Leros in Greece is a family island with relaxing beaches and picturesque villages. It can be combined for holidays with Patmos and Lipsi, two close islands of Dodecanese. Lovely seaside villages and cozy beaches are found on the island, with Agia Marina, Alinda and Lakki being the most tourist places. As the sea around Leros is rich in reefs, small islets and old shipwrecks, scuba diving is gradually developing on the island over the last years. Many local festivals and panigiria are also organized in summer months, attracting many visitors.
The island of Leros Greece is one of the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea and it belongs to the Dodecanese islands group. Leros island has many picturesque villages with traditional architecture to stroll around. Agia Marina with the characteristic flour mill, Pandeli with the Medieval Fortress, Lakki with the Neoclassical architecture and Alinda with the relaxing beach atmosphere and restaurants provide nice places for long promenades. All around Leros island, you will also find lovely beaches to enjoy a day in the sun. Alinda and Vromolithos are organized, while you will also find many secluded beaches to enjoy total privacy. Sightseeing worth to visit during your Leros holidays is the Medieval Fortress above Pandeli with strong walls and the breathtaking view to the Aegean Sea.
Close to Lakki, there is also a War Museum housed in a real old tunnel of World War II. Agia Marina and Alinda are the most developed tourist places in Leros, where you can find plenty of accommodations, from seaside studios to upscale hotels and boutique places. Generally hotels in Leros keep a family profile and simple facilities. Few hotels have luxurious facilities, like pools, gym and spa treatments. Vromolithos, Xirokambos and Lakki also have nice places to stay for holidays in Leros.
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 Caesar 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 thirteenth 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 seventeen other 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 in 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 which ruled the island with brief interruptions during a period of four hundred years.
During the Ottoman rule, 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 the Ottoman Empire 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 Ottomans. The island’s administrative council was made up of both Greeks and Turks.
The Italian Period
In 1912, during the Libyan 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 II
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.
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. 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.
Agia Marina has a number of bars, nightclubs and restaurants, all located in a strip which overlooks Alinda Bay. They include Meltemi Bar, Apothiki (Warehouse) Nightclub, Music House and the 24 hour cafe/restaurant, Glaros (The Seagull). Further down the road in Mproutsi you will find the famous Faros Bar, a bar built into a cave underneath the old lighthouse. The bar has an outdoor area which has a platform on the water, overlooking the entry to Alinda Bay and a breakwater. The beach of Agia Marina is pebbled with many tourist facilities. In the town, visit the Flour Mill, Archaeological Museum, and the Agia Marina Church.
Panteli is a well known area, littered with wonderful restaurants like Psaropoula, Zorbas, Patimenos and Drosia which are perched right on the water’s edge. At one end of Panteli Bay sits the famous Savana Bar, run by two Englishmen, Peter and Simon. The bar is well known for its Scandinavian barflys, “Aussie” breakfasts and multitudes of tourists who take advantage of the bar’s location next to the pier after they moor their yachts in the harbour during a Leros stopover, at the other end sits the new Cafeteria and bar Kastelo build in a more sophisticated style that attracts mostly the Greek locals.
The castle stands on a hill above Panteli and provides breathtaking views of the island. It was built by the Byzantines on the site of an ancient temple. It was later reconstructed by the Venetians.
The promenade of Lakki.
Leros War Museum
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 looks like the Dover war museum though on a tiny scale. There are several items from the battle of Leros including: guns, helmets, bombs, uniforms and many photos.
Visit the Agia Paraskevi Church and the Church of Our Lady of the Castle.
Visit the Agios Georgios Church.
Visit the Agios Georgios Church and Agios Petros Church.
The Leros Island National Airport at Partheni connects the island daily 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) connect Leros with 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).