The islands capital is characterized by a medieval age city planning. It was developed after a specific plan expressing the feudalistic way of ruling during the years of Venetian captivity, where the basic city planning structure was formed.
The main square along with the temple of Saint Spyridon and the main shopping street, are the centre of the settlement, surrounded by a road shaped like a ring. A second ring, parallel to the first one, is formed on the north side of the settlement and passing in front of the churches, Panagia Ton Xenon and Agion Anargyron ends on the main shopping street. All secondary roads are arranged as radiuses to the cycle formed by the two main streets beginning from the center and resemble a fish bone. All roads of different direction end in squares whose position is determined by the existence of a church.
After the 1948 earthquake on the south side of the old settlement a new part of the island’s capital was formed, called Neapoli. So in time the island’s capital doubled in size and is still growing since the city plan of the Lefkada’s Municipality has expanded even more.
In the Lefkada province there are two settlements officially characterized as traditional and are protected by law. These are, Syvota on the southeast and Aghios Nikitas on the west side of the island.
There are of course many villages and settlements, in the mountains and the small isles of the province, that have preserved the traditional elements in form and structure of the buildings, which are built from simple materials and are in harmony with the natural environment. These villages, with the simplicity and plainness of there buildings, reflect the measure of respect the Lefakadites always showed to nature and the natural environment and are a living picture of a traditional way of life. Elements of this tradition one may find in areas such as Katouna, Karya, Vafkeri, Niohori, Alatro, Katochori, Poros, Draganos, Kalamitsi, Exanthia, Drimonas, The municipality of Sfakiotes, Meganissi, Kalamos and Roupakias.
An authentic settlement with buildings of the traditional Lefkadite architecture is the village of Drimonas, build on a peaceful mountain side on the west part of the island. The one story (called Hamoya in the local dialect), or two story rooftop houses, are distinguished for their structure against earthquakes and there special features, such as the double doors and windows, the outside stone staircase, the characteristic balcony, “the pontzo”, at the top of the stairs and the bow shaped dome leading to the basement, with the building date carved on it. Similar examples of Lefkadite rural architecture can be found at the Kontaraina village and the Roupakias settlement, where the strong but lonely stone buildings stand upon a steep mountain side as guards to a long forgotten time.
Remarkable samples of traditional architecture exist on the province’s small islands. In Kalamos, with the simple rural character and the stone rooftop houses, densely built above the port, leaving in between small snake like alleys. The village of Kastos gives an entirely different expression, with its two story stone houses, built in large plots of land and surrounded by olive trees. The colored shutters, the wooden balconies and the rooftops made of red ceramic tiles, form a picture of calmness and remind Greece of the ‘60’s. In Meganissi, the villages, with the picturesque narrow streets are composed of small rural stone houses with wells, from which the inhabitants used to pump the little water that existed. Today few wells are in operation. Most of them built in stone are picked out for their artful structure, since they form a big and low round wedge at the bottom.
The Lefkadite structure system is unique in Greece and Europe and is a characteristic sample of anti earthquake structure provoking the interest of European mechanics.
Earthquakes and the unstable ground on which the old city of Lefkada was built, created the necessity for a new way of building, resilient to violent movement, based mostly in the use of wood as a building material and ideal against earthquakes.
Whole tree logs spread with tar where put in all the length and width of the foundation of the structure. The wooden material to be used in the building was left in the lakes mud, located near the city, for a period of time. The logs where covered with a mixture of three different ingredients, fine sand, stone chips and porcelain dust. This way of laying the foundations increased the stability, so in an earthquake the structure would move as a whole. The possibility of breaking or sinking in part was minimized.
After setting the foundations, the stone walls of the ground floor where built ending in the door and window openings. On the outside and especially between the openings, iron rods where positioned that hooked on the wooden floor of the first story in order for the wooden structure to be fastened on the stone structure and therefore the whole of the building would become stable.
If the ground floor was made mostly of stone then the first floor of the strucuture was made mostly of wood. The builders’ wood set the wooden beams at the four corners of the stone structure to begin making the wooden framework and joined them together by using special hand made wooden nails from hard wood more flexible to the earthquake’s vibrations. The horizontal wooden beams where laid parallel and set in special receptions in the stone structure or upon the beams set in length to the buildings wall thus making the floor of the first story. Sometimes, if the construction required it, the beams would penetrate the buildings walls forming a wooden projection to support the balconies.
After finishing the floor the wood was set for the construction of the first story walls with a technique called “tsatoumas”. The construction began with the setting of four logs in the corners, whose tops and bottoms where secured with large nails, called “bratsolia”, forming two right corners. This construction made the house flexible against earthquakes and set the foundations for concluding the structure by placing other smaller auxiliary wood. The braiding of the wood was done that way to give the structure its special image and its light weight. The in between openings where supplemented by pieces of brick put together with a mixture of sand, asbestos and porcelain, that protected the flat surface of the walls from the earthquakes and preventing crumbling, deformities and damage. At the end the roof was placed which was also wooden.
One of the basic elements of this wooden construction against earthquakes was the support from the ground floor to the first story floor by using a second wooden structure made of wooden posts. Carpenters raised wooden posts in the inside of the stone structure and united them with the wooden beams of the first story floor. The placement was made in a short distance to the stone construction to avoid the collision of the wooden posts to the stone wall in case of an earthquake. This was the joint against earthquakes. The heavy wooden posts where placed every four meters along the wall and in the middle of the ground floor under the main beam supporting the first story floor. With this auxiliary structure the outside stone wall might crumble during an earthquake but always facing the road and never on the inside of the house. That way the wooden structure could hold during violent movement.
Through the years and following the destruction from the earthquakes, people rebuilding their houses with the same material made sure that the upper part of the structure was light weight and they covered it with iron sheets painted in light colors. This technique exists to this day and many houses in the historical centre of the city have iron sheet walls.
Old mansions and rich city houses had a fireplace and were built in large plots of land with gardens and impressive gates. One house filling the description is the Zoulinos house which today is the roof for the Public Library and the Collection of Post Byzantine Pictures of Eptanese Art.
The Lefkadite house made of wood does not impose itself with its weight nor impress with its size. It is plain in its expression, light in its architecture and simple in its appearance. However it has the structural stability and wholeness that has not changed from external influences. A practice preserved through the centuries, keeping alive the structural tradition of Lefkada.
HARA PAPADATOU: «LEFKADA Searching»
DIMOS MALAKASIS: «Lefkada’s Old Houses»