Ithaca has been continuously inhabited for the last 6,000 years. Depending on the different periods and circumstances, population fluctuation has been observed, but even during periods of decline the island was never deserted.
Remains of buildings in the area of northern Ithaca suggest activity from the time of the Neolithic Period (4000-3000 BC). Forms of organized life are presented in the Early Helladic Civilization (3000-2000 BC) as evidenced by traces of settlement, streets and walls in Pilikata and some findings in the Cave of Loizos. According to written testimony, but also from various archaeological excavations in the 19th and 20th century, Ithaca reaches the point of greatest prosperity during the Promykinaiki Period (2000-1500 BC) and especially in the Mycenaean period (1500 - 1100 BC). The island of Ithaca was the state capital of Cephalonia, which included the surrounding islands and parts of Greece’s mainland and was one of the most powerful nations of the time. The inhabitants of the island were characterized as great navigators and researchers. After the decline and collapse of the state of Ithaca, Cephalonia was occupied by the Dorians (Dorian Period, 1100-800 BC). During the ancient Greek Acme (800-180 BC) the decline of Ithaca -as a result of the Dorian occupation- continued. However, the island remained inhabited in an organized way, particularly in the northern part.
The Roman domination (180 BC-394 AD) did not alter that fact. The island remained inhabited and organized. It belonged to the province of Illyria. Most of the inhabitants lived in the north side. Idolatry was dominant until the later years, as evidenced by traces of worship to the deities and Odysseus. The Romans remained on the island until 394 AD, when Ithaca became part of the Byzantine Empire. At that time, the Christian worship was introduced and churches and monasteries were built. During the Byzantine Period (394-1185 AD), Ithaca was attached to Cephalonia and belonged to the province of Epirus. The occupation of Ithaca and the neighboring islands by the Normans (1185-1204 AD) defines the Medieval Period, with successive short acquisitions. In the Middle Ages there was a significant population decline, due to constant pirate raids.
In 1479 the Turks successively land in Lefkas, Cephalonia, Ithaca and Zakynthos, burn settlements, loot, kill and leave with prisoners who will colonize Istanbul. Ithaca is left almost deserted, as most of the inhabitants who survived, flee. In 1499, the Turkish-Venetian war begins and Ithaca and the neighboring islands are sieged by the Venetian and Spanish armadas. In 1500, the gradual conquest of the islands begins and finally, in 1503, Ithaca, Cephalonia and Zakynthos surrender to the Venetians and Lefkas to the Turks. In 1504, the Venetian domination officially begins, a commissioner is appointed in Ithaca and population is attracted by incentives such as the grant of land and tax exemption for five years.
Not long after the dominance of the French Revolution, the Ionian Islands are ceded to the French Republicans (1797-1798 AD). They are administratively divided and the county of Ithaca is established ex-officio, which includes the islands of Cephalonia and Lefkas and the mainland areas. The inhabitants of the island accept the French with enthusiasm, who proceed to the modernization of administration and judiciary. New ideas, new systems, new social attitudes make their appearance. In late 1798, the French are smoothly succeeded by the Russians and the Turks (1798-1807 AD), who at the time were allied forces. The Ionian State is founded with its capital being Corfu, the regime is democratic and authority is exercised by a 14 member Senate, which in Ithaca participates with a delegate. The navigation is boosted, as a result of Ithacan ships being free to sail the Black Sea and to transport goods in the Black Sea.
In 1809, after a siege, the British conquer Ithaca and other Ionian islands. An independent state, the "United States of the Ionian Islands" is established under the British dominance (1809-1864 AD). The new state is governed by the constitutional regime which was established in 1817. During the Greek revolution against the Turks many fighters, as well as people from the Greek mainland, find shelter in Ithaca, where liberal spirit was prevailing. Several Ithacans joined the revolutionary navy and army; furthermore, 27 of them were founding members of the Society of Friends (Filiki Eteria).
The population grew steadily and at the end of the period it was approximately 15,000, the first core of immigrants was created in Romania, the rate of mariners increased and many Ithacans were appointed to prestigious scientific or economic positions in European countries. Ithaca entered the path of modernization, a road network was built and significant progress was achieved as a commercial and naval power. The operation of the shipyard is another sign of growth. The education of youth took place in private and community schools, which were established in big settlements, the production was improved, the exchange of goods with other parties was multiplied and upgrade of economic and social life was observed.
The unification of the Ionian Islands with Greece took place on May 21, 1864. The change of power in Ithaca generates a feeling of festivity, with praises and cannonries. Preserving order on the island was originally the task of a small army (lochos), created for this purpose and consisting of 100 young Ithacans. In the late 19th century, immigration to the Danube countries, Russia and Romania, had increased dramatically. The Ithacan community consisted of almost 1000 people, who held significant positions in the marine and the trade of wine, oil and raisins. In Ithaca, the inhabitants were mainly engaged in farming, cattle-breeding, trade, arts and also fishing.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the construction and the development of existing buildings enters a new era. The new projects include elementary schools in all villages, senior high schools, asylums, water supply network, electricity plant in Vathi, and upgrading of the existing road network. As the educational level improves, the intellectual life becomes more intense. The Philharmonic is founded in Vathi in 1910 and in 1928 the edition of a local newspaper begins and also regular editions of the association of Ithacans. During the First World War many ships are lost and as a result the ability to transfer products from the island to other ports is limited. At the same time the decline of the community in the Danube begins, thus starting the migration to other places like America, Australia and South Africa, which significantly reduces the permanent population of the island and the local production. During the Second World War, while Greece is occupied by the Axis powers, the Ionian Islands are ceded to Italy. Soon resistance groups are formed. Ithaca participates in the national resistance with several casualties. In 1943 the Germans replace the Italians, who remain on the island until the defeat of the Axis and the liberation (1944). During the occupation, the isolated population manages to survive by cultivating the land, which also showed signs of recovery. But right after the liberation, many residents flee the island by migrating or by following the maritime profession.
In August 1953, great destructive earthquakes demolish most of the island, destroying entire villages and causing incalculable damage. But immediately after, the rebuilding the island begins, under the decisive action of the mayor Nicholaos Colyvas and with the contribution of Ithacan mariners and immigrants, who send remittances, state loans and the economic assistance of institutions and personalities from European countries. The population decline continues steadily to stabilize in recent years at around 3,000.
Historical Archive of Ithaca
The archives of the Historical Archive of Ithaca include approximately 1,500,000 documents, covering a historical period, beginning from the early 17th century. Although it is not a “large archive”, it has a peculiarity that is worth paying attention to. It has the privilege of being the most complete among the local authorities of the Ionian Islands. This completeness and its preservation in time for many centuries and under very difficult situations (state changes, stormy political periods, wars, earthquakes) is almost exclusively due to the high level historical and cultural consciousness of the Ithacans. This rich material, having gone through a first separation in the last decade under the scientific supervision of the National Research Foundation, is divided into the following sections: a) Commands Archive (Venetian Management Archive, Commands Archive of the period 1797-1817, Management of the Greek state Archive), b) Notarial Archive, c) Registrar Archive, d) Church Archive.