Leros - Aghia Marina and the north of the island - the north of the island

The North of the Island
The tranquil north coast of the island at Partheni Bay is reached at 12km from Lakki­. The island’s earliest human settlement (Late Neolithic, 3500–2800 bc) was uncovered here at Kontari­da, beside the central southern creek of the bay in an unprotected and open coastal position.
   A civilian airport, a non-functioning dam, a number of gravel-pits, quarries and cement-works , have compromised what would otherwise be a heavenly corner of the Dodecanese. The natural landscape of low hills, deep bays, islands and coastal marshes, was once the setting for the island’s principal sanctuary, dedicated to the cult of Artemis or, more correctly, of the ‘Parthenos Iokallis’—a chaste, female divinity, perhaps of local origin, whose cult became assimilated with that of the greater divinity of chastity and hunting. The setting of the temple (whose remains have not been located with certainty) in a marshy estuary by the coast, has affinities with the sanctuary of Artemis Tauropolos at Nas on Ikaria.

A particularity of the cult of Artemis on Leros was its odd association with the story of the sisters of Meleager. The latter is first heard of in the Iliad (IX. 525 et seq.), where his complex story is told by Phoenix to Achilles in the hope of enticing the warrior out of his retreat into his tent. Meleager had killed the ferocious boar of Calydon which had been sent by Artemis in a fit of pique at having been excluded from an important harvest sacrifice. He was later cursed by the goddess, after killing his mother’s brothers in an ensuing fight, deliberately fomented by Artemis, over the spoils of the hunt. When his own sisters (referred to collectively as the ‘Meleagrids’) were, in turn, inconsolable at Meleager’s own untimely death, Artemis—more out of irritation than pity—turned them all into guinea-fowl (Ovid, Metamorph. VIII, 542–6), immortalising the sounds of their grief in the plaintive bleeping of the bird, which today bears the taxonomic designation, Numida meleagris. These beautiful birds probably frequented the sanctuary here filling the air with the sound of their calls, just as peacocks did at the sanctuary of Hera on Samos . A passing reference in the 2nd century ad ‘Tabletalk’ (Deipnosophistai) of Athenaeus of Naucratis (XIV, 655 b&c) mentions a (now lost) work, On Miletus, written by Aristotle’s pupil, Klytos of Miletus. Klytos evidently commented on the fact that the priests took upon themselves the raising of the chicks of these sacred birds, and that the ‘‘¦ place where they are kept is marshy’. The edges of the bay here are still swampy and the name of the sanctuary is preserved in the modern name, Partheni. All that is needed is for the sound of guinea-fowl to break the prevailing torpor of the atmosphere.

Ancient remains, once erroneously thought to be those of the temple of Artemis, can be seen in the centre of the southern side of the bay. Here, on the summit of the ridge just to the west of the airstrip (reached by the road west, before the airport) is the platform and base of a square Hellenistic tower (c. 8 x 8m), probably similar in concept to the tower on Lipsi; the position appears chosen to command both the entrance to the harbour, and the fertile land around the bay. The blocks are cut and inter locked with the care and precision typical of 4th century bc masonry. Other smaller, later buildings have left foundations and square cuts in the rocks, to the south. To the north of the tower an early mediaeval church, now roof less but still in possession of an apse, has been constructed almost entirely from blocks of the ancient tower. Two hundred metres further north, along the same ridge (path below, along east side), is the early 11th century church of Aghios Giorgios. On the south wall of its interior there is a darkened wall-painting of St George lancing the Dragon, dating probably from the 15th or 16th centuries; behind the iconostasis stands a carved slab from the marble templon of an Early Christian church as well as other more ancient spolia, now heavily whitewashed. The slab probably came from the Palaeochristian basilica found and excavated here in 1980 when construction work on the airstrip began. Its mosaic floor and other carved elements were transferred to the Archaeological Museum. In the same excavations, the ground-floor of a secular building consisting of workshops and storage areas arranged around a pebbled court also came to light near the basilica. These digs have provided evidence of a continued habitation here through Roman times and the Early Christian period, until the abandonment of the settlement in the 7th century. Today Partheni is a tiny community which lives off fish-farming and the large boatyard.
   The area is punctuated with relics of the Second World War—the peaks all round are marked with Italian military watch-towers; the Italian barracks at Partheni— which later served as a prison for political detainees of Greece’s Military Junta between 1967 and 1974. The bay of Plefoutis (1km east of Partheni), is a beautiful circular inlet, backed by olive-groves and hills, and marked by the former Italian military buildings in the pines at the southeast corner of the bay—harmless and elegiac, now that their sting has been removed.
   The most remarkable monument here is in the tiny chapel of *Aghia Kioura, on the rise of the isthmus separating Partheni and Plefoutis Bays (1km northeast of Partheni). The interior of the recent chapel is decorated with images, painted in 1970 by detainees of the Colonels’ Junta, who were exiled to Partheni. The murals (executed in a polyvinyl paint which is beginning to blister) are interesting, but understandably variable in quality. There are several hands at work—amongst them one who specialised in calligraphy, and another in decorative borders. Perhaps of greatest artistic merit and simplicity is the Deposition along the north wall. These pictures are now (technically) protected by law, but only after some were painted over by Orthodox religious enthusiasts who resented their style as incongruent with the Orthodox pictorial tradition. The remoteness of the place and the circumstances of its creation are reminiscent of the Italian Prisoners’ Chapel on the southern tip of Orkney. Both are moving testimonies of faith flourishing in adversity.

Leros Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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Leros Island, Greece.

By air: Leros has a small airport at the north end of the island (12km from Lakkí), to which Olympic Air operates a daily (morning) summer service. There is also a flight three times weekly to Astypalaia, Kos and Rhodes.
By boat: Two main ports are used on the island: the daily services by catamaran (Dodecanese Express), and four times weekly by car ferry (F/B Nisos Kalymnos) that ply the route between (Rhodes, Kos) Kalymnos and Patmos (Samos) call at Lakki; from the same port there are late-night ferries to and from Piraeus, four times weekly.
The faster Flying Dolphins on the routes linking the Dodecanese Islands, use the port of Aghia Marina on the east coast of the island: these run daily in summer only. There are also local services to Lipsi and Pat mos from Aghia Marina, and from Xerókambos to Myrtiés on Kalymnos. The latter is worth taking simply for the beauty of the scenery along the way.

Leros Travel Guide


Leros Island, Greece.

Some of Leros"s best eating places are mezé tavernas, serving a wide variety of small dishes to be taken together with an ouzo or wine.
The mezedepoleion "Dimitris" has the most imaginative selection: it is signposted from a bend on the main Lakkí Aghia Marina road above the north end of Vromólithos Bay, and is hidden away beside the steps that lead down from the road. It has a terrace with a pleasant view.
To Koulouki, beside the shore at Koulouki Bay, just to the southwest of Lakkí, similarly serves hot and cold mezé on a peaceful terrace. For a shore-side setting of great beauty and for good quality fish,
To Kima, on the eastern side of Xerókambos Bay is a reliable taverna.
Locals, especially on Sundays, like to eat in the bay of Pandéli (south of the castle). There are three fish restaurants here; of these, Patímenos, is the most original and thoughtful in the presentation of its dishes, as well as the least expensive. But the liveliest experience and best value is represented by the small café, which produces a remarkable variety of mezés—situated in the tiny "square" just in from the shore at Pandéli, where the one-way system turns sharply back up to Platanos and Aghia Marina.

Leros Travel Guide


Leros Island, Greece.

One of the dozen nicest places to stay in all the Greek islands is on Leros, and is to be recommended above all else: the *Hotel Archontiko Angelou (T. 22470 22749 or mobile 6944 908182, www. hotel-angelou-leros.com) in Alínda is a fine 19th century neoclassical mansion set in its own gardens a little way back from the shore. The rooms are comfortable and beautifully appointed without being over-decorated, the breakfast is excellent, and the setting in every way a delight. Price is moderate: a rental car is advisable.
At the southern end of the island, in Xerókambos, the studio-rooms at Villa Maria (T. 22470 27827) are very simple indeed, but are given life by the burgeoning flowers all around: the lodgings are peaceful, inexpensive and pleasant.

Leros Travel Guide

practical info

Leros Island, Greece.

85 400 Leros: area 54sq km
perimeter 82km
resident population 8087
max. altitude 326m.
Port Authorities: Lakkí, T. 22470 22224
Aghia Marina, T. 22470 23256.
Travel and information: Lakki, Aegean Travel, T. 22470 26000, www.aegeantravel.gr
Aghia Marina, Kastis Travel, T. 22470 22140, www. kastis.eu

Leros Travel Guide

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