Friday, 13 March 2009

Kefalonia - Day 2, Argostoli & earthquakes



After the day of inactivity yesterday we decided today to get out of the hotel and see some more of the island so after breakfast we set off for the capital, Argostoli, just a short distance away. We could have caught a bus but took the easier option of a taxi instead for the ten minute ride to town where we were dropped off at the deserted main square. Argostoli, it has to be said, was an immediate disappointment. Old photographs show that it was once bursting with stylish Venetian mansions, leafy squares and elegant bell towers, but first the Germans dropped incendiary bombs on it during World War Two and then an earthquake in 1953 reduced what was left to a wasteland of rubble and only two houses and a bridge survived.

Kefalonia is just to the east of a major tectonic fault, where the European plate meets the Aegean plate at what is called a slip boundary. A series of four earthquakes hit the island in August 1953, and caused major destruction, with virtually every house on the entire island destroyed. The third and most destructive of the quakes had its epicenter directly below the southern tip of the island and took place on August 12th with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale. An earthquake that big is very messy indeed and the equivalent of about fifty megatons of TNT going up, it would certainly make a large bang and leave a lot of devastation behind. You certainly wouldn’t want to be standing too close!

Argostoli was completely destroyed and in the years of post war austerity not a great deal of attention was paid to style in rebuilding it because it is a town of boxy cement houses and buildings and it lacks the mazy streets and interesting little alleys that are to be found elsewhere in Greece. Being generous the grey cube buildings might be termed utilitarian, but to be brutally honest they are squat, ugly, dreary and drab. The harbour promenade was lined with palm trees and had been laid with cheerful mosaics to resemble waves and a variety of different boats bobbed about in the water. In the middle of the town there was a large featureless flagged square and all around the edges there were outdoor cafés and tavernas but they didn’t look especially cheery or inviting especially on account of this being Sunday morning, it was still quite early and the place was strangely deserted.


We looked around a little while and ventured up and down some side streets but each was as dull as the last so we cut our visit short and went to the ferry port at the quayside where a small boat crosses the bay to the town of Lixouri on the other side of the bay and we took the trip really just for the sake of going for a boat ride. It was a very pleasant morning and as the ferry crossed the bay we were joined by two dolphins swimming along side. I had never seen dolphins in their natural habitat before and as they followed the ferry the skipper obligingly turned the boat in a full circle to extend the crossing time so everyone could enjoy a better and longer view.

Lixouri was much the same as Argostoli because it too had been destroyed by the earthquake and the rebuilding had been a very hasty international emergency operation that built things as quickly and as cheaply as possible. After half an hour or so we returned to the quay and the boat took us back to Argostoli but there were no dolphins to accompany us this time.

It was really quite hot by this time and Argostoli had cheered up a bit so we stopped at one of the bars with nice cane furniture and canvas umbrellas and had a beer and a lunchtime snack. Argostoli was a nice enough place but lacking real heritage it was most unlike other places I have visited in Greece. I felt sure that there must be more to it than this because Kefalonia has a rich and varied history. During the middle Ages it was ruled first by the Kingdom of Naples and later the Venetian Republic. From 1797 to 1798, the island was part of the French départment Ithaque and after that it was part of the Ottoman Empire. After a second brief period under French control it was liberated by Britain in 1809 and became part of the British controlled United States of the Ionian Islands until 1864, but there was no real evidence of all of these different cultures because they had been swept away by the earthquake.

I couldn’t help wondering why they didn’t rebuild it in the old style rather than in this utilitarian way but I suppose the answer is that if they are going to be flattened again then why bother. In fact there have been more earthquakes since our holiday there. In 2003, an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale caused damage to business, residential property and other buildings in Argostoli and in 2005, an earthquake measuring 4.9 shook the western side of the island, especially near Lixouri and its villages. Two years later there was a 5.0 point quake in August 2007 and another a year later.

After a bit more wandering about here and there in the sunshine there were some taxis waiting at the edge of the square so we bundled into one and returned to the Mediterranee. There we spent the rest of the afternoon on sun loungers by the pool on the terrace outside the dining room until it was time for dad's rest and our walk into the village.

First of all we arranged a hire car for the next day and then we went to the Italian bar where they seemed really pleased to see us. It was an afternoon kick off in the football match and it already started, the bar was full and noisy and we found a table and settled in. We didn’t plan to stay for the whole match but we got caught up in the excitement of it all and stayed right to the end. Italy won 2 -1. On the way back to the hotel we met dad who was looking for us and he seemed rather agitated. It was nothing serious; he was just worried about being late for dinner because he claimed that if you didn’t get there first then the soup gets cold.

He was wrong of course because there was an endless supply of fresh hot soup but we didn’t argue with him, he marched us back to the dining room and we just sniggered and pulled faces behind his back and then ribbed him about this for the rest of the holiday.

1 comment:

JOHNSWORLD08 said...

Sounds like your having a great time. Id give anything to be able to go on just one more trip with my Dad. We use to go camping alot. He passed away June 20th 2008.Its been very diffficult for me. He was my step dad. He raised me from age 9 to 42 (LOL) So he was Dad to me Anyways enjoy every minute with your Dad.Thanks for blogging about it.I enjoy reading it.
Take Care
JOHN