Personalities of spirit and art
Lefkada is an island with a wide spiritual tradition. Its geographical position – like all the others islands of Ionian Sea – obtained a closer relationship with the West, in the years where all Continental Greece had been experiencing the spiritual Middle Age of Turkish Domination.
The temperamental Heptanisian culture and the unique feature of the island, full of “breath of the sea, breath of the pine trees” gave to Lefkada the opportunity to give birth and nurture some of the most sensitive poetic souls. In this island, were born or were springs, eminent artists and scientists with Pan-Hellenic recognition and international appreciation and publicity.
Ioannis Zampelios (1787-1856). After his studies in Italy and in Paris (Law, Literature, Philosophy), he returns to Lefkada, appointed as a District Attorney of Ionian islands. He joins the Filiki Eteria and becomes devoted to its holy Aim. He is widely appreciated as the eminent Filikos in Lefkada. He wrote 12 tragedies with a national content.
Lefkadios Hearn (1850 – 1904).
A great Lefkaditis artist migrated in Japan and made the land of the rising sun and its culture, well known to the West. He is famous as the national writer of Japan.
Spiridon Zampelios (1813-1881).
The son of Ioannis Zampelios. Historian writer, who tried to prove the unity of Byzantium, with his work “Byzantine studies” (1857). He was a distinguished novelist.
Aristotelis Valaoritis (1824-1879).
An eminent lyric. His poetry is full of love for his country, freedom and full of admiration for the fighters of 1821. For many years he represented Lefkada to the Ionian Parliament, where from the line of Radicals had been fighting for the Union.
When the dream came true, he became a member of the National Parliament.
Aggelos Sikelianos (1884-1952).
The inspirer of the Delfic Idea, a great Lyric poet-mystic with ecumenical vision, who succeeded with his poetry to combine the Ancient Hellenic and the Christian values, succeeding to move the feelings of all human kind.
Kreareti Dipla- Malamou.
Poet and novelist, the first woman who was awarded from the Academy of Athens.
Nikos Svoronos (1911-1989).
Byzantinologist and a great researcher of our modern history with a significant work, and international recognition.
Aristoxenos Skiadas (1932-1994).
A recognized professor of Classical Literature, a deputy rector in the University of Athens.
Nikos G. Katiforis (1903-1967).
Novelist, theatrical writer and a columnist of the newspaper Rizospastis, for many years
Gerasimos Grigoris (1907-1985).
Literary man awarded with 2 national Literature prizes (1958 and 1963).
Theodoros Stamos (1922-1997).
A painter with international effect, pioneer of abstract expressionism.
A very important surrealist poet, novelist and theatrical writer.
A famous Lyric artist, mezzo soprano with an admirable international career.
The manners and the customs
The manners, the customs and the creative speech of Lefkaditians, in different forms, the wishes and curses, the fairy tales and puzzles, the satirical songs and the humorous narratives, are composing the treasures of a rich and great tradition preserved alive until our days.
Many customs were created from the church calendar and the cycle of life – Christmas, Easter, Carnival and Lent. The most interesting are:
CHRISTMAS: The Christmas Eve, women are baking Christopsoma (a kind of bread) or Christokouloura (a kind of bread roll) and the cross (a kind of bread).
They are making crosses for the boys and vlaches or baloubes, for the girls.
The night of the Christmas Eve, are cutting the cross, gathered home, around the Christmas dinner, where they put in the middle a bottle of wine.
The cross is cut in 4 pieces and placed on the top of the bottle. By extending their right hand, they hold and cut the cross, wishing for the future.
NEW YEAR: The new Year’s Eve, Lefkaditians bring to their homes, nerokremida (wateronions) – the katsounes – for a good luck charm. On the New Year welcome the new year with the custom of Diana, in which the Philarmonic of Lefkada, leads. Diana means Eothinos – hymn, song or eulogy. The new year’s eve, before the dawn, the Philarmonic – with an escort of old and young people, full of shouts and songs – walk to the streets of the town and play festive songs and Eothinos, making stops outside the houses wishing for the new year. Diana, was probably a remaining of the Venetian and English domination days.
EPIPHANY: The day of Epiphany, when the Bishop throws the cross, the crowd at the ceremony sinks for 3 times, a bunch of oranges bounded with a rope.
Then it hangs to the icons, while they throw the same time, oranges of the previous year which are perfectly preserved.
EASTER: The Easter Saturday, around 9 in the morning, women hang from the window and “throw the piece” on the street. They throw a ceramic pot or a plate, a lagini, a boti, a tile or something glassy – in general, a fragile pot which can be smashed into small pieces. The pieces of the pot must be left in the street. The piece – the tradition says – is thrown in order to “break” the grief, the silence and the sorrow of the Easter Week.
Then, when the bell tolls, the Philarmonic walks down the street, playing marches.
In this way, the sound of music is combined with the non musical sound of the pots when these are smashed.
Occupations and activities
Agriculture had been for centuries the most important occupation of Lefkada’s inhabitants and the greatest activity which ensured their survival.
The most favorite and profitable one, was the cultivation of olive – mostly on the plains – and the viniculture – on the highlands of the island- an activity which had been adored from the ancient times.
Many writers – like Plinios the senior (23-79 a.c) and the Athineos (160-250 a.c) the writer of “Deipnosophistae” – referred the famous wine of Lefkada.
Except from agriculture, other profitable activities, are stock breeding, fishing, trade and practical crafts of everyday life.
The agriculture and stock breeding activities helped to arise and stabilized, by creating their own tradition, occupations which had been self evident in the small agricultural societies: The ploughman, the reaper, the thresher, the miller, the oil presser, the digger, the chimney man. The rest of the traditional occupations: the cobblers, the cooper, the blacksmith, the tailor, the merchant – had been completing and framing the leading occupations of the families.
The most important activity, a handicraft one, arose in the past and exists nowadays – is the art of needlework and textile, which grew in many of the mountainous settlements, mostly in Karya, where most of the manners and customs are still preserved.
The famous karsanika needleworks, are a unique form of needlecraft, improved by Maria Stavraka or Koutsochero, as she was called because of her disability.
Her technique had a great sensation and was spread outside the island’s borders and abroad.
Its textiles are also exceptional with unusual patterns and exceptional artistry.
Costumes of Lefkada
The wedding gown is made of silk or woolensilk, in thick shiny weaving. It unfolds wide, making flat and puffy pleats. Down to its hemline are sewed wide rounded chartza in gold color. Kampzela – the top of the dress- and hemline are also decorated with hartza.
The colors of the wedding gowns were azure, pink, dark mauve, olive and rose.
Over the dress, the tsoumpe is placed – a dressing with short and unusual sleeves which are puffy to the shoulders and tight to the lower arm, covering the back, ending down to the legs and touching the ground even, with well ironed folds. To the tight part of the sleeves there are beautiful decorations of chartza, matazogaitana and gold stripes.
Amazingly beautiful also, is the needlework of the back of the tsoumpe.
The top from the shoulders to waist is decorated with silk flowers and gold thread.
Spaleta is the striking front mantilla in white, pink or yellow color with rounded grated fringes.
The necessary ornaments of spaleta, are gold jewels: spiles, pontalia, karfovelonoi, stithovelones. The pontalia and spiles are framed with small chains, sometimes, decorated with small hanging gold hearts. Except from the neck jewels, the jewel ornament includes rings and earrings.
The fesi (fez) is the most exquisite part of the bride’s costume. The brides wear it, in an oblique way and always on the left side in order to hold a part of the hair and cover the forehead. It is gold needled and beautifully decorated. It is made of black velvet fabric needled to the surface with goldthread flowers and other linear textures. The most beautiful jewel which decorates the fesi is the tremoula – a metal twig 10 cm long standing on the end of the fesi. On its top the metal twig has a flower with 2-3 golds, trimmed with diamond stones.
The groom is wearing a white beautiful needled shirt and on the top a geleki (vest) which is sometimes crossed and sometimes single, made from azure velvet.
The back of the geleki is made of shiny silk in a purple, red or a dark green color with a fiora with wide leaves.
He wears a vraka (trousers) from felt, which is needled to the bottom end and to the socks.
Extras ornaments of the groom’s costume are zonari (belt), the fatsoleto or fesi with a black pompon and usually a neckerchief.
The music preferences of island’s different areas reflect its cultural lack of homogeneity. The villages are fond of folklore music and rebetika – a result from their relationship with Roumeli. The main town prefers chorus and mandolin music – a result from their relationship with Italy, since, during the Venetian domination and until the union of Greece, the children of the rich families were studying medicine or law in Italy, bringing back with them the culture and the values of West.
From the other side Venetians were promoting their culture all over Heptanisa, the result of today’s great influence in music and education. Lefkada has the oldest Philarmonic of Greece (1850).
Its active Union contributed to the music and education development of Lefkadites and was present to great historical events, as the Union of Heptanisa in 1864, the first Olympic Games of Athens in 1896, the Intercalated Games of 1906 etc. In 1983, was awarded with the Academy of Athens prize.
The Philarmonic offers a Music School, a Band, a Bandina and the Music Groups.
Lefkada also has groups of traditional dance, chorus, mandolin orchestra with Pan Hellenic and international recognition.