Leros

Leros

[lee-ros, -rohs]

Leros (Greek: Λέρος; Italian: Lèro) is a Greek island and municipality in the Dodecanese prefecture in the southern Aegean Sea. It lies 317 km (171 nautical miles) from Athens's port of Piraeus, from which it can be reached by an 11-hour ferry ride (or by a 45-minute flight from Athens).

Geography

The island is 74 square kilometres (29 sq mi) and has a coastline of 71 km (44 mi). The municipality includes the populated offshore islands of Pharmakonisi (pop. 74), Levitha (8), and Kinaros (2), as well as several uninhabited islets, and had a 2001 census population of 8,207, although this figure swells to over 15,000 during the summer peak. It is known for its imposing medieval castle of the Knights of Saint John possibly built on a Byzantine fortress. Nearby islands are Patmos, Lipsi, Kalymnos, and the small islands of Agia Kyriaki and Farmakos. In ancient times it was considered the island of Parthenos Iokallis and linked to the Hellenistic and Roman literature on Meleager and the Meleagrides. The administrative center and largest town is Agia Marina, with a population of 2,672 inhabitants. Other sizable towns are Lakkíon (pop. 1,990), Xirókampos (908), Kamára (573), and Álinda (542).

History

Antiquity

Thucydides stressed the special importance of the bays and the harbours of Leros during the Peloponnesian War (431 BC – 404 BC), where Leros supported the democratic Athenians. After the end of the war Leros came under the sovereignty of the Spartans. The island had a famous sanctuary of the goddess Artemis.

It then followed the fate of the rest of the Dodecanese Islands during the years of Alexander the Great and his successors, the Roman years and the Byzantine period. After the division of the Roman Empire, it, like all of Greece, was ruled from Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. On the island of Farmaco east from Leros, a few miles from Didyma on the Turkish coast, Julius Cesar was held as a hostage by local pirates for forty days.

Venetian and Ottoman Era

During the Byzantine Age, the island was incorporated into the Theme of Samos. During the thirteen century, the island was occupied by the Genoese and then by the Venetians. In the year 1309, the Knights of St John seized and fortified Leros. In 1505, the Ottoman Admiral Kemal Reis, with three galleys and other seventeen warships, besieged the castle but could not capture it. The operation was repeated in 1508 with more ships, but again nothing was achieved. Legend has it that then the island was rescued by the only surviving knight, barely 18 years old. He dressed women and children with the armor of the dead defenders, convincing the Ottomans that the garrison of Leros was still strong. Finally, on 24 December 1522, following the siege of Rhodes, a treaty was signed between Sultan Suleiman and the Grand Master of the Knights, Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, and Leros, along with all the Aegean possessions of the Order, passed into Ottoman hands.

During the Ottoman occupation, and along with the other islands, Leros enjoyed a privileged regime, with partial autonomy and self–government. During the Greek Revolution of 1821, the island was liberated and became an important base for the re-supplying of the Greek Navy. Administratively, it came under the jurisdiction of the Temporary Committee of the Eastern Sporades.

With the Treaty of London, on 3 February 1830, however, which determined the borders of the newly–established Greek state, the freed islands of the Eastern Sporades were given over to Turkey again. In the "Diary of the Prefecture of the Archipelago" of 1886, Leros, along with the islands of Patmos, Lipsos and Fournoi, belonged to the Turks. The island's administrative council was made up of both Greeks and Turks.

The Italian Period

In 1912, during the Lybian War against the Ottoman Empire, the Italians occupied all of the Dodecanese islands (except Kastelorizo). On May 12, 1912 the island was seized by the sailors of the Italian Navy cruiser "San Giorgio". The Greek inhabitants of the islands declared the autonomy of the islands under the title "The Aegean State", with the aim of unification with Greece, but with the outbreak of the First World War, these moves came to nothing, and the Italians retained control of the islands.

From 1916 to 1918, the British used Leros as a naval base. In the Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement of 1919, the island was to be returned to Greece, along with all of the Dodecanese except Rhodes, but after the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War the Italians canceled the agreement. As a result, the Treaty of Lausanne confirmed the Italian possession of Leros and the Dodecanese.

The new Italian Fascist regime actively attempted to Italianize the Dodecanese, by making the Italian language compulsory, giving incentives to locals to adopt the Italian nationality, and clamping down on Greek institutions. In the 1930s a new model town, Portolago, was built by the Italian authorities. It is one of the best examples of Italian Rationalist architecture. The Greeks later renamed it Lakki.

During the 31 years that the Italians remained in Leros, they set up a great plan to build and fortify the island, since its strategic position and its large natural harbours (the largest of which, Lakki, is the largest deep water harbour in the Mediterranean Sea), made it an ideal naval base. The fortification of Leros and the creation of a major naval base at Lakki, ensured that the Italians had control over an area of vital interest to the Allies (the Aegean, the Dardanelles and the Near East). Mussolini, who called Leros "the Corregidor of the Mediterranean", saw the island as a crucial base for the Italian domination of the eastern Aegean Sea, and even built a mansion for himself in the town of Portolago.

World War Two

From 1940, when Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany, Leros suffered bombing raids by the British Royal Air Force. As a result of the excellent anchorage provided to warships by the many natural coves, the island was the second most bombed during World War Two (after Crete). On 8 September 1943, as Italy could not continue the war on the German side, it signed an armistice and came over to the Allied camp. After the Italian armistice, British reinforcements arrived on Leros and other Dodecanese islands and the island suffered continuous German aerial bombardment. One of the largest attacks was on the Greek Navy's flagship, the Queen Olga, sunk by German bombers on Sunday September 26 1943, along with HMS Intrepid, while they were anchored in Portolago. The island of Leros was finally captured by German troops during operation Taifun in airborne and amphibious assaults between 12-16 November 1943. The forces involved were paratroop units and a battalion from the elite Brandenburg division. The ground troops were supported by bombers of the "Luftwaffe". Among them I. and II. group of Stuka-Wing 3. I. Group operated from Megara Air Base. The island remained under German occupation until the end of the war.

Post-war history

After the Germans evacuated the island, it came under British administration, until, on 7 March 1948, together with the other Dodecanese Islands, Leros was united with Greece. After approximately 700 years after the end of Byzantine rule, the Dodecanese was incorporated into the Greek State. During the post-war years the Greek governments used many buildings in Leros for various reasons. In 1959, the mental hospital of Leros was founded, whose original primitive conditions have been improved. During the junta of the Colonels, the island was used as a place of internal exile for political dissenters, with old Italian barracks of the island used as a concentration camp.

Landmarks

Leros has a number of charming small towns and beaches. Agia Marina has a number of bars, nightclubs and restaurants, all located in a strip which overlooks Alinda Bay. Further down the road in Broutsi is the 'Faros Bar', a bar built into a cave underneath the old lighthouse.

Pandeli is also a well known area, with some restaurants on the water's edge. Vromolithos is one of the best beaches on Leros, situated a few minutes walk from Pandeli For those interested in the 2nd World War, visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Krithoni, the new War Museum SW of Lakki and the Bellenis Tower in Krithoni. The island is litered with old shell cases and other remnants of the battle in November, 1943. During the summer there are opportunities to visit the neighbouring small islands of Marathi, Arkioi, Lipsi, Aspronisia on daily excursions with "Barbarossa".

Leros has an Archaeological Museum where many exhibits covering its long history are on display. In September 2005, the Leros war museum was opened in Merkia, near Lakki. The museum is inside an old tunnel made by the Italians during the Second World War. It resembles the Dover war museum, though on a much smaller scale. There are several items from the battle of Leros including: guns, helmets, bombs, uniforms and various photos.

Transportation

Leros has an Airport at Partheni that connects daily the island with Athens. There are also ferry connections to and from Pireus and the other islands of the Dodecanese. The Catamaran Dodekanissos Express and the Hydrofoils (only during the summer) connecting Leros with the most of the Dodecanese islands. For those who want to visit Leros the alternative way to Ferry travel (8-10 hours) is to fly to Athens and then fly to Leros with domestic flight or fly direct to Kos and then to Leros by boat (1 - 2 hours).

Traditional Music

Many local songs of Leros are among the most famous among the traditional Music of Greece: among the most famous are Pote tha'nixoume pania, Mes tou Aegeou ta Nisia and proutzos.

See also

References

External links

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