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Santa Maura

SANTA MAURA, or LEUCADIA (Aeu/caSa, ancient Aeu/cds), one of the Ionian Islands, with an area of no sq. m. and a population of about 30,000. It lies off the coast of Acarnania (Greece), immediately south of the entrance to the Gulf of Arta. The shallow strait separating it. from the mainland is liable to be blocked by sand-banks; a canal was cut through these in the 7th century B.C. by the Corinthians, and was again after a long period of disuse opened up by the Romans.

During the British occupation a canal for boats of 4 to 5 ft. draught was formed from Fort Santa Maura to the town, but the 16 ft. deep ship canal which it was proposed (1844) to carry right across the lagoon or submerged isthmus to Fort Alexander was only partially excavated. In 1903, however, a canal was completed rendering navigable the channel between the island and the mainland. Its breadth is 50 ft. and its depth 17 ft. Santa Maura, measuring about 20 m. from north to south and 5 to 8 m. in breadth, is a rugged mass of limestone and bituminous shales (partly Tertiary), rising in its principal ridges to heights of 2000 and 3000 ft. and presenting very limited areas of level ground. The grain crop suffices only for a few months' local consumption ; but considerable quantities of olive oil of good quality are produced. The vineyards (in the west especially) yield much 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 Ib) ; and small quantities of cotton, flax, tobacco, valonia, etc., are also grown. The salt trade, formerly of importance, has suffered fromiGreek customs regulations. The chief town (5000 inhabitants), properly called Amaxikhi or Hamaxichi but more usually Santa Maura, after the neighbouring fort, is situated at the N.E. end of the island opposite the lagoon. In the S.W. is the village of Vasiliki, whence the currant crop is exported.

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 TurkoVenetian origin. The magnificent cliff, some 2000 ft. 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.

A theory has been proposed by Professor Dorpfeld that Leucas is the island described in the Odyssey under the name of Ithaca; in support of this theory he quotes the fact that the Homeric description of the island and its position, and also the identification of such sites as the palace of Odysseus, the harbour of Phorcys, the grotto of the Nymphs and the island Asteris, where the suitors lay in wait for Telemachus, suit Leucas far better than the island called Ithaca in classical and modern times.

See under CORFU; also P. Goessler, Leukas-Ithaka (Stuttgart, 1904).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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