The island of Lefkada has a history of thousands of years and is full of things reminding us of old times that constitute its archaeological treasure. Besides the sites that are mentioned below and that are accessible to the public, there are also remains of small settlements, shrines and towers. Furthermore, many of its caves have been excavated resulting in findings from the Stone Age and later times that are kept at the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada.
From the southern entrance of the town of Lefkada (at the location “Tsehlimpou”) and southwards, from the settlement of Kaligoni, the hill of Koulmos and down to the villages of Karyotes and Lygia, there is a huge area of archaeological findings that include the ruins of the ancient walled town of Lefkas with its two cemeteries, isolated monuments and scattered construction remnants of graves, farmhouses, port facilities and wall parts, many of which pre-existed the first Corinthian colony and belonged to the even older town of Nirikos.
The town of Lefkas was founded by the Corinthians during the last quarter of the 7th century BC and continued being the seat of the island at this location up until the first years of the Byzantine Rule. It is reported that the town was destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century AD and that the seat was moved on higher ground, without, nevertheless, sufficient evidence neither about the new town nor about the whole time period until the Western Rule upon the island, in 1300.
In 1901, excavations were performed in the area by W. Dörpfeld’s collaborator E. Krüge who focused particularly on the part that concerned the ancient harbour of the town and the lagoon that was related to his theory about the Homeric Ithaca. The finding of the remains of a stone bridge that used to connect Lefkada with the Acarnanian coast supported his theory that Lefkada was an island and not a peninsula attached to the mainland. Dörpfeld, of course, claimed that “Nirikos” was the part of the Acarnanian coast near the village of Plagia.
During these excavations, in the beginning of the 20th century, a fragment of an ancient open-air theatre was found at the hill of Koulmos, but the information about this discovery was never publicised and the location of the monument remained unknown. In December 2015, after excavations made by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Aetolia-Acarnania and Lefkada, in collaboration with the Municipality of Lefkada, the exact location was found and new evidence showed that it was a discovery of immense importance for Lefkada.
It is a large theatre, up to now unique in the Ionian Islands. It is a discovery that adds prestige to the archaeological treasure of the island.
The archaeological site is located parallel to the country road that links Lefkada with Vasiliki.
Archaeological site of Nydri
At the location of “Steno”, between Nydri and Vlyho and along the country road, excavations have revealed circular tombs that date back to the Early and the beginning of the High Bronze Age. The broader region of the plain of Nydri together with the south-eastern mountainsides of Skari as well as from the location of “Magemenos” (in Nikiana) to the mountain of Amali in Vlyho and other closer areas constitute archaeological site of huge dimensions. It had been the main area of excavations for the German archaeologist and philhellene W. Dörpfeld who claimed that this was the position of the island’s seat while supporting his theory that Lefkada was the Homeric Ithaca. There are remains of ancient aqueducts, graves, buildings and towers in the region of Paleokatouna and Katohori, as well as findings that support the presence of ancient shrines in the area. For example, there is the temple of the Nymphs that used to stand where the small church of Agia Kyriaki is found nowadays, right across Nydri, where Dörpfeld himself chose to be buried.
Ancient farmhouse in Poros
Near the village of Poros in eastern Lefkada there are the ruins of an ancient farmhouse. They are the bulky remains of a big tower that consist of large four-sided stones. Its height is thought to have been more than 7 metres. Its construction dates back to somewhere between the 4th and the 3rd century BC. There is no specific evidence about the function of the tower. It could have been part of a farmhouse as it is mentioned on the information sign of the Archaeological Service but, because of its position and the unhindered view of the southeast of the island, there must have been something more to it.
To reach its location you can follow the uphill road that leads to the church of Agios Nikolaos, which stands dominant on the southern side above the village, and from there the dirt road until you see the ruins on your right hand. Unfortunately, the ruins are in a privately owned estate and it is not allowed to approach them. Recently the sign that existed and indicated its presence there has been removed from the location.
Hirospilia (Pig Cave)
It is a cave south of the village of Evgiros. According to W. Dörpfeld and his theory about Homeric Ithaca, the cave is identified as the pigsty of Eumaeus, the loyal shepherd of Odysseus. Excavations in the cave revealed many findings such as pottery and tools from the Neolithic Age, the Bronze Age and forward until the Classical Age that indicate that the site had been a dwelling place. In the interior, the cave is 16 metres long, 13 metres wide and consists of three cavities. The findings are being kept at the Archaeological museum of Lefkada. It is not an organised archaeological site and is accessible only through a path that you come across on the way to the beach “Skydi”, to the south of the village.
Ancient shrine in Rodaki
South of the village of Vournikas there is a temple, an old church of the monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos at the location of Rodaki. In 1905, W. Dörpfeld conducted some excavations in the area and, according to the findings, the temple of Agios Ioannis had been built upon the floor of an ancient Doric temple of the 6th or 5th century BC, dedicated to an unknown female deity. The temple must have been bigger than the one of Hephaestus at the Ancient Agora of Athens or the one of Poseidon at Sounio and was functioning until the Roman times. It was considered to be the temple of the goddess Demeter according to the beliefs of some villagers, “perhaps due to the presence of iron ploughs that were kept in the temple”. Nowadays, of course, there is no sign of those findings in the church but the local traditions still persist. An unofficial opinion is that the temple was maybe dedicated to the goddess Artemis. The church is built with many parts of the ancient shrine that can still be seen on the exterior walls and the interior decoration. The holy table, as well as the prothesis in the sanctuary, are set upon capitals from the ancient temple.
To reach Rodaki you have to follow the road towards Vournikas and, at the second entrance of the village, turn left and follow the signs. Alternatively, at the entrance of the village Kontarena, before Vasiliki, you will come across a junction with signs that point to the monastery’s site.
Archaeological excavations in Agios Kirikos of Athani
At the churchyard of Agios Kirikos in Athani, a village in the south-western Lefkada, there is an ongoing archaeological excavation which has revealed, by now, the ruins of a large structure, a wine-pressing area (“linos”) and many more findings. The works are not yet concluded so there are still no official announcements about the exact nature of the findings.
The temple of Agios Kirikos was the church of a monastery that was founded during the Ottoman Rule and was constructed with the use of the remnants of an ancient shrine, parts of which are still visible in the surrounding area. It is speculated that the church was dedicated to Agios Kirikos because it may have been built in the place of a shrine or an altar of Hermes, whose emblem was the herald’s staff (“kerykeion”). The shrine is located west of the village Athani, on the road to the beach Gialos.
Stone apiary at the monastery of Agios Nikolaos of Nira
North of the buildings of the monastery of Agios Nikolaos in Nira, next to an old threshing floor, there are some small stone structures that date back to the Mycenaean civilization. We are still not sure about their original purpose. During the Byzantine Era but also until recent times they were used as beehives by the local apiarists of the south-eastern Lefkada. Similar structures can be found in other parts of the region, too. The site is accessible when the monastery is open to the public.
The cape at the southern edge of the island is associated with legends and mysteries that travel the visitors thousands of years into the past. In 1905, W. Dörpfeld found a shrine of Apollo or, according to another theory, a place of sacrifice just a few metres to the southeast of the lighthouse. Today, there are only some remnants of the altar that are still visible.
The shrine of Apollo Lefkatas was the most famous one on the island. It was a sanctuary for those persecuted. Annual games were held in honour of the god. Special coins were minted bearing the image of the annual lord of the island on one side and the lyre of Apollo on the other.
The shrine and the rocks of the cape were connected with the cleansing power that was attributed to Apollo. A tradition reports that every year a convict was thrown off the cliffs in order to ritually cleanse the island and prevent any punishment from the gods. We do not really know when it was built. A legend states that it was founded by Lefkos from Zakynthos, a comrade of Odysseus. The name of the cape may have derived from him. If that was the case, then it must have been built just before the beginning of the Trojan War. Nevertheless, it is more likely that it was built in the 7th century BC by the Corinthians, according to an inscription that was found in 1753.
There is also the legend that the ones who were abandoned or disappointed by their lovers committed suicide by falling off the rock, just like Sappho, the poetess of love from Lesbos, who jumped off the cliffs because of her love for Phaon. Some people claim that this love affair was just fictional and that the whole story may have been based on Sappho’s love poems. Nevertheless, it was due to her that the cape is also known as “Lady’s Cape” or “Lady’s Jump”. Motivated by Sappho’s myth, the musician and singer P. Tatsoulas, the poet Dimitris Soldatos and the mayor (at that time) of the Municipality of Apolonii Giorgos Logothetis organised on the 6th of August 2009 the “Sapphia”.
Even if this specific site was of no archaeological value, it would still be worth visiting. The impressive steep rocks that dive into the water, the endless blue of the Ionian Sea on one side and the green-clad island on the other, the lighthouse and the absolute calmness will make your visit simply unforgettable.