Its strategic geographical position in the southeast Aegean has granted Leros a past rich in history. The first traces of inhabiting were found at Partheni and Gourna dating back to the Neolithic period in the 4th century B.C.. The settlement at Knotarides which was discovered in 1980 is the most important monument of the island’s pre-history. It is located in the depths of the Bay of Partheni. Traces of a human presence during the Neolithic Period and the Early Bronze Age have been found in different locations throughout the island and primarily along the coast.
No evidence of the Minoan period has thus far been found and only a few remains from the Mycenaean era have been discovered.
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.
After the division of the Roman Empire, Leros was part of the Byzantine 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.
During the 5th century, Leros experienced great cultural development under the political influence of the leading Ionian city of Miletus. The fortification projects at Paliokastro in Xirokambos during the 4th century B. C.and the fortifications at Partheni seem to be connected to Leros’s political dependence on Miletus.
The Macedonian presence on the island can be seen from the excavation of coins that were found and the fact that the island’s liberation from the Persians is attributed to the Macedonians.
The Byzantine period at the end of the 3rd century A.D. and onwards, enriched the island with exquisite examples of church architecture and fortification projects. The Castle at Panteli was built during this period. Also, the Castle of Lepida, known today as Palaikastro in the vicinity of remains of an even older wall of “Cyclopean” construction is dated to the Hellenistic period. It was used as a refuge by the inhabitants in the mid-Byzantine period.
In 1314, Leros was conquered by the Knights of St John of Rhodes and was ruled by them until 1522 when the Ottoman Empire came to dominate the entire Aegean Sea area.
During the period of Turkish rule, Leros managed to maintain a limited level of independence. But, when the Greek War of Independence broke out in 1821 the people of Leros contributed to the revolution with all their hearts and soul for their country’s liberation.
Between 1912 and 1943, the entire Dodecanese was under Italian rule. During this period, many military undertakings were carried out and military facilities and installation were built throughout the island. The purpose of this development was to transform Leros into important nautical and aerial bases for the Italians by taking advantage of the island’s strategic geographical positioning as well as the unique morphology and fortification of the natural Bay at Lakki. A new pioneer city of its kind with a modern infrastructure and architecture unique in the whole of Europe was developed at Lakki.
During the Second World War and after the Italians’ surrender, the Germans who had already captured Rhodes and Kos turned their strategy towards Leros which was being defended by the Italians and the English.
The Greek destroyer Vasilissa Olga was the first victim of the Battle of Leros, and was sunk on 26th September, 1943. After continuous and violent bombarding, the battle ended on the 16th November, 1943 victoriously for the German army. The island was freed upon the liberation and handover of the Dodecanese to the British and the Greeks on 9th May, 1945. Two years of English occupation followed and at the end of March, once again Leros was finally united to the Dodecanese and the rest of Greece.
During the island’s most recent history, Leros had been used as a place of incarceration for political prisoners who were imprisoned at either of the camps at Lakki or Partheni by the military police during the dictatorship from 1967 to1974.
…“Alikarnassos, Partheni, Oropos, Koridalos…” Not a single Greek person can avoid becoming emotional on hearing or being touched by the lyrics of this specific verse.
Further, in 1957 Leros was chosen as the site of the state psychiatric hospital which was built to relieve the congestion in other Greek psychiatric hospitals. Not only has this led to the long-term, dependency of the local economy on the hospital but also people’s negative association of Leros with the sanatorium.
Since 1989, Leros has been implementing programmes for de-institutionalisation and patient psycho-social rehabilitation. The local community is also collaborating with efforts to re-integrate patients into society and in the implementation of treatment initiatives that are being pioneered throughout the whole country.