Leros Island has a long and remarkable architectural tradition, despite the interventions, deteriorations and disasters that occurred over time. Its historical evolvement as well as the peculiar local conditions formed an area with multiple influences and a variety of architectural patterns. The traditional or anonymous or folk architecture coexists and is being upgraded by the neoclassical influence (early 20th century) and with the European architectural movements, mainly those of Interwar Period, which were brought to the Island by the Italians from 1912 and up until 1947.
The Traditional House
The traditional house can be found all around the Island, but mainly in the traditional village of Agia Marina. It is the oldest from the already existing villages, having the older houses in the area around the Medieval Castle of Panteli. Those houses were mainly having a defensive character. Later, on a lower compound of that area, new houses were built and neighbourhoods were created.
Between the villages there are areas with a lot of trees and neoclassical houses, covering a bigger area. Today, due to the ongoing construction process, the traditional neighbourhood has undergone through interventions and loses its pure character. In such peculiar architectural setting, one can easily identify the different patterns and influences used in the Island. In Leros the traditional, neoclassical and modern architecture coexist by being peculiar, colourful and characteristic.
The traditional house in Leros is either on a ground floor or on a floor and is characterized by minimal and strict close lines. Its yard is not separated from the room. The lines are straight in an arrangement of flat-roofed cubs. You can find them in the inside parts of, mainly, the oldest houses and in the outside part in arched covered terraces or sheds of the neoclassical houses. However, the newly built houses usually borrow some of these architectural characteristics mainly from the neoclassical houses (i.e. frames in the roof, decorative elements in balconies or in the windows and different colors).
The Neoclassical Houses
The neoclassical houses were built in the Island by citizens of Leros who were living in Egypt, who returned to the Island during the late 19th and early 20th century. They played a major role in the socioeconomically life of Leros and they built mainly in the area of Agia Marina. Their houses are usually 2 floors, rectangles with covered balconies and yards. Sometimes, due to the slope of the ground, the houses have also a third floor. These houses had enhanced and sophisticated elements of neoclassical structure as well as influences from Egypt, Italy and from the East. They are colourful, mainly ochre, light blue and pink with white window frames.
The rooms are symmetrical and, based on the social status of the owner, are bigger or smaller, more or less decorated and with hand-painted ceilings on the wooden roof. The main construction ingredients used were the same with the traditional ones, but of better quality.
Porto Lago «The New City»
The story traces its origins back in 1912, when the Italians were ruling the Dodecanese Islands and chose Leros and more specifically Lakki, as the best suited location in order to construct and develop a huge aeronautical base, on the basis of the British base in Malta. The advantages of the natural gulf were a lot. It was spacious and protected by any weather conditions, surrounded by mountains and having a narrow aperture, Lakki gulf was sometimes seen as a lake. The constructions began in 1923 at the point called Lepida. There, a large construction area was developed. The Italians built a waterfront, hangars for the parked seaplanes, fuel tanks, a shipyard for the repairing and maintenance of ships, underground tunnels, shelters and warehouses. The exact same architecture can someone observe in Sabaudia, Italy.
At the opposite side of the gulf, the Italians were dreaming of a whole new city for the relocation of the commanders’ families as well as for the new settlers. It was a purely Italian city with sophisticated and innovative concept. Based on the previously mentioned reasons, a new architectural style was chosen with the name “International Style”, also known as “Italian Rationalism”. While in Italy this ambitious programme for the new cities was not an efficient, in Leros a brand new city was finally developed. That city was Porto Lago (the Lake Port) that took its name from Mario Lago, the Italian governor of Dodecanese. Two Italian architects, A. Bernaditti and R. Petracco, were responsible for the worldwide uniqueness of Porto Lago. Their work in Porto Lago or Lakki is the one and only example of strict rationalistic minimalism that combines with a unique way the movements of modernism, Bauhaus and Industrialism. Some of the examples are:
- The Clock Tower, with a circular atrium of the market, a complex that was finalized in 1936 and was awarded in 1976 in Venice Biennale.
- Opposite of the market, the castled Albergo Roma as well as the Italian town hall are forming the front of the large square of the city towards the sea. At the ground floor of the town hall it was used to be the Italian post office and pharmacy.
- Right next to the post office it was the well-known Dopo Lavoro, the resort where the Italians were met after work. On the other side of the square there is the cinema, which is probably the only building that is bigger compared to the rest of the city.
- At the seafront there is also the building where the Customs was (today the same building is the Officers Club). Unfortunately, today the building has experiences a lot of architectural interventions.
- At the end of the sea front there is one of the most peculiar buildings that the Italians built. The primary school has a cyclic atrium and a harmonious colonnade.
- In parallel streets a lot of buildings were built with enhanced elements of Bauhaus movement, while in other streets of Lakki one can observe the characteristic maisonettes of Lakki, the “palazzina”.
When the Italians left the Island and the Dodecanese became part of Greece, the International Style, that had nothing to do with the traditional architecture of the Island but also a strong reminder of the Fascist era, was devalued and sometimes alienated from later reconstructions. It took a lot of years and research in order to estimate the value of Porto Lago (Lakki) and to recognize its international uniqueness.