Island Hopping in the Winter - Part One - Leros

Lakki, the second town on Leros, was laid out by the Italians in the 1930s and has many fine examples of Italian Rationalist architecture.  Unfortunately the Second World War interrupted the building of the town so Lakki  is a strange mixture of modern Italian buildings in various stages of restoration or abandon and completely vacant lots.

One of the conveniently vacant lots gave us an uninterrupted sea view from the balcony of our room at the Miramare hotel.  The bay at Lakki is the largest deep water bay in the Mediterranean which is why the Italians wanted to hang onto it during the Second World War and defended it vociferously.

Leros is part of a close archipelago including Kalymnos and many other smaller islands, most of them deserted and many of them of strategic interest.

This abandoned Italian building was originally a barracks and then part of the notorious Leros Mental Asylum which was opened in 1957.  The mentally ill, the mentally or physically disabled and anyone who was deemed inconvenient for one reason or another was shipped here from all over Greece, creating a community of about 4000 people.  They became a forgotten people with little medical care and no prospects. This dreadful place was finally exposed by the British newspaper, the Observer in 1987 and the BBC made an undercover documentary which blew the story wide open.

Looking across Lakki bay at the old mental hospital.  The low white structures on the left are actually a refugee camp, the Leros 'hot-spot' where refugees stay in converted containers while waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.  From one type of asylum to another, this is a place steeped in human suffering.

On a more cheerful note, as we had hired a car we went up to the crusader castle overlooking Agia Marina, the island's main town and ferry port.  This is the few looking down at the port from the Kastro. The white steps would have been the original route up to the castle before the motor road was built.

From the Kastro, looking back towards Lakki.  Those asylum buildings seem to haunt one from wherever one looks.

Another view from the castle, this time looking down from top towards Turkey.

Back in Lakki, this is the Italian clock tower. This has been restored to a reasonable level and there are shops and the post office on the ground floor. We bought our morning coffees from the bakery on the corner.

It wasn't only the mentally ill and disabled who were shipped off to Leros and forgotten.  It was also a detention camp for political dissidents during Junta years.  Some of the political prisoners painted murals in the church of St Matrona-Kioura on the north side of the island. This is now a protected monument.

The paintings are in fairly poor condition now, mainly due to damp building up behind the paint.  Greek icon painting is usually very formal and formulaic.  These paintings are the complete opposite and some priests regarded them as blasphemous for this reason.  If you look at the faces, they are all of real people, not the usual expressionless faces of standard Greek iconography.

Whoever painted this was remembering the face of a loved one.

The compositions are also more fluid and reflect the trends in modern art in the Sixties rather than the traditional format for religious paintings.

Leros has a small airport at the north end of the island.  While we were there an Olympic Airways prop plane came into land.  Definitely only for those with strong nerves and stomachs.  I think I will stick with Dodecanese Seaways, thank you!

The waterfront in Agia Marina as we waited for the ferry to take us to Kalymnos.

Fishing is evidently good in these waters and the caiques are big enough to have ice makers on board. The polystyrene boxes are for packing the catch for market.
I had hoped to have these photographs sorted out for Friday but it took a long time to sort out the products of two cameras and two telephones!  These are just a few from the many we took on our travels.  This blog is focusing on Leros.  It is amazing what one can cover in 24 hours on an island with a hire car and a good guide book.  Our thanks to Marc Dubin's classic 'Rough Guide to the Dodecanese and the Eastern Aegean'.  If you can get hold of a copy, it is well worth it as he gives exhaustive historical detail about the islands and brought our attention to many things that are off the beaten track.

We traveled with Dodecanese Seaways, taking the 9.20 from Symi on Sunday morning. It is worth sitting upstairs for the view and going out onto the side decks whenever you approach a port.  We arrived in Leros about 1.30 and our prebooked hire car, arranged through the hotel, met us in the port with the car and paperwork which saved a lot of time.

We stayed at the Miramare Hotel in Lakki.  This is a family-run hotel that is open all year round. We found it to be spotlessly clean, well equipped, good value for money, very friendly and helpful - and nothing like the negative reports given on Trip Advisor which goes to show how flawed those reviews can be.  It is always worth remembering that in small places on line reviews are easily biased as business owners get their friends and relations to talk their own businesses up and the competition down!  We are glad we ignored the negativity and stayed there.

My next blog will give you a taste of Kalymnos.

Tomorrow is Dodecanese Day a regional holiday celebrating the incorporation of the Dodecanese into the modern Greek state on 7 March 1948.  The bunting is up, the children are practising their marching and it looks as though the rain won't reach us until Tuesday evening.

Have a good week.


Pamela Stocks  – (Friday, March 10, 2017)  

Thanks for the recommendation on the Rough Guide. We're going to Rhodes this year and certain to come back to Kos and other islands, so it will be invaluable and I managed to pick one up for 1p, which arrived this morning. :)

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About this Blog

I sailed into Panormitis Bay, Symi, by chance one windy July day in 1993 and have been here ever since. The locals tell me that this is one of the miracles of St Michael of Panormitis. A BA graduate with majors in English, Philosophy and Classical Civilisation, the idea of living in what is to all intents and purposes an archaeological site appeals to me. Not as small as Kastellorizo, not as touristy as Rhodes, Symi is just the right size. I live on a small holding which my husband and I have reclaimed from a ruin of over-grazing and neglect and turned into a small oasis over the course of the past 22 years. I also work part-time for Symi Visitor Accommodation, helping independent travellers discover and enjoy Symi's simple pleasures for themselves.

This page is kindly sponsored by Wendy Wilcox, Symi Visitor Accommodation.

Adriana Shum

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