The whole island is an architectural treasure, a rare architectural mosaic, where East, West, Middle Ages, modern Europe, urban and traditional, are merged in a unique way. Leros gathers all the architectural European tendencies of the last two centuries, without however missing the previous Byzantine-Venetian origins. Of course, the architectural seal on the island is the combination of the modern element with the architecture relating to the Aegean Sea. Leros is the most representative sample of mediterranean rationalism in Greece and Lakki is indeed one of a kind example. The whole section of Panteli, Platanos and Aghia Marina villages, has been characterized as a place of particular historical and natural beauty, as it is a characteristic sample of coexistence of both neoclassical and local traditional architecture.
In 1912 the Dodecanese passed under the control of the Italians who carefully chose Leros for the creation of their aeronautical base mainly because of the Gulf of Lakki, which is the second largest natural port of the Mediterranean Sea after Malta. In 1923, the G. Rossetti military base is builted in the area of Lepida. The installation needs of the military and their families are constantly increasing in the coming years. Thus, from 1930 to 1936 in Lakki area, where before there was only a small fishing village, a new city was built from the beginning, named Porto Lago which is also the largest urban intervention of Italians in the Dodecanese.
The architecture in Leros was not the same as in Kos and Rhodes, as now the Italians followed the modern Italian tendencies of the era , according to architectural rationalism. Without any classical and medieval monuments and the need to “integrate”, the Italians created a city model of rationalism by highlighting the connection of modern with the Aegean Sea. The cubistic architecture of the local islander’s houses that they were influenced from East and also West, led to a development of a fruitful dialogue with the new architectural trend, fueling the result with the Dodecanese colors, the widespread use of stone and the mild recruitment of Neoclassicism.
Lakki is referred to all architecture books as a unique example of the era. The church is an excellent specimen of Bauhaus, the school is a mixture of modernist and Byzantine elements, the theater is a characteristic Art-Deco creation, and also the hospital, the artillery barracks, the hotel and the circular market with the clock tower, constitute a unique cohesive architectural ensemble of 1930,of this particular trend between the austere frugality of the protomodernism and Art-Deco, also known as Depression or Stream line modern. Big curved roads were built, large open squares and hundreds of pines and eucalyptus trees were planted. Architectural buildings in Lakki, such as the clock tower, refer to the paintings of de Chirico and to the “Piazze d ‘ Italia” of his metaphysical painting (The Riddle of the Hours 1911, the Red Tower 1913, Mystery and Melancholy on the way 1914).
Another distinct and extensive architectural trend throughout the island is neoclassicism, which is found at large residential complexes, beach houses or permanent residences, and public buildings. Neoclassicism was brought by the expatriates of Leros in Egypt, who came back to the island (late 19th -early 20th century) and also blossomed out thanks to donations from the Leros fraternity that was based in Cairo, Egypt. This thriving economic and cultural community will play an important role in the socio-economic life of the island.
Neoclassicism is expressed in various twistson the island, mainly in the eclectic style (influences from Egypt, Asia Minor, Italy), but without missing at the same time elements of local architecture (wooden balconies, wooden or plaster barriers, etc). Most of the houses are simple in relation to the neoclassical buildings of mainland Greece, perhaps because they owe many of their influences in the Asia Minor neoclassical elements. They are usually rectangular with simple symmetrical faces, while are distinctive the arches and curves externally, vaulted roofed terraces and the following colors such as ocher, grey-blue and pink with white “frames” around the windows.
During the residential development of the era and the flourishing of neoclassicism, the old medieval village is transformed into an urban town. In total, there is a synthesis of harmonious images of large urban residences with smaller and simpler urban houses and traditional residences, creating an idyllic image.
At the beginning of the last century the urban house was developed, which also followed several variants. The neoclassical urban houses are the “villas” of the island and are often found in the center of a large or medium-sized piece of land. It is a simpler form of the Neoclassical house, as they have common morphological elements but now are more simplified. They are larger than the traditional house, as they now have two or three floors, which lend to the comfort that urban life needs. Nevertheless, it also gathers elements of local folk architecture, which are distinguished mainly in wooden balconies and iron railings. Regarding their colours, the urban houses follow the neoclassical ones.
The traditional house and folk architecture
The multiform architecture of the island also includes the local architecture that is expressed with the traditional house of Leros. This kind of house is most often a composition of flat cubes with roof, in a simple, straight line with closed form. In the later constructions, it borrows elements from the neoclassical houses, using mainly decorative elements on the roof and balconies, as also chromatic “frames” around the windows.
The “little towers”, which are also part of the local folk architecture, are barely rescued nowadays and are scattered on the island. Their heyday was placed in the 17th century, when systematic pirate raids posed the need to protect rural houses. They are small, rectangular buildings, mainly of two stores and have defensive character, so residents could face attacks on one hand and accommodate people and crops on the other hand. Their characteristics are the absence of windows at the bottom, two-three oblong small openings (rifle holes), the decorative toothed endings around the roof (embrasures) and the turrets on the upper part. Great interest present in the embossed engraved decoration of their walls internally and externally.
The folk house is the oldest type of house on the island and dates back to the middle ages, while relics from the roman and classical era have been found. The folk houses are also characterized by a closed defensive form and the oldest residential nuclei are located around the medieval castle of Panteli, but the most dense settlements are found in the traditional settlement of Agia Marina. Characteristic is it’s peculiar structure that follows the slope of the ground.