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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.