Travelling Itaca: The homeland of Ulysses, according to Homer's Odyssey

Small and rugged, Ithaca is famous for being, according to the Greek poet Homer, the homeland of Ulysses, the King of Ithaca.

The findings in this historic and impressive place date back to 4000-3000 B.C., and already in Mycenaean times it had become the capital of a kingdom that included neighboring Kefalonia.

Vathý

The capital is an active port with brown-roofed houses in a jagged bay. The surrounding hills welcomed the first settlements, but the port itself was populated in medieval times, and Vathy became a capital in the 17th century. Ravaged by an earthquake in 1953, it was rebuilt and declared a protected space, forcing all new buildings to conform to existing styles.

The Archaeological Museum houses a collection of vases and votive offerings from the Mycenaean era. And, for its part, the church of Taxiarchis presents a 17th century icon of Christ supposedly painted by El Greco.

Exploring the island

With a single densely populated area, high hills, pebble beaches, and few buildings, Ithaca is a delight to explore. Two daily bus services (four in high season, during some years) connect Vathy with the northern towns; in addition there are some taxis.

Stávros

The largest town in northern Ithaca, despite having only 300 inhabitants (according to information published this decade), is a thriving community with a busy market. The nearby bay of Polis is known for being the ancient port of Ithaca and home to an important sanctuary dedicated to the worship of nymphs (in Greek mythology, a nymph is a minor feminine deity typically associated with a specific natural place, such as a spring , a stream, a mountain, a sea or a grove).

The Palace of Ulysses could have been on Stavros, at the top of the hill they call Pilikáta (to find it, you have to ask at the Archaeological Museum). It has a single room and guided tours are offered in several languages. Local finds include a piece of terracotta mask from the Polis cave with the inscription: “Dedicated to Ulysses”.

The legend of Ulysses' return to Ithaca

Ulysses, King of Ithaca, was reluctant to leave his wife Penelope and their son Telemachus to join Agamemnon on the expedition against Troy. But once in combat his skill as a warrior and orator and his cunning proved vital. However, the return home was bristling with dangers, included Cyclops, the witch Circe and the seductive Calypso. By blinding the Cyclops, he gained the hatred of Poseidon, who, despite supporting Athena's hero, made sure that Ulysses lost all his men before the Phaeacians returned him to his home ten years after leaving Troy.

In Ithaca, Ulysses found Penelope harassed  by numerous suitors; Disguised as a beggar and with the help of her pig keeper Eumeo and her son, Ulysses killed everyone and regained her wife and kingdom.

 

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