Lake Melissani, Kefalonia, Greece

Lake Locations:

Greece - Ionian Islands - Kefalonia -

Also known as:  Limni Melissani

The light streams in overhead, turning the water of Lake Melassani aquamarine. The small rowboats filled with tourists float on a lake of clear, blue light. Birds flit between the plants and the rocks that make up the lake’s island and all of it – every bit of it – is underground. Melissani Lake or Melissani Cave, as it is also known, is an underground lake in a cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia. It is part of the island’s interesting geography and just one of the sites that draws tourists to the Ionian island.

Lake Melissani is on the east side of Kefalonia , just a few miles from the port of Sami. The 328 foot-long long cave and lake were known in ancient times. Originally two large chambers, a cave-in thousands of years ago changed the cave and lake’s shape to that of the letter B and created the island and oval opening in the ceiling. The lake was rediscovered in 1951 by Giannis Petrohilos, a speleologist, who found an ancient lamp currently on display at the Archeological Museum of Argosotli. Another excavation in 1962 produced a few minor Minoan relics including oil lamps and plates with pictures of Pan and nymphs, and uncovered what is believed to be ruins from a temple to the God Panas on the island in Lake Melissani. Also known as the Cave of the Nymphs, Melissani Cave is named after the nymph, Melissanthi. Myth holds that Melissanthi drowned herself in the lake when Panas rejected her love.

In 1963, Lake Melissani was opened to the public. Visitors descend down a steep ramp through the cave’s entrance where row boats wait to take them across the lake. The boats, with their charming and sometimes even singing boatmen, are the only way to tour Lake Melissani. It is recommended that tourists visit on a sunny day so they can enjoy the full effect of the light streaming through the hole in the ceiling of the first hall of the cave. The channel that connects the two halls is too narrow for the boatmen to row through, so they pull the row boats through using a rope. On the other side, the ceiling opens to a dome, and the cave is decorated with stalactites and stalagmites.

The water in Lake Melissani is brackish, a mixture of fresh and salt water. The surface of the lake is 3.28 feet above sea level, and the lake has a maximum depth of 98 feet. Melissani Lake receives some of its water from the Katavothres on the other side of the island. The Katavothres are a series of swallow holes that sea water flows into. In the past they were used to turn water wheels. No one was sure where the water went until dye was dropped into the Katavothres. Fourteen days later the dye turned up in Lake Melissani, proving there was at least one hydrologic connection under the island.

Kefalonia, or Cephalonia as it is also known. Is an island with many caves. There are more than 17 caves around Sami alone, including one next to Lake Melissani that is open to tourists. Cephalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands. It was named after Kephalos, the area’s first king; four of the island’s main cities – Sami, Pahli, Krani and Pronnoi – were named after his four sons. The island has at times been ruled by Romans, the Franks, Venetians and Spaniards. In modern times it has fallen under French, Russian, Turkish and English rule before finally uniting with Greece in 1864. During World War II the island was occupied by Italian troops. The story of the subsequent massacre of 5,000 Italian soldiers was documented in the novel ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis de Bernieres.

Today, the only ones invading the island are tourists flocking to Cephalonia to enjoy the island’s rich history, beautiful scenery, and fantastic sand and pebble beaches. There are holiday villas, cottages and vacation rentals scattered across the island and any amenity a visitor might need. Seaside restaurants serve native dishes, and charming shops hold local treasures. Lake Melissani is the glowing underground gem tucked away in an exceptional Greek getaway.

Things to do at Lake Melissani

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Boating
  • Beach
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Ruins

Lake Melissani Photo Gallery

Lake Melissani Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 35 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3 feet

Maximum Depth: 98 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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