Lefkada island owes its name to the steep white cliffs on its southernmost cape, Lefkata. Here is where legend states that the poetess Sapfo took her own life because of her thwarted love for Phaon. The first traces of life on the island date to 8,000 years BC.
The Leleges, the first inhabitants, were defeated by the Cephalonians and Laertes, the father of Odysseus (Ulysses). In fact, according to the German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Lefkada island can lay claim to being the Homeric Ithaca.
During the 7th century B.C. Nirikos, south of the town of Lefkada island, was one of the largest Greek towns. The island was present at the Naval Battle of Salamis, at the battle of Plataia, in the Peloponessian War against the Spartans and it also participated in the campaign of Alexander the Great and resisted the Romans in the 3rd century B.C.
During the Byzantine period, the island was incorporated into the Despotate of Epirus. In 1293 it was claimed by Count Orsini, the later ruler of Cephalonia and Zakynthos, who built the fortress of Ayia Mavra for protection from pirates. This was followed by the long period of the Venetian occupation and the struggle against the Turks who conquered the island in 1503 and stayed for 180 years.
In 1684 Lefkada island returned to Venetian rule. It was granted a rudimentary constitution and acquired a state organization. Later it fell into the hands of the French who influenced the Lefkadians with their liberal ideas of the French Revolution.
The British appeared in 1810 and the first antiseismic edifices were built during that period.
The Lefkadians fought with all the means at their disposal in the Greek War of Independence of 1821. The island was unified with Greece in 1864 along with the rest of the Ionian Islands. It began its economic recovery in the 1960's and during recent years tourism has offered a great deal to its development.