Recent advances in the identification of molecular components of centromeres have demonstrated a crucial role for chromatin proteins in determining both centromere identity and the stability of kinetochore-microtubule attachments. Although we are far from a complete understanding of the establishment and propagation of centromeres, this review seeks to highlight the contribution of histones, histone deposition factors, histone modifying enzymes, and heterochromatin proteins to the assembly of this sophisticated, highly specialized chromatin structure. First, an overview of DNA sequence elements at centromeric regions will be presented. We will then discuss the contribution of chromatin to kinetochore function in budding yeast, and pericentric heterochromatin domains in other eukaryotic systems. We will conclude with discussion of specialized nucleosomes that direct kinetochore assembly and propagation of centromere-defining chromatin domains.