Epirot Islands

Epirote Islands are considered those northern Ionian islands that are in close proximity to the Epirus mainland.

These include:

  • Kerkyra (Κέρκυρα) usually known as Corfu in English
  • Paxi (Παξοί) (includes Antipaxos) also known as Paxos in English
  • Lefkada (Λευκάδα) also known as Lefkas in English
  • Ithaki (Ιθάκη) usually known as Ithaca (the island of Odysseus) in English


The Ionian Islands

According to legend, Neoptolemos or Pyrros the late hero of Trojan war, sailed to the Epirote Islands and then became the king of Epirus exiling Odysseus after he killed a large number of suitors that pestered his wife, Penelope. Neoptolemos was son of Achilles by princess Deidamea daughter of Lycomedes, the King of Scyros. Achilles was send there by his mother Thetis who knowing that she botched the job of rendering him invulnerable (she failed to expose his "Achilles' "heel to the sacred fire), didn't want him to fight in the Trojan War, so she disguised him as a girl in the court of Skyros. With Andromache the widow of Hector, who had been enslaved, Neoptolemos was the father of Molossos and ancestor of the main tribe of Epiros the Molossoi. Molossoi were the guardians of the main Greek oracle of Zeus in Dodona. The Zeus connection seems to stem from the legend that the ghost of Achilles appeared to the survivors of the Trojan war, demanding Polyxena, the Trojan princess, be sacrificed before anybody could leave. Neoptolemos did so, but in contrast to Achilles, who had previously shown mercy to Priam, her father and King of Troy, he also sacrificed him to Zeus.


At the outbreak of the Peloponesian War in 431 BC most of the islands, notably Kerkyra, took the side of Athens but Lefkada took the side of Sparta.

In the 4th century BC under another king Neoptolemos of the same dynasty, Molossoi (or Molossians) became more urbanized inhabiting also the area of contemporary Zagoria, where significant archeological findings (kept in the Ioannina archeological museum) were excavated in the villages of Elafotopos and Vitsa by the Vikos gorge. Still herding the western highlands of the Pindos in Zagoria, Molossoi were in constant friction over grazing, with Macedonians on the other side of the range.

When, by the Treaty of Paris of November 5, 1815, the Ionian Islands became a protectorate of the United Kingdom, Corfu became the seat of the British high commissioner. The British commissioners, who were practically autocrats in spite of the retention of the native senate and assembly, introduced a strict method of government which brought about a decided improvement in the material prosperity of the islands, but by its very strictness displeased the natives. In 1864 it was, with the other Ionian Islands, ceded to the kingdom of Greece, in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants.

Ionian Islands

The islands today

Today all the islands are part of the Greek district of Ionioi Nisoi. Kerkyra has a population of 97,000, Lefkada 21,000, Ithaki 3,000 and Paxi 2,000.

In recent decades the islands have lost population through emigration and the decline of their traditional industries, fishing and marginal agriculture. Today their major industry is tourism. Kerkyra in particular, with its magnificent harbour, splendid scenery and wealth of picturesque ruins and castles, is a favourite stopping place for cruise liners. British tourists in particular are attracted through having read Gerald Durrell's evocative book My Family and Other Animals (1956), which describes his childhood on Kerkyra in the 1930s.


Greek Islands

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