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Mt. Ainos through Ages

The Homeric geographical descriprions of Kefalonia and Ithaka make specific references to Ainos as a sacred and historical mountain. It is closely tied to mythological, religious and historical events, and even to the economic and political development of the island. Ainos fuelled the imagination of the ancient Greeks, who looked on it as the home of the gods. The frequent storms and thunderbolts were seen as proof that the father of both gods and men could be found here. It was to the highest point of the mountain that the god made his descent. On this highest peak, there was a sacrificial altar, known as Ainias, dedicated to the worship of Zeus. This peak is called Great Mound, a name which it acquired owing to the huge piles of bones from the sacrifices.
When the priests on Ainos sacrificed to Zeus on the altar, the smoke which rose into the sky was the "signal" for a second sacrificial ceremony to begin on the rocky island of Dias (Zeus), which is near the Liaka headland, southwest of the Livathos area, in direct line of vision with the Great Mound. The priests saw the second column of smoke and knew that the sacrifice was complete.
Zeus sanctuary on Ainos also has links with the campaign of Jason and the Argonauts and the myth of the Harpies. The Harpies were winged monsters with bodies of birds and heads of women, who fouled and ate the food of the blind soothsayer, Phineas. Phineas, before revealing to Jason how he could get the Argos safely through the Sympligades (narrow straits), demanded to be delivered first from the Harpies. Jason then sent two brave young men, the winged sons of the god, Voreas. They chased after the Harpy, Aello, first, who fell and drowned in the waters of the river Tigris, and then went after the second and faster one, Okypeti. At some point, finding themselves far from land over the open sea, they felt their strength ebbing away. The only land they could spy in the distance was the peak of Mount Ainos sticking up through the clouds. They prayed to the Zeus of Ainos to give them strength to go on. Their prayers were answered. They managed to catch the Harpy up, who turned her head and realized that her pursuers had gained on her. She fell dead on the sands. Since then, those islands have been known as the Strofades (strofi = turning).
It can be concluded from the report made by Apollonios of Rhodes, that Ainos must have been one of the oldest and most prestigious sanctuaries throughout Greece, which proves that it was an important religious centre.
Ainos, with its peaks rising up in the middle of the sea, was a reference point for ocean-going vessels in ancient times. As they left the shores of mainland Greece behind, they saw Ainos on their way west. Furthermore, since it was a wooded mountain, it supplied the raw materials for the building of both merchant and pirate ships. The Cretans transported timber to Crete and Egypt. The Kefalonian fir tree was used to build Triremes (ancient ships) because it was a light wood, and pine was used for merchant vessels because it did not rot easily.
Ainos was used as a symbol on coins in the Pronnus area in the 4th century BC. This shows us the influential role played by Ainos in the lives of Kefalonian inhabitants. The valuable timber on Ainos turned Kefalonia into a significant naval power. The historians Thoukidides and Polyvios make clear references to the participation of Kefalonian boats in naval battles. They took part in the Peloponnesian War, fighting on the side of the Aetoli, and Kefalonia became a naval base.
The over-exploitation of Ainos by the Venetians, who called it Monte Nero, was just the beginning of a series of destructive acts in the forest. In 1501 the Venetians established a settlement in the Omala valley with 200 lumberjacks and carpenters for timber-felling and woodwork. At that time, Ainos ran the risk of being completely laid bare. The fortresses at Assos and in Zakynthos were built using this wood. At the end of the 16th century a huge fire destroyed two-thirds of the forest. Other forest fires followed, the worst being in 1797 when the forest was on fire for weeks. The fire destroyed more than half of what was left of the forest. For the first time, laws were passed. Grazing and crop cultivation were banned and each community supplied forest wardens. These rules were unfortunately not observed.
In stark contrast to the Venetians, the British wanted to protect Ainos. The British Governor, Charles Napier showed particular interest and built the first road up the mountain. Napier introduced the species of Kefalonian fir tree to Europe by sending seeds so that nurseries could be created. The Duke of Bedford paid 25 pounds in 1837 for a sapling, while Loundons first scientific study classified it as a unique species and gave it the name Abies Cephalonica.
After the Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece, the Greek government appointed the first official forest guards. In 1936 the Kefalonian benefactor C.Vallianos built a wooden house on Ainos for his family, which became known as the "log cabin". The Prime Minister of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, a Kefalonian, built a sanatorium, which was converted into a tourist centre. However, due to the war, it was never opened. In 1962 the state declared Ainos a National Park for the protection of the Kefalonian fir tree and the rare, indigenous plants.
It has been a National Park for the last few decades. Its ecosystem is being broken down daily, threatened by both natural and man-made factors. Its protection must become the immediate goal of concerted efforts by the State, Local government, private organizations and citizens alike.

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