Lefkada or Lefkas is an island in the Ionian Sea. The history of Lefkada is long. Living witnesses are the castles, the prehistoric sites in Nydri and Kalligoni. A tour of its alleys, with its small, hidden squares, stately churches, and the polite outlines of its houses, take us to the Venetian past of the city.
It used to be called Agia Mavra, taking its name from the homonymous church built inside the castle of Agia Mavra, a fortress located opposite the city of Lefkada. According to Homer, the island’s name comes from “Lefkas” because it was white-haired. That is, it had white soil. Some say that it took its name from Lefkos, an unfortunate Zakynthian companion of the Homeric Odysseus who founded the sanctuary of Apollo in the audience. Tradition wanted those who jumped off the cliff to be automatically freed from their love. It began with the goddess Aphrodite. To get rid of her love for Adonis, her brother the god Apollo – who also had a sanctuary on the rock – forced her to jump into the waters of the Ionian Sea from Lefkata. And indeed, Aphrodite was freed from her passion. When she asked Apollo how this miracle happened, he replied that the rock had this property because the father of gods and people Zeus used it as a place of rest, between his love adventures. Mythology also wants the poet Sappho, from Lesvos, to jump from the cape’s rock to get rid of her love for Faonas.
According to archaeological excavations, the first samples of civilization on the island date back to the Paleolithic era. Lefkada even claims the title of Homeric Ithaca, according to archaeologist Derpfeld. In the 7th century BC, Nirikos south of Lefkada was one of the largest Greek cities. Lefkada has taken part in many great battles in the past. Such as the Salamis naval battle, the Platea battle during the Persian wars and the Peloponnesian war. Alexander the Great faithfully followed in his great campaign.
During this period, the island of Lefkada remained in obscurity. From the years of Heraklion, when the institution of subjects was introduced, Lefkada was probably annexed to the subject of Kefallinia. Later, Lefkas was incorporated into the Despotate of Epirus. In 1293 it was given as a dowry to John I Orsini by the despotate of Epirus, Nikiforos I Komnenos. Orsini built the fortress of Agia Lavra there for protection from pirates. Then, Lefkada passed to the Andigavos (1331-1362). In 1357 the villagers revolted against the ruler of Gratian George. Between 1362-1479 Lefkada became an acquisition of Interest with its concession, in 1362, to Leonardo I Tokko. The inhabitants had asked for help from Leonardo, who had promised them participation in the local administration, respect for their property and religion. But later, he expelled the orthodox archbishop from Lefkada. In Byzantine times Lefkada was part of the Byzantine Empire. After the separation of the state (395 AD), it was subordinated to the Eastern State and continued to be administratively directly connected with Epirus.
In 1479, Lefkada was conquered by the Ottomans. It temporarily experienced for two years (1502-1503) the Venetian rule and passed again in the hands of the Ottomans for an extended period ending in 1684- a total of 203 years. At that time, the aqueduct with 360 arches was built. It brought water to the Castle, passing through the lagoon. The remains can be seen in our left hand when we walk on the road in the direction of the drawbridge, which connects Lefkada with Acarnania. The pipeline started from Megali Vrysi, passed through the main road of the settlement of Amaxiki, and fed five fountains, of which the well-known “Kato Vrysi” survived until today on the western sidewalk of the main road of the current city, north of the central square. At a distance of about 50 meters from the end of the road to the beach.
During the Venetian occupation that began in 1684, Lefkada has united again with the other Ionian Islands that were also Venetian-occupied. The Venetians take care of the increase of the population by bringing inhabitants from different places. The island’s production of salt and oil was enhanced, while the city, after a fire that broke out in the Castle, was moved to its current location for security reasons. The period of Venetian rule was interrupted by Turkish occupation for only a year.
Asia Minor Catastrophe
After the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922, refugees from Asia Minor settled in Lefkada. Initially, many lived in the castle of Agia Mavra. A settlement was also created near the Metropolitan Church of Evangelistria, in the city. During the occupation, Lefkada was liberated from the IX division of EDES that landed on the island on September 10, 1944, killing the German Guard two days later, with very few escaping to the south side of the island. In 1963 the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis bought Scorpio in the cosmopolitan Nidri, which has since gained worldwide fame, occasionally hosting many visitors and celebrities from around the world.
During the Occupation, Lefkada and all the Ionian islands came under the jurisdiction of the Italians from 1/5/1941 to 11/9/1943. On this date, and after Italy had capitulated, the island came under German occupation. The German occupation ended on 12/9/1944 after a brave and well-organized resistance of Lefkada. The civil conflict followed this during the “December” period. The turbulent political period followed immediately after, and finally, the civil war, especially hard on our island. It took many years and great efforts for his wounds to heal and for people to breathe. During the occupation, Lefkada was liberated by the 240th ELAS regiment that landed on the island on December 27, 1944, neutralizing a few days later the members of Edessa, the battalion guards and collaborators of the Germans.
After the war, the rural class decreased dramatically from 80%, on average, of the total population in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, to 60%. At the same time, however, the economy is booming rapidly when tourism is now the “heavy industry” of the island, and purely agricultural activities are shrinking dramatically.