Lefkada's history lies deep in ancient times when in the 7th century BC it was colonised by the Corinthians who first excavated the island to enable the passage north for their ships. The ancient inhabitants of Lefkada had even participated in the famous naval battle of Salamis against the Persians. In the 4th century BC the inhabitants of the island were conquered by Philip of Macedonia, later on succumbing to the Roman Empire.
In more recent times the island's history is very turbulent. The two fairly well preserved forts located at the 'entrance' of Lefkada bear silent witness to this. The medieval fort of Agias Mavras is the bigger and best preserved of the two and is well worth a visit which is free. The smaller one known as Teke or Grivas Fort was built early in the 19th century by the famous Ottoman Ali Pasha in order to conquer the island but he gave up shortly after it was finished. This is also worth a visit and favours the visitor with some panoramic views of Lefkada Town and the surrounding landscape.
The Franks, the Venetians and the Ottomans all became conquerors of Lefkada and later on the Russians, the French and the British. It is not until as late as 1864 the island is united with Greece.
The myth about the poetess Sappho's suicide at Cape Doukato is related to other wonderful myths linking the island to the ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and to Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey. In fact the German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld, having performed excavations at various locations on the island suggested that Lefkada was Homer's Ithaca, and the palace of Odysseus was located South West of Nidri on the coast. There have been suggestions by local tourism officials that several passages in the Odyssey point to Lefkada as a possible model for Homeric Ithaca. The most notable of these describes Ithaca as an island reachable on foot, which was the case for Lefkada as it was connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.
Some of the island's most interesting sites are its churches. They include Basilicas, influenced by Venetian architecture and adorned with beautiful iconography some even in gold leaf. Most of these churches were built between 17th and 18th century.
The small archaeological museum in Lefkada Town is also well worth a visit. There you will see the finds of the above-mentioned archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld and evidence of his unique 'Ithaka theory'. There are also artefacts from Palaeolithic and Roman times.
The International folklore and the Literature and Arts festivals are also an interesting addition to the island's rich cultural tapestry, taking place each August. An age-old tradition that brings prominent actors, writers and musicians together, not only from Greece but from further afield. This takes place in Lefkada Town and in the past some of its prominent visitors included Maria Callas. During the Folklore Festival the town's streets are filled with dancers from the world over in their national costumes.
Despite the island's turbulent history, Lefkada has produced many distinguished literary citizens in the fields of art, law, literature, philosophy, history, poetry, theatre, journalism and sport. Famous 'children' of this island were poets Angelos Sikelianos, Aristotelis Valaoritis and the surrealist Nanos Valaoritis who was friends with T.S. Eliot and Andre Breton in Paris.
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