Zakynthos has been subject to multiple foreign occupations for the biggest part of its history. This is very much evident in the island's rich and diverse architecture, local arts, culture, food and overall tamperament.
Zakynthian architecture predominetly follows the Venetian style. There are also a lot of Byzantine and Neo-Classical influences as well as Gothic architecture mainly found around the island's many Bell Towers. Distinctive to the Zakynthian architecture are also the traditional stone houses featuring wood-and-tile-made roofs, sculpted decorative pieces above doorways and windows and wrought iron staircases (internally), balcony rails and gates (externally).
Zakynthos is famous for its well known 'kandades', the distictive melodic polyphonic songs accompanied by mandolin and guitar often based on improvised lyrics. Even though the style is reminiscent of the Venetian arias, kandades are unique to the Ionion and especially to Zakynthos and Kefalonia. Georgios Kostis was the most famous player of Kandades. The first Music School was established on the island in 1815. Opera was also developed on the island combining the two arts of music and theatre. Pavlos Karrer and Panagiotis Gritzanis were two of the most notable classical composers of Zakynthos. The first professional female singer was the Zakynthian Isabella Yiatra.
The first theatre was built on the structure of the Kandades and was provided by the Venetians whilst on the island. Later the traditional 'Omilies' (speeches) were developed in the 17th century and focused on the struggles between the lower classes and aristocracy. Originally they were performed in the houses of Nobility with actors wearing masks to protect their identiy, but were later performed in the communal squares and streets. Omilies are very much staged in the present especially during carnivals and traditional festivals. The first Municipal Theatre was built in 1875 and designed by Tiller, famous German architect. At some point there were 15 theatrical stages on the island. The first female actress, Aikaterini Viagini, performed on stage in 1820.
Zakynthos is well known for its traditional ceramics, pottery, lace, weavings, carvings and paintings found around the many villages of the island and sold by the locals often outside churches or even their family homes and during festivals and local celebrations in the community.
The Eptanissian School of Art was founded in Zakynthos which is famous for its great tradition in hierography, portraits and landscapes inspired by the natural beauty of the island. Great artists include: Tzanes, Klotzas, Aggelos, Viktoras, Moschos, Doxaras, Kadounis, Koutouzis, Pelekasis, Kallergis and Koreis.
Zakynthos has produced some of the greatest and most famous poets and writers in Greece. Dionysios Solomos famously wrote the 'Hymn to Liberty' (Emnos Eis Tin Eleftheria) which later became the Greek National Anthem. Andreas Kalvos was another famous poet and writer best known for his patriotism. Grigorios Xenopoulos was a significant novelist and play-writer. Hugo Foskolo the great Italian poet also originated from Zakynthos as were Kantounis, Gouselis and Soumerlis, the great comedy writers of Modern Greece. Zakynthos has also inspired foreign writers most notable of all Edgar Allan Poe who wrote his famous 'Sonnet To Zante'. Other notable names linked to the great Zakynthian heritage are: Sgouros, Martelaos, Kountouzis, Romas, Mpiskinis, Tsagasianos as well as Moutsan Martinegkou (the female poet of that time).
Zakynthos has a number of notable museums to be visited like the Museum of Byzantine and Post Byzantine Art at Solomos Square (with displays of ecclesiastical works, hagiographies, wooden carvings, frescos and wall paintings), Solomos and Kalvos Museum (seen on the right) at St Markos Square (hosting the tomb of the National Poet, pocessions of other famous Zakynthians and artefacts from the Venetian period including clothes, furniture, photographs and portraits), the Grigorios Xenopoulos Museum near Agios Dionysios Church (with personal artefacts and pocessions of the famous novelist and play-writer), the Vertzagio Museum at Pigadakia (which covers 200 years of traditional history including house layout, artefacts, utensils, furniture, decorations, stone oven, money, newspapers, agricultural machinery and traditional gifts) and the Naval Museum at Strani Hill (covering a period between 1700 to the present day including Byzantine vessels, and costumes from the Greek civil war in WWI and WWII.