How did Zakynthos survive a devastating earthquake in 1953 that destroyed most of its buildings and monuments, and how did it rebuild its heritage?

Zakynthos, also known as Zante, is a beautiful Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is famous for its stunning beaches, rich culture, and historical landmarks. However, the island has also faced many challenges and disasters throughout its history, especially the catastrophic earthquake of 1953 that almost wiped out its entire civilization. In this blog post, we will explore how Zakynthos survived this calamity, and how it managed to restore its heritage and identity.

The Great Ionian Earthquake of 1953

The year 1953 was a tragic one for the southern Ionian Islands, especially Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Between August 8 and August 12, the region was shaken by a series of powerful earthquakes that reached up to 7.2 magnitude on the Richter scale. The most destructive one occurred on August 12 at 11:23 am, causing widespread damage and fires on both islands. According to various sources, between 445 and 800 people were killed, and thousands more were injured or left homeless.

Zakynthos Town, the capital and main port of the island, was hit the hardest by the quake. Almost all of its buildings and monuments collapsed or burned down, leaving only three structures standing: the Church of St. Dionysius, the patron saint of the island; the National Bank; and a school in the Ammos area. The rest of the town was reduced to rubble and ashes, burying many people under the debris.

The earthquake also affected other parts of the island, such as Laganas, Keri, Alykes, and Volimes. Many villages lost their houses, churches, schools, and public facilities. The infrastructure of the island was severely damaged, including roads, bridges, water supply, electricity, and communication systems. The natural environment also suffered from landslides, rockfalls, and coastal erosion.

The earthquake was not only a physical disaster, but also a cultural and emotional one. Zakynthos had a rich and diverse architectural heritage that reflected its long and turbulent history. The island had been influenced by various civilizations and cultures, such as the Byzantines, the Venetians, the French, the British, and the Greeks. The town had a unique blend of styles and elements, such as neoclassical mansions, Venetian fortifications, Byzantine churches, Renaissance squares, and Baroque fountains. Many of these buildings and monuments were destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the earthquake, leaving a huge gap in the island’s identity and memory.

The Recovery and Reconstruction of Zakynthos

Despite the devastation and despair caused by the earthquake, Zakynthos did not give up hope or surrender to fate. The islanders showed remarkable resilience and solidarity in the face of adversity. They helped each other to rescue survivors, provide medical care, distribute food and water, and find shelter. They also received assistance from various sources, both domestic and international.

One of the first to arrive on the scene were two Royal Navy vessels: HMS Bermuda and HMS Gambia. They provided emergency relief supplies, such as tents, blankets, medicines, and food. They also helped to clear the rubble and restore some basic services. Four Israeli warships also responded to the call for help from Kefalonia and Zakynthos. They delivered humanitarian aid and offered medical treatment to the injured. This was the first time Israel provided aid to a disaster-stricken area.

The Greek government also mobilized its resources to support the affected islands. It declared a state of emergency and sent military troops,