© delas photography
Vathy, the capital of the island, fans out like an amphitheater. It is built in the inmost part of the gulf of the same name and dates back to 1500 AD. Vathy is an attractive settlement with a pronounced Venetian influence, pretty houses with tiled roofs, imposing mansions and picturesque stone-paved alleys. It has, since 1978, been classified by law as a ‘traditional’ settlement. Vathy has been inhabited continuously since the time of the Venetians. It nestles safely in the beautiful natural harbour that has been identified as the Homeric harbour of Phorcys. This is where the sea-god Phorcys had his temple and where the Phaeacians left the sleeping Odysseus.
The approach to Vathy by sea is truly an experience. The narrow neck of the harbour conceals the view of the gulf that suddenly reveals its true beauty. The entrance to this beautiful natural harbour is guarded by the remains of a small fort with two cannons. This stands just above the beach of Loutsa and was built in 1807, during the French occupation of the Ionian Islands. Purified and beautiful, the tiny isle of Lazaretto adorns the entrance to the harbour and is a point of reference for every Ithacan and visitor. Well-kept and well-lit, it hosts choice cultural events and many baptisms and weddings.
On approaching the quay, the first thing one sees is the Monument to the Sailor, a symbol of the seamanship of Ithaca from the times of the Homeric epics to the present. Through her nautical schools, her maritime trade, her contribution to the struggles of the nation for freedom and the two World Wars, the history of Ithaca is intimately and strongly connected to ships and widely-esteemed captains. Ithaca today honours and continues this significant legacy.
At the town square of Vathy, one is welcomed by the statue with two poses of Odysseus and the bust of Homer. The king of Ithaca, created by the Ithacan artist, Korina Kassianos, gives a certain tone and point of reference to the visitor from the outset. On the one hand, Odysseus the traveler gazes seaward and dreams of the world. On the other, Odysseus the lowly, the earthly, turned and looking towards the interior of the island, labours and struggles.
Vathy is the most developed tourist area of the island. The night life moves at a tranquil pace and for this reason, people of all ages coexist and enjoy themselves. It offers good food and entertainment, a pleasant ‘soulatso’ or walk, and friendly people. Together these create a suitable atmosphere for quality holidays without any extreme expressions. Vathy has many hotels, pensions and apartments and rooms to rent. There are dealers from which one can hire a car, scooter or boat. The local bus service has routes that connect Vathy with the villages of Northern Ithaca. At a place called Mylos, on the North-eastern side of the harbour, there is a filling station for recreational boats (fuel, oils and lubricants, water). Nearby beaches like Loutsa, Dexia, Sarakiniko, Filiatro, Gidaki (30 minutes away by boat), Minymata, Skinos, Aetos and Piso Aetos have clean, clear water and are suitable for swimming.
Under the auspices of the Municipality, many interesting cultural events take place in Vathy. These include the various celebrations, theatrical productions, concerts of Greek music, performances by local bands and groups etc. Towards the end of summer every year, seminars on Homeric Literature are organized. International conferences for the study of Homer are organized every three years. These are under the auspices of the Center for Odyssean Studies.