The first thing you see when you enter the island is its capital, Lefkada or Hora, a multicoloured place that has not lost its traditional character and offers the guest the opportunity to travel back in time, in culture and tradition without being deprived of the things that a modern tourist resort can provide all year long.
You can reach the island and the town by land, through the floating bridge that was constructed in 1986. This facilitated the access to the island by replacing the old system of floating platforms that used chains to move back and forth (“perataries”),
The trip back in time begins by the entrance, next to the floating bridge where you can see the medieval castle of Santa Maura. The castle was named by the Angevins who came from the town of Saint Maure in France. It assumed its current form during the era of the Ottoman Rule. This was the same period when the Aqueduct was built that transferred water from “Megali Vrysi” (Great Fountain), a spring outside modern time Lefkada to the castle with pipelines. The pipelines were supported by a road with 360 arcs that passed through the lagoon (“ivari”). Its remains can be seen west of the modern road that connects the castle with the town and have become resting spots for the lagoon’s seabirds.
You can visit the castle using the western gate all year long. The visitor can wander through the ruins that mainly date back to the Venetian Rule and visit the small church of Santa Maura that is an ideal place for romantic weddings. From the crenels the guests can enjoy the view of the channel, the town, the lagoons and also the huge beach in the northeast of the castle called “Diavasidia”. Both inside and outside the castle, nature continuously changes colours and the historical ruins reveal an aspect of Lefkada that only few people are aware of.
The time travel continues with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of the island that is housed in the building of the Municipal Cultural Centre of Lefkada, at the end of the western coastal road of the town. There you can admire archaeological findings from Nirikos (the ancient seat of the island) and from the excavations in Nydri, the Pig Cave of Evgiros, the Badger Hole in Fryni, from Meganissi and other sites of the island and cover a long period from the Middle Palaeolithic Era to the last years of the Western Roman Empire.
The museum consists of three chambers that exhibit all aspects of the locals’ lives in the historic era and a fourth chamber that holds the findings of W. Dörpfeld, the German archaeologist who spent years of excavations on the island to prove his theory that Lefkada was the Homeric Ithaca. Most of his findings came from the excavations at the plain of Nydri, where Dörpfeld claimed that the capital of Homeric Ithaca was located.
The same building also houses a series of other museums that provide the visitor with the opportunity to meet with the cultural heritage of the island, such as the Historical Centre of Lafcadio Hearn, unique in Europe, which is dedicated to the author and national poet of Japan who was born in Lefkada in 1850. The Museum shows the author’s first editions, rare books, Japanese collector’s items and also photographs, texts and exhibits from Hearn’s travels.
The exhibits were donated to the Historical Centre by the collector Takis Efstathiou to whom a hall is dedicated on the ground floor of the Cultural Centre. You can visit this hall that contains paintings by Japanese artists, silkscreen prints by Stamos, Theodoros, Chrysa and Lekkakis and also books of culture and art etc.
The ground floor of the building also houses the Lefkadian Municipal Art Gallery that hosts works of Lefkadians, Greeks and international artists.
Finally, on the first floor there is the International Folklore Festival Museum that contains memorabilia from over half a century of culture. The International Folklore Festival is a bridge of music, dancing and colours that links the island with its guests, creating a rather interactive relationship. The exhibits are directly related to the events of the festival. There are gifts from the dancing groups that took part in the Festival, large photographs of the dancing performances and items from the collection of Antonis Tzevelekis, the founder of the Festival. There are also special banners with texts in Greek and in English that introduce the visitors to the subject and the character of the exhibition.
Our trip through the culture and tradition of the island continues in the small streets of the town, at the Folklore Museum of the Music and Literature Club of Orfeas of Lefkada “Pantazis Kontomihis”. It hosts exhibits that are typical of the tradition, the culture, the expression and the history of Lefkada, such as everyday items of the rural life, tools, utensils and also traditional costumes, needlework etc, a series of urban exhibits and tools of old-time crafts.
Then, the guest can visit the small private Museum of Phonographs and Old Objects that is located near the Central Square. The museum contains phonographs, records. Rare objects, ornaments, tools, small boxes, seals, banknotes, needlework, traditional musical instruments, jewellery and old-time postal cards.
Furthermore, the Philharmonic Society of Lefkada has a small museum in its building where the guest can learn about the Society’s history.
And, of course, one should always be informed about which exhibition is being hosted at the “Theodoros Stamos” Art Hall that is located at the Marka Square, in the centre of the town and dedicated to the Lefkadian expressionist painter. It hosts exhibitions of paintings, engravings, sculptures, etchings, photographs, sketches, prints etc all year long.
Since we are talking about the Marka Square, it is an opportunity to mention that this was the location of the central market of the town and that is the origin of the modern time name of the square. Nowadays, it is a beautiful square surrounded with art, literature and tradition. On the first floor of the building of the “Stamos” Hall there is a unique library, listed on the Guinness Book of Records. It is the Haramoglios Special Lefkadian Library, dedicated solely to the island; lifework of Aristotelis Haramoglis who collected for years any kind of printed material subjected with Lefkada or Lefkadians, but also printed works that had references to the island and its people, with the aim to preserve the whole of the local cultural creation. Right across the street there is the library of Nikos Svoronos with very important archival materials.
Right next to it, in a beautiful neoclassic mansion of the late 19th century, you can find the Public Library of Lefkada, founded in 1954 by prominent Lefkadians. It is based in the ground floor of the building and contains more than 60000 books, and also the engravings’ collection of the 17th century by the Italian geographer Vincenzo Maria Coronelli (1650 – 1718). A part of the material has been digitalised and at the public’s disposal (http://lefkaslibrary.gr). The Library participates in many programs and initiatives that aim to preserve and promote history and culture through a modern library.
On the first floor there is the Collection of Post-Byzantine Icons and Relics, from churches and monasteries of the island, with icons of Eptanesian style made by significant iconographers, liturgical vestments and books, and other religious relics from the 16th century and on.
The Marka Square also provides the guests with the opportunity to meet with the religious tradition of the island through the churches, most of which were built in the 17th century in baroque style. Both the temples of Agioi Anargyroi (Holy Unmercenaries) and Panagia ton Ksenon (Virgin Mary of the Foreigners) are situated around the Marka Square.
If you continue the walk in the central market, together with the architecturally unique manors along the central street (“pazari”) you will see the church of Agios Minas with an exceptional wooden screen and icons made by great iconographers, the church of Christ Pantocrator, at the southern entrance to the market, which hosts the grave of Aristotelis Valaoritis. A little further away there is the temple of Eisodia tis Theotokou. You can also see the church of Agios Nikolaos, one of the richest ones with impressive doorσ and windows, imposing screen and valuable icons and the church of Agios Spyridon at the central square with characteristics of Venetian architecture and an imposing iconostasis, too. Behind the general hospital there is the town’s cathedral dedicated to the Annunciation of Our Lady (“Evaggelistria”). Within the labyrinth that the town’s small narrow streets form, there are many more churches smaller in size but great in historical and architectural value. These churches complete the picture of the religious life of the region (Agios Panteleimon, the ruined temple of Agios Antonios, Agia Paraskevi with an exquisite wooden screen and great icons by Tomasso Gen, Agios Haralampos, Agios Dimitrios, Agios Georgios)
The central market street, also known to the locals as “pazari” (bazaar) together with the surrounding narrow streets of the town constitute a big open-air museum of Lefkadian architecture, while old mansions and humble little houses form a multicoloured scenery that is impossible for the guests to forget.
At the seaside, by the entrance of the town, the visitors can cool themselves in the shadows of two big parks, one dedicated to the fallen heroes of Greece, the celebratory place of all national holidays, and the “Boschetto”, which means “garden” in Italian. The latter was created in the 19th century by the English and hosts the busts of great Lefkadian people of culture and art, and that is why it is also called Poets’ Park. In the past this was the place where the Philharmonic Society performed its summer concerts and also the venue of other events.