The town of Lefkada is the seat of the island and it is built on its northernmost point, at the location of the old town of Amaxiki that was the island’s seat during the Venetian Rule. Its foundation dates back to the 14th century, when it was one of the four suburbs of the medieval capital of the island of Santa Maura (within the castle of the same name) and its first habitants were mainly fishermen in the service of the Venetian Ruler of the time. The settlement was located near the lagoon. The wooden huts were replaced by low structures, with a variety of shapes and colours, thus creating, as the years went by, a very interesting and harmonic housing composition.
Nowadays the town, also called “Hora”, is a typical example of a medieval town that, during the years of the Venetian Rule, reflected the spirit and the ways of feudal governing. This was how the basic structure of the town was developed. The square, at the centre of the town, with the bazaar, the main commercial street, and the peripheral coastal streets in the north and in the east form the main axes. Numerous small roads, small squares and beautiful churches complete the urban plan
The construction of the town’s buildings is typical and unique in Greece as a model of anti-seismic protection because Lefkada has been coping with earthquakes for centuries. The construction of the buildings aimed at durability and was heavily based on lumber as the main building material.
Whole tree logs used to be coated with tar and placed in the full length and width of the foundations at the construction site. The wooden materials of the structure were placed for some time into the mud of the lagoon that is located near the town. The logs were covered with a mixture of three different ingredients, i.e. fine sand, chipped stones and ceramic dust. This foundation provided the building with durability because, in case of an earthquake, it could move as a whole, and therefore its flexibility would prevent the possibility of the building collapsing.
After the construction of the foundations, the stone walls of the ground floor were erected with openings for the doors and the windows. On the outer side of the walls, especially on the points between the openings, the builders placed iron bars that hooked with the wooden floor of the upper storey so that the wooden structure and the stone structure would be held together. Thus the whole construction became firm.
The ground floor was mostly made of stone and the first floor was mainly wooden. The builders used to fix the big wooden beams into the four corners of the stone walls so that the wooden construction could begin. They used to join the big pieces of lumber together in the corners with special joints, nailed with wooden handmade spikes made of hard timber. This material was more flexible and could withstand the shock of an earthquake. The wooden horizontal planks were laid in parallel and placed into special sockets in the stone walls or over the beams that were already placed along the wall and bore the burden of the upper floor. When it was necessary, the beams could penetrate the walls and stick out, forming a wooden platform to support the balcony.
One of the most important elements of the wooden anti-seismic construction was the support of the first (wooden) floor with the use of wooden pillars based on the ground floor. The carpenters used to attach thick wooden columns on the sides of the stone walls of the ground floor and they joined them with the horizontal beams of the first floor. They were placed not on but close to the stone structure in order to avoid the collision of the lumber with the stone in case of an earthquake. This was called “anti-seismic joint”. The heavy wooden pillars were placed four metres away from each other, not only along the side walls but also in the middle space of the ground floor, under the central horizontal beam that supported the upper floor. With the help of this system of columns, a big quake could destroy the stone structure of the first floor but the stone walls would fall towards the open space of the roads and never inwards and the wooden structure would endure the tremor and the violent shocks.
As years went by and the earthquake destructions became often, the locals reconstructed their houses using the same materials and made sure that the upper part of the building would be light. They used to cover the upper wooden part with sheet metal, painted in light colours. This technique is used even nowadays and there are many houses in the historic centre of the town that are still covered with sheet metal.
The Lefkadian house with its light material, namely wood, is neither an imposing building because of its weight nor an impressive building due to its volume. It is simple in its expression, light in its architecture and plain in its exterior appearance. Nevertheless, it has structural stability and completeness that have not been compromised by external factors. Therefore, this building technique has been preserved through centuries, keeping the constructional tradition of Lefkada alive.
The town of Lefkada is divided into districts, some of which are very old and defined by the churches of each location (parishes). Therefore, one can wander around the district of “Agia Kara”, that used to be the poorest parish and extends from the square of Agios Minas to the Marina and the Old Saltpans, the “Anthonas” (Flower Field) around the town’s hospital where there used to be a garden with the statue of Aristotelis Valaoritis and where the Philharmonic Society used to perform its summer concerts, the “Piso Molos” (Rear Pier) that includes the eastern seaside of the town, the district of “Pouliou” on the western seaside and some smaller districts.
After the big earthquake of 1948, a new part of the town started developing at the southern side of the old settlement, namely “Neapoli” (New Town), and more districts began to grow within the broader region, like “Vardania”, “Pala”, “Perivolia” etc. As a result, the area covered by the capital of the island was doubled. Nowadays, the town still keeps growing, covering a large part of the surrounding meadows and olive groves. One can also observe the rapid housing development towards the south of the town, in Fryni and Agios Ioannis.
The guests can see typical examples of the Lefkadian architecture and old neoclassical estates while wandering through the narrow streets of the Old Town and along the central commercial road (“pazari”, bazaar) such as:
- The three-storied building of the Sarantopoulos family that used to house the prefecture, at the central square of the town.
- The building of the Zoulinos family, at the square of Markas, that houses the Public Library of Lefkada.
- The house of the Mamaloukas family, which has been renovated and now houses a coffee shop.
- The building of the old Town Hall.
- The house of the Arethas family opposite the church of Agios Georgios.
- The old estate of Antonis Tzevelekis, the founder of the International Folklore Festival, at the entrance of the town that was renovated and turned into a hotel.
- The building that used to house the Commanding Office of the English Commissioner and the Gymnasium (High School) of Lefkada.
- The old house of the Zampelis family opposite the church of Agios Nikolaos.
- The house of Aggelos Sikelianos.
- The building that hosts the Orfeas Music and Literature Club etc.