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LEROS, the island of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, is a dry and dusty, albeit friendly, island 171 nautical miles from the mainland port city of Piraeus.

A member of the Dodecanese archipelagos, Leros, in summer swells to 8500 residents from a scant 500 in the winter months. It is home to the fabulous Panagia Castle as well as two ancient fortifications.Its strategic position in the southeastern aegean has given Leros a past rich in history.

The first human traces on the island have been detected at Partheni and belong to the Neolithic period. This was an entire settlement and has been dated from 8000 to 3000 BC.Carians, Leleges, Phoenicians and Cretans (led by Radamanthys, brother of King Minos), were its first inhabitants. In their tempestuous descent the Dorians reached Leros and conquered it. Homer has it taking part in the Trojan War along with Kalymnos (which see) and later the historian Herodotus mentions its close political and commercial ties with Miletos. The island was dedicated to Artemis (Minerva), and it has always had a metriarchical society, i.e. run by women.During the 5th century Leros flourished intellectually. This was the time of the poet Dimodikos and the historian Pherekydes. After the Persian Wars Leros became part of the Athenian Alliance. On his campaign east, Alexander the Great also passed through Leros as evidenced by the funerary steles and coins from that period found on the island.Plutarch also notes Leros' importance as a hub for shipping when referring to the captivity of Julius Ceasar on the neighboring island of Farmako. Constantine the Great, founder of Constantinople (Istanbul) and builder of the Byzantine Empire brought Leros into his empire by incorporating it into the Theme of Samos. In 1314 Leros was occupied by the Knights of St. John of Rhodes (which see) whom governed the island until 1523 when the Ottoman Turks took command of the entire Aegean and claim Leros as part of their empire.As the seeds of independence began to be sown in the early 1820's, Lerians were among the first to rise up against the Ottomans. In 1830, under the terms of the 'London Protocol' the Dodecanese were ceded to Turkey in exchange for Euboea. Turkey remain in control of Leros until the Italian occupation of the Dodecanese, which began in 1912 and lasted until 1943 when the Italians surrendered to the Allies; causing the Nazis stepped in to take control. During the waning years of WWII, with the help of the Greek "Sacred Battalion", Leros was liberated. In 1948 Leros, along with the rest of the Dodecanese islands, was annexed by Greece. Under the Colonels' junta, Leros was the site of a prison camp used to incarcerate communist dissidents.During the Italian occupation the whole of the island was fortified and became a veritable arsenal. Defense projects and military installations were carried built with the objective of turning Leros into an Italian naval base. Under the watchful eye of Mussolini, a new town, Lakki, was created.

The surreal town of Lakki with its now infamous "neo-Fascist" styled art-deco architecture and streets wide enough for military parading, in contrast to the rest of Leros, became the main port of the island; although the ancient settlement of Platanos with its sister village Agia Marina (the second port of the island) remains the capital of Leros.

 

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