Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Santa Maura

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SANTA MAURA, or Leucadia (Λευκάδα, ancient Λευκάς), one of the Ionian Islands, with an area of 110 square miles and a population (1880) of 25,000 (20,892 in 1870), lies off the coast of Acarnania (Greece), immediately south of the entrance to the Gulf of Arta. It first appears in history as a peninsula (Odyssey, xxiv. 378), and, if the statements of ancient authorities be accepted literally, it owed its existence as an island to the Corinthians, whose canal across the isthmus was again after a long period of disuse opened up by the Romans. But it is probable rather that Leucas was then as now separated from the mainland by a shallow lagoon (two feet or less). During the English occupation a canal for boats of four to five feet draught was formed from Fort Santa Maura to the town, but the 16-feet-deep ship canal which it was proposed (1844) to carry right across the lagoon or submerged isthmus to Fort Alexander was only partially excavated.[1] Santa Maura, measuring about 20 miles from north to south and 5 to 8 miles in breadth, is a rugged mass of limestone and bituminous shales (partly Tertiary), rising in its principal ridges to heights of 2000 and 3000 feet, and presenting very limited areas of level ground. The grain crop suffices only for a few months' local consumption; but olive oil of good quality is produced to the extent of 30,000 to 50,000 barrels per annum; the vineyards (in the west especially) yield 100,000 barrels of red wine (bought mainly by Rouen, Cette, Trieste, and Venice); the currant, introduced about 1859, has gradually come to be the principal source of wealth (the crop averaging 2,500,000 ); and small quantities of cotton, flax, tobacco, valonia, &c., are also grown. The salt trade, formerly of importance, has suffered from Greek customs regulations. Though to a large extent unlettered and superstitious, the inhabitants are industrious and well-behaved. The chief town (5000 inhabitants) properly called Amaxikhi, but more usually Santa Maura, after the neighbouring fort, is situated at the north-east end of the island opposite the lagoon. In the south-west is the village of Vasiliki, where a wharf protected by a mole was built in 187778 for shipping the currant crop. Remains of Cyclopean and polygonal walls exist at Kaligoni (south of Amaxikhi), probably the site of the ancient acropolis of Neritus (or Nericus), and of the later and lower Corinthian settlement of Leucas. From this point a Roman bridge seems to have crossed to the mainland. Between the town and Fort Santa Maura extends a remarkably fine Turkish aqueduct partly destroyed along with the town by the earthquake of 1825. Forts Alexander and Constantine commanding the bridge are relics of the Russian occupation; the other forts are of Turko-Venetian origin. The magnificent cliff, some 2000 feet high, which forms the southern termination of the modern island still bears the substructions of the temple of Apollo Leucatas (hence the modern name Capo Ducato). At the annual festival of Apollo a criminal was obliged to plunge from the summit into the sea, where, however, an effort was made to pick him up; and it was by the same heroic leap that Sappho and Artemisia, daughter of Lygdamis, are said to have ended their lives.

  1. As a six hours' shortening of the steam-passage between the Levant and the Adriatic would be effected by such a channel the scheme has again been taken up. According to M. Pyat, the engineer employed to report, the dredging could be done for 1,200,000 francs.