Lovers leap at Cape Lefkas
Photo: Ville Räisänen
White limestone cliffs make an impressive sight.
A visit to the white cliffs of Cape Lefkas, where the poet Sappho is reputed to have flung herself into the waters, is a sightseeing highlight of a holiday on Lefkas.
Sappho's Leap, or Lefkstas, is located on the southerly cape on the island where there once stood a shrine to the Greek god Apollo and the wild beauty of the white limestone cliffs makes a most memorable impression.
The island owes its name to this remote cape, Lefkata, which itself derives from the Greek 'lefkas akri' or 'white tip'. It's not easy to get to and only the more adventurous will tackle the long, twisting 16km road above Vassiliki that leads down to the cape.
The cape, also referred to as Cape Ducatio, is dominated by the lighthouse, built in 1813, that now stands on what was once a temple to Apollo.
It was here that the poet Sappho is said to have leapt to her death for love of a ferryman, the original 'lover's leap'. Most scholars are unimpressed by the evidence but the islanders still trade heavily on the myth.
Sappho was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos and is nowadays a lesbian icon. She is associated with the island Lesbos than Lefkas and although the bulk of her poetry has been lost, her reputation has endured.
In any event,Cape Lefkas has long been associated with human sacrifice and ritual leaps. It is said that lunatics and criminals were once thrown from the 70 metre high cliffs in order to 'purify' their souls and there is even evidence that priests sometimes tied birds to the victims' arms and legs to in order to slow their fall.
Leaping from the cliffs at Cape Lefkas became a practice among fashionable Romans when rejected by their lovers. Other ancient cliff jumpers made primitive parachutes to slow their fall into the sea, where rescue parties fished them out while, today, the cliffs make a favourite launch spot for hang gliding.
The sea around Cape Lefkas is also popular with scuba divers and there is a dive centre based at the lighthouse. There is quite a wide variation in water temperatures around the cape and the variety of local marine life reflects this.
The white limestone cliffs certainly make for an impressive sight and visitors can enjoy views, not only of Lefkas to the north and east, but south across the sea to the northern tip of Kefalonia which lies only four kilometres away and, on the clearest days, beyond that to the island of Ithaca.