Guide to Lefkada Town, The Ionian Islands


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The northern tip of the island of Lefkada is largely dominated by Lefkada Town, the economic, commercial and administrative centre of the island and home to around 9,000 people. Surrounded by the sea on three sides, the town affords stunning waterfront locations for a large proportion of its many bars, cafés and restaurants. The marina, situated to the southeast of the city centre, is a particular highlight. It is the most modern and certainly one of the most beautiful marinas in the whole of Greece, with a mooring capacity for over 620 boats. Due to its popularity, the marina has become its own micro-metropolis, and at night its restaurants and bars bustle with the visitors who have come to watch the breathtaking reflection of the mountains in the tranquil waters as they take on the colours of the sunset. Just beyond the marina is the city’s new bus station from which you can take public transport to the vast majority of Lefkada’s sites and villages.

Agia Mavra

If you are travelling to Lefkada by car, you will drive down the umbilical causeway which links the island to the mainland and feeds directly into the town centre. Those taking this route are treated to views that take in not only the canal and the lagoon, which is part of Lefkada’s protected wetlands and home to rare bird species such as pelicans and little egrets, but also the impressive Agia Mavra castle (also known as the Santa Maura), situated approximately 1km to the northeast of Lefkada Town. The castle was constructed around 1300 to defend the city against pirate attacks and is testament to the island’s eventful history, which is also reflected in its architecture. In its heyday the castle was a hub of activity, containing two churches, several houses, an infirmary and a giant gun powder store to feed its seven giant canons, which once made short shrift of enemy ships and still point menacingly out to sea.

In the 15th century, the Ottomans attempted to connect the castle to Lefkada Town itself by means of a giant bridge. This ambitious project, an aqueduct whose design incorporated a massive 360 supporting arches, was scuppered by an earthquake, but its remains can still be seen today. The Venetians renovated the castle during their short-lived occupation in 1502, only for it to occupied by the Turks again from 1503-1684, before the Venetians made a return, this time placing their hallmark winged lion above the main entrance. An explosion inside the castle destroyed many of its buildings in 1888, but after a second renovation it served as a refugee camp. The castle suffered greatly once again in the Second World War and many of the constructions inside its walls were destroyed. It remains a popular tourist destination, however, and a visit to the restored church of Agia Mavra is highly recommendable.

Lefkada Town centre

The road leading from the mainland ends in a large, shady square bordered by hotels and cafés offering a lively buzz at any time of day or night. Bosketo, a small nearby park often referred to by the locals as ‘the poets’ garden’, features busts of some of Lefkada’s most famous writers, including Angelos Sikelianos (1884 – 1951), one of the most significant Modern Greek poets, and Lefcadio Hearn (1850 – 1904). A native of Lefkada whose parents named him after the island itself, Hearn was best known for his writings on Japan where he spent the last 14 years of his life, becoming a naturalised Japanese citizen and assuming the name Koizumi Yakumo.

The main street, the pedestrianized backbone of the city, branches off from this area. Named after the archaeologist William Dörpfeld it extends as far as the central square and is lined with arcades of exclusive shops and cafés, which are just one of the many aspects that make Lefkada Town such a pleasant place to stroll through. A further attraction are the many churches dotted throughout the town that are certainly worth popping into to admire the iconostases, walls of beautifully-carved icons and religious paintings, created by famous local artists. Two of the best-known churches are Agios Spyridon, in the main square, and Agios Nikolaos, but you will find many more, most constructed in the Venetian period and often topped by impressive bell towers.

It is not only Lefkada Town’s array of beautiful churches that were built in the Venetian period. In 1684, the Venetian rulers decided to relocate the capital of the island of Lefkada from the settlement inside the walls of the Agia Mavra fortress to its present location. They applied the rules of Venetian mediaeval town planning to the town, creating it on a human scale in the shape of a giant fishbone: the main street as a central artery intersected by small side streets, which are in turn traversed by narrow alleys running parallel to the main street.

The Architecture of Lefkada Town

One of your lasting memories of Lefkada Town will without doubt be its array of colourful two-storey houses, whose upper floors are clad in brightly-painted corrugated metal. The city’s architecture is a prime example of the creative power of chaos: whilst the numerous earthquakes that hit the island laid waste to most of its historical buildings, it was one of the most devastating of these earthquakes that Lefkada Town has to thank for its truly unique architecture. At the time of the 1825 earthquake, Lefkada had just become part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a collection of British protectorates. The town was rebuilt in conformity with British anti-seismic regulations and is the only such example in continental Europe.

Although the ground floor walls of the houses are made of stone, the buildings are constructed in such a way as to ensure that any load or tremor is transferred directly to the highly shock-absorbent foundations below. These consist of a framework of whole tree logs that run the entire length and breadth of the building, spread with tar and finally topped with a mixture of fine sand, porcelain dust and stone chips. The second storeys of the houses are constructed in wood and rest on wooden frames inside the ground floor stone walls, again to channel any load straight to the foundations. The wooden frames of the first floors are filled in with brickwork or branches of dried broom and then strengthened with plasterboard or corrugated iron. Today, these are painted in the bright colours that give Lefkada Town its particular cheery and welcoming ambiance.

Lefkada Town’s Museums

Lefkada Town is home to a few small museums which are well worth a visit if you have the time. The quaint Museum of Phonographs is to be found just off the main pedestrian street and has an eclectic and fascinating collection of old gramophones, records, photographs, paintings, jewels and musical instruments. If you’d like to find out more about the Lefkadians themselves, the Orpheus Folklore Museum could be right up your drómos (street). Situated next to the Agios Spyridon church near the central square, it is devoted to the more recent history of the people of Lefkada, exhibiting objects that recreate the traditional daily life of the islanders and featuring some of the beautiful woven articles traditionally produced on the island. A typical room of a Lefkadian house has also been recreated here.

The jewel amongst Lefkada’s museums, however, is undoubtedly the small but captivating Archaeological Museum, which traces the history of the island and its people across a vast time period – from the Paleolithic right the way to up the late Roman period. Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the excavations of the archaeologist William Dörpfeld, who believed that Lefkada was Homer’s historical Ithaca, the birthplace of Odysseus. One of the museum’s best features is the sheer number of original findings that it showcases, encompassing every aspect of life across the broad time spectrum covered: household objects, textiles, sepulchral columns and urns from ancient cemeteries, jewellery, tools, paintings and other works of art, valuable manuscripts and prints, to name but a few.

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