in the Greek Revolution. The Zakynthians offered money for the cause and men for the battles in the Peloponnesus. After the recognition of Greece, the inhabitants of the Ionian Islands rose up and demanded changes in the constitution. Due to the crisis of the English policy in Greece and to popular demand, England resigned from the government of the Ionian Islands, which were united with the rest of Greece on 23 September 1863. On 21 May 1864, Thrasivoulos Zaimis took over the command of the Ionian Islands from Henry Storcks.


During World War II, many Zakynthians participated in the resistance against the Germans. The island of Zakynthos was free from German Occupation in 1945. Eight years later, in 1953 a strong earthquake shook the Ionian Islands causing massive destruction to Zakynthos. Most of the town's houses fell, and the inhabitants have made great efforts to restore their life to its proper state.

Lionardo Frescobaldi

Frescobaldi travelled to the Holy Land in 1384. The Florentine traveller began his journey from Venice. After eight days he arrived at Zakynthos for which he writes: "We resorted to the island of Zakynthos in the harbour opposite to the mountain. There exists a black vein that produces a great quantity of bitumen. For this reason great stench exists".

Simone Sigoli

The second Florentine, who visited Zakynthos in 1384, is Simone Sigoli who marks relatively: "Because of the bad weather, we sailed in the harbour of Zakynthos, in a place uninhabited that was called Lisiponto and we remained there for three days. The villagers were getting down from the mountains in order to sell food to us and we bought many hens for nine soldia per pair, because big abundance exists. Zakynthos abstains 900 miles from Venice".

Jacob Marcellus

A Venetian official travelled in 1473 in Zakynthos with special mission to regulate with arbitration the differences between the Moraites(=inhabitants of Peloponnesus), that they had immigrated to the island after the invasion of the Turks in Peloponnesus, and the Zakynthians, concerning economic questions. He was the previous Proveditor of Venice in Peloponnesus Jacob Marcellus that knew persons and things and could reconciliate the fighting portions. That season Zakynthos was found under the sovereignty of the Venetian family of Tokki.

Marcellus submitted a report on the results of his mission and he informs us that before 1473 a big immigration of Moraites in Zakynthos took place, which was already devastated from the Turkish-Venetian wars and the piratical raids. The island had almost entirely inhabited by Peloponnesians and Cretans2. Venice granted to the refugees some lands. He writes in his report: "The Moraites say that when the Venetians attacked the Turcs in Peloponnesus, they lived in the region of Olenus and Helidonus and that they fought against the Turcs. But because it was impossible to face the raids of the Turks, Michael Rallis head of the stradioti (=Greek mercenaries in the time of Turkish occupation), that ruled as representative of Venice, proposed that they should be transported to Zakynthos. The proposal was adopted by Leonardo Tokko, the inhabitants of Zakynthos and the Venetian chief-admiral Lorentanus. This way ten thousands Moraites were transferred to Zakynthos under the protection of Venice.

The Moraites worked in barren and dry lands and they developed them. They did not refuse of course to pay what was fair and legal. They meant, however, to be considered as Venetian nationals. A proposal of compromise came up and both parties accepted it. The Moraites would pay to the Bishop and Sovereign of Zakynthos the tenth of their products, animals and other incomes. They would pay the tax of carcases and land. The differences between Moraites and Zakynthians will be tried by the Venetian consul and the differences between Zakynthians from the governor of the island. The consul will impose the payment of obligations that delay and the governor will provide his aid for the imposing of justice. For the exporters of products the Moraites will pay the same as the Venetians".

Forty years later, Jean Thenaud, guardian of Abbey of Kordelieres of Agoulleme, passes from Zakynthos. He is under the protection of Louise of Savoy and he was sent to the Holy Lands (with the occasion of the travel of the French ambassador in Egypt) in order to pray in Jerusalem and to offer to the crib of Bethlehem, smyrna, gold and lebanon on behalf of her. Thenaud in his diary marks that in 1512 he had the opportunity to visit the mausoleum of Cicero.

“I found in Zakynthos the grave of the eminent rhetor. In the basement of a chapel exists an ancient grave that is placed on four Doric marble columns. They opened the basement for us (they consider it as a precious treasure) and we saw three ashtrays of glass a thumb thick full of ash, stamped. Above in the vessels the letters M. T. C were engraved. Then I remembered that the Greeks and the Latins had told me that in Zakynthos the ash of the great rhetor was kept”.[The German Wolfgang Muntzer, who travelled in 1556 to Zakynthos, writes that the tomb of Cicero had been discovered ten years ago].

Jerome Maurand

Among the Europeans that dealt in the 16th century with the collection of ancient signs, a special place possesses the French military priest Jerome Maurand. He was an educated clergyman, admirer of ancient Greece and one from the humble intellectual workers of Renaissance.

He began his journey on 23 May 1544 in the eminent French ship "Reale" accompanying Hairentin Barbarossa from the western Mediterranean to the Ionian Islands and Constantinople. Maurand describes the Greek islands of the Ionian and Aegean with precision and conscientiousness and accompanies his narrations with drawings of cities, harbours and castles.

The allied fleets reached to Corfu on 19 July 1544 and continued their travel to the Aegean. On 22 July the boats sailed in Zakynthos. In the harbour some slaves escaped from the French ambassador’s ship that accompanied the French fleet. The inhabitants of the island denied handing them over to the French. It was an act of boldness and humanity. "We festively entered in the harbour of Zakynthos. The canons fired and the flags were raised. The main ambassador sent in the land the secretary of "Reale" Chastelet, a Greek named Michael and the sailor Lipariotis as well as certain slaves for supplies of wine and food. The slaves however and Lipariotis escaped. Then, the ambassador sends Entrecasteaux to the Proveditor demanding the arrest of the fugitives. But the inhabitants began to threaten the envoy.

At midnight two local tradesmen got on the boat in order to be paid for the wine that the secretary had bought. Then my gentleman, seeing that Chastelet and Michael were not returning, got upset, and he ordered to raise the anchors of the boat and sailed taking the two Zakynthians as hostages". Finally, the two hostages were released in Methoni, where the fleet reached on 23 July.

Philippe Fresne Canaye

The most famous sightseer of the 16th century is a young French Huguenot noble that is possessed by the passion of travelling and acquaintance with the outside world, Philippe Fresne Canaye. In the age of twenty he had travelled through the entire Europe. Reaching Venice in 1572 he is engaged in the service of the bishop Francois de Noailles, who was also a diplomat and a humanist and who in 1573 was named ambassador in Constantinople. But the young student of the progressive bishop, that had narrower bonds with the seculars than with the officials of the Church, was a troublesome spirit. He abandons the ambassador and begins a tour in the interior of the Ottoman Empire.

It was a big decision. The tour was dangerous. Canaye had the feelings of modern tourists. Doing two times the same travel, said, it is intolerable for a curious person. Precisely in order to avoid the return from the same way, he enters in a French ship sailing from Constantinople for the islands of the Aegean. Having travelled so much before reaching Greece he was possessed by the desire to learn and he had studied a lot of books and maps, so that he had enough knowledge for the antiquity and, the most important, he spoke Greek. On 29 August 1573 he reaches Zakynthos. Due to the constitutive letters he holds, he is granted the right to travel freely in the island and to concentrate information on the life of its inhabitants of the city that has been totally destroyed by the Turcs. None decides to build a new house. Everyone lives with the distress of a new invasion: "The Proveditor of the island Leonardus Eno read the constitutive letters of our ambassador and allowed us to circulate freely. We immediately went to the fortress that is found at the top of a very fertile, but inaccessible hill. It is a very strong castle with wide walls provided with canons. In the castle also a small settlement exists. And when the Turks attempt raids in the island the inhabitants transport their things in the fortress. The castle has marvellous tanks. The guard is constituted by hundred men.

[The Venetian fortress is situated in the place where written sources locate the wall of the ancient acropolis (Psophidas). The strong earthquakes that have frequently struck the island destroyed the fortifications so that they had constantly to be rebuilt. The construction of the walls and the Fortress defensive system, which are preserved, was completed in 1646 when the "proveditor general da mar" was Io. Bapt. Grimani. The work was done by Venetian engineers and local builders, with great care and strong materials. At the same time the main stone-paved road was laid down, running to the coast. This was the Strada Giustiniana, the Sartzada as it was known in more recent times. An important programme of conservation and repair of the walls and the buildings of the Fortress, together with the works on the water-supply and drainage systems, was carried out by the English in 1812 while they were in control of the island. In 1970-71, the Archaeological Service undertook the consolidation of those sections of the walls and gates of the Fortress which were in danger of collapsing. As a result of excavations which began in 1984 and are continuing, many churches, datable from the 11th to the 18th century, have been discovered. In addition, there are other buildings, a sophisticated system of gathering rain-water (pipes, cisterns, etc.) as well as drainage pipes. Most significant, however, is the archaeological material which dates from prehistoric to post-Byzantine times, thus giving special importance to the place. The visible monuments found during the course of recent excavations are datable from the Byzantine period down to the time of the English occupation].



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
634 KB
Catalog Number
early european tourists describing zakynthos




Title: Early European Tourists Describing Zakynthos