Leros belongs to the northern part of Dodecanese and it is only 1 mile far from Kalymnos. Leros, an island full of forests was devoted to Artemis, and has been inhabited since the prehistoric era. The island probably took its name by the ancient word "leros" that means flat, smooth. The island has been inhabited since the Neolithic period (findings at Partheni date back from 4000-3000 BC). The first inhabitants of Leros, and the whole Aegean Sea, were Carians, Leleges, Phoenicians and Cretans. The dynamic Dorians followed who arrived at Leros as conquerors. The cultural flourishing of the island started in 5th century BC with the satiric poet Dimodokos and the historian Ferekidis. The Byzantine era left excellent traces, such as the basilica of Aghia Varvara, from the early Christian period, the basilica at Partheni, (built with parts of marbles, column capitals and slates from ancient ruins), the churches of Ioannis Theologos, Panayia Gourlomata and Panayia of Castro. In 1314 the Knights of St. John from Rhodes conquered Leros and stayed there till 1523. Another important date for Leros is 1830 when all the islands of Dodecanese were given to Turkey in exchange of Evia. The period, however, that marked Leros was the period of Italian rule (1912-1943). The whole island was transformed to an arsenal and a navel base with remarkable fortification and military works. A new town was established at Lakki, an open museum of experimental and comparative architecture. An original European architectural style emerged. Leros was mercilessly bombed for 52 days by the Germans and was almost leveled. The island joined Greece with the other Dodecanese islands in 1948.
HISTORICAL LANDMARKS & MONUMENTS
Neolithic settlement (Partheni, 4th millenium BC): Traces of human habitation have been found here dating back into the mists of time.
Roman monuments (Partheni): Complex of Roman buildings (probably an agora) in use up to early Christian times. The area was inhabited until at least the 7th century AD.
Early Christian basilica (Partheni): Remains of a three-aisled basilica built in two phases: The first till mid 5th century and the second till the end of the 6th century. It has a noteworthy mosaic floor with geometrical designs and votive inscriptions - which are now kept at the Leros Archaeological Museum.
Lepidon Castle or Paliokastro (Xirokampos): Partially restored, the castle stands on the ruins of an ancient acropolis, at a height of 70m above sea level. In fact Paliokastro is older than the better-known castle at Aghia Marina. Within it stands the small Church of Panayia, while there was probably an early Christian basilica once stood on the site. This is dated to the Hellenistic period.
Kastro Panteliou (Aghia Marina): Located on the top of the Apityki Hill, at 300m above sea level, the castle can be reached by the traditional steps or up the modern road. It was built in the mid-Byzantine period to protect the local people from pirate raids, most probably in the location of an ancient fortress. Within it stands the Church of the Panayia and the church's Ecclesiastical Museum. The Knights repaired and modified the Byzantine castle to meet the demands of the new kind of warfare (use of gunpowder): They constructed apertures through which to fire cannon, a fortified tower on the vulnerable south-eastern side, a powder magazine, food stores and a cistern to collect rain water. It was at the same period probably that the third defensive perimeter was added, with the knights' escutcheons set into the walls. On the road to the castle the visitor can see old windmills with sails, in excellent condition.
Second World War Memorial (Lakki): The memorial commemorates the sinking of the English anti-torpedo vessel the Queen Olga, which was bombed by German planes while at anchor in the natural harbour of Lakki and sank with the loss of 70 of her crew.
Early Christian basilica of Aghia Varvara (at Agia Marina)
Other noteworthy monuments are to be found in the vicinity of Ag. Saranta, at the Municipal Guest House and at Panayies (Alinta); there are also the Churches of Panayia Limniotissa and Aghios Ioannis Theologos (Lakki), and the basilicas of Palaiokastro and Ag. Nikolaos (Xirokampos), Aghios Ioannis (Fakoudia) and Aghios Petros and Aghios Nikitas (Drymonas).
Church of Agios Isidoros (Kokkali) In the area of Kokkali, the picturesque, little church of Agios Isidoros can be found. It is built on a islet in the sea and is connected to the old submerge little port by a small passageway built next to it.
Church of Panayia Kavouradaina (Xirokampos): A picturesque little church. There is a charming tradition that the icon of the same name was found by a fisherman from Kalymnos.
Church of Panayia Gourlomata (Drymonas, after Gourna Bay): Noteworthy paintings.
Church of Panayia tou Kastrou (Kastro Panteliou): The church was built either after 1669, or before 1651, or during the 16th century. It houses the miracle-working icon of the Virgin which is said to have saved the Franks from Turkish raids in 1406 and 1505. In 1745 the church acquired its famous carved wooden screen, which was gilded forty years later. The superb bell tower was made by Russian craftsmen, using bronze and silver. Local tradition claims that the church was decorated by the Evangelist Luke.
Church of Aghios Ioannis Theologos (Lakki - Byzantine era): On the road to Gourna, the church has marvelous mosaics dating from the 11th century.
Church of Aghia Kioura (Partheni): Situated in an idyllic location with a view of the tranquil bay, the church was painted by exiled political dissidents: Various figures of saints and prisoners feature in the Passion of Christ, while the Virgin, or a personification of Greece, mourns her children. The paintings were the idea of a celebrated prisoner on the island, Manolis Glezos, supported by his fellow prisoners Kyriakos Tsakiris and Antonis Karayiannis. The small, three-aisled church of Aghia Matroni, with its icon from the late 18th century, was decorated in an expressionistic style with great freedom of composition.
MUSEUMS, EXHIBITIONS, LIBRARIES
Historic and Folklore Museum (Alinda, Beleni castle): The building was a country mansion of Belenis, a rich person from Leros. The halls of the first two floors have been arranged by themes. The first floor accommodates a folklore collection of costumes, glassware, shoes, everyday items, religious objects, and old mirrors. On the same floor is the archaeological section with findings from the Neolithic and Copper periods. On the second floor there are military exhibits: Arms, guns, swords, tomb crosses and memorial items from the boat "Vasilissa Olga". The third floor, still under preparation, will be devoted to the donator and other benefactors of the island.
Religious Museum (Ag. Marina, Castle): It exhibits rare religious and pastoral objects such as costumes and items used in churches, as well as selected archaeological findings such as coins, capitals, inscripted columns etc.
Hatzimihalios Library (Ag. Marina, Castle): It is kept at a specially arranged space at Panayia of Castro. It includes manuscripts, old books and 1200 documents and volumes.
Agia Marina: It is one of the most well preserved villages in Greece. It is the capital, the administrative and commercial center, with mansions and traditional houses, and it extends amphitheatrically between two hill slopes. The style of the mansions, most of which are neo-classic of various styles, is an indication of the island's wealth before the war and the tastefulness of the local people. The architectural style of the houses that were built during the period of the Italian rule is particularly distinctive.
Planatos: The oldest district and old capital of the island, where many traditional houses and mansions are preserved. The City Hall consists of two neo-classic buildings and next to them there is a genuine traditional café, called "Leshi of Leros", one of the few that have been preserved till today.
The local benefactors contributed to the economic, cultural and aesthetic development of the island. Among the well-preserved houses of Aghia Marina and Platanos stand out many educational and public buildings: The old City Hall (the Municipal Library today), the Administration building (today's City Hall), the Municipal Market of Platanos, the Bishop's house, the Girls' School (built in 1865), the new school (built in 1882), the "Astikon School" (built in 1886) (today's Archaeological Museum), the "Nikolaidio Girls' School" (built in 1880), the "Boys' School of Leros" (built in 1910), and the Malahio Nursery School (built in 1910).
Lakki: It is natural harbor with a 400-meter opening that looks like a big lake. That is probably the reason the Italians called it Porto Lago (lake harbor). In the period of Italian rule it functioned as a naval station, as residence of the officers and their families and a place where the main public services were built. The innovative architectural style (International Style) that had been used in Italy in the 20's (Italian rationalism), a unique architectural style, a product of innovative experimentation and syncretism, is prevailing. The Italian architects attempted an imaginative combination of Renaissance, Venetian and Islamic decorative elements. The rationalistic road planning in zones and squares, the imaginative public buildings, the officers' houses, the abundant eucalypts and the stabilization of substratum make Lakki a huge architectural achievement. The most important buildings at Lakki are:
The imposing building of Naval Administration (the oldest in the town with eastern-like façade, is the only that deviates from the International Style), the complex that includes hotel Leros (called Roma by the Italians) and the cinema, the former Italian Customs Building (today's Police Station, with some tasteless modifications), the Elementary School (the most balanced building typical of International Style, with circular atrium, light colonnade in the façade and spacious yards), the catholic church of Saint Francis (today Saint Nikolaos - with fine lines, balanced proportions and elevated cubist belfry), the former Naval Building (pioneer architectural synthesis with spacious areas round the central atrium) and the complex of Agora - the Market, that is being renovated (perhaps the most original building of Lakki with circular atrium where successive concentric circles end and a tower with a clock).
The biggest religious festival is on 14 August when many people go to Panayia of Castro, with evening prayer that is followed by festivities all over the island.
The most important religious festivals are: Panayia of Castro (15 & 23/8), Osios Ionas of Leros (28/2), Agioi Tessarakonta Martires (9/3), Evaggelismos of Theotokos (25/3), Aghios Isidoros (14/5), Aghios Petros (29/6), Agioi Anargiroi Temenion (1/7), Aghia Kiriaki (7/7), Aghios Kirikos (15/7), Aghia Marina (17/7), Aghia Paraskevi (26/7), Aghios Panteleimonas (27/7), Osia Irini Hrisovalantou (28/7), Sotiros Christou (6/8), Aghios Fanourios (27/8), Aghios Ioannis Lakkiou, Dexameni (29/8), Panayia Moni (8/9), Timios Stavros (14/9), Aghios Ioannis Theologos (26/9), Aghia Matroni & Ag. Kioura (22/10), Aghios Nikolaos (6/12).
The island produces excellent cream cheese, traditional sweets, pouggakia, sviggi, xerotigana, preserved fruit (tomato, quince, bitter orange and aubergine) and a drink called diasogala, moustalevria, tzerdes (made of carob) and the traditional drinks soumada and diasogalo. Eptazimo, aniseed and the traditional "hlepa" homemade rusks are also produced. Salted fish (shub mackerels, sardines, anchovies, bonitoes etc) are a famous traditional product of Leros, as well as caper (preserved in salted water) that can be added in the Greek salad.
Summer cultural events (15/7 - 30/8): Music and theater but also scientific lectures.
Alonaris celebration (July): Enactment of Alonisma (threshing) and exhibition of agricultural produce.
Wine Festival (August): Enactment of grape pressing and exhibition of traditional products.
Drimonas - Traditional Cousine Festival (August): Buffet of traditional food and sweets where the Association of Café, Bar and Restaurant Owners participate.
Trata Celebration (September): An enactment of fishing with a drag net boat. The restaurant owners of the island take part.
All the above celebrations are accompanied by traditional festivities of Leros (traditional music and dances) where wine and food is offered.
Memory and Democracy Days (September): Events devoted to political prisoners - exiles of 1967-1974 period.
Throughout the year, and especially in summer months, a lot of events are held by the Municipla Organization of Cultural and Economic Development and Welfare of Leros (DEPOAP) as well as the Cultural Association Artemis (dance - music), Th.O.L. (Theater) and D.P.K. (presentations - lectures).
Water sport events "Alindia": They are held since the beginning of 20th century and embrace almost all water sports (rowing, diving, swimming etc.)
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