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LAKKI &THE SOUTH & WEST OF THE ISLAND
When the sea is rough, entry through the narrow opening (less than 400m across) into Porto Lago Bay, today’s Ormos Lakkiou, is a dramatic relief. Always calm, this very large, natural harbour in the southwest of the island was coincidentally well-named by the Italians ‘Port Lake’— even though the name was actually given in honour of the first Italian Governor of the Dodecanese, Mario Lago. It is relatively deep on its south side, and shallower and sunnier on the north side where the city was laid out. *Lakki, as the port and town are now called, which was created between 1934 and 1938, is unlike anything else in Greece: one would expect to find it more likely in the Pontine plains south of Rome. It constitutes the most coherent and complete ex ample of so-called ‘Rationalist’ planning and architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its broad streets and open squares, however, desperately lack that narrow intimacy that is so habitual in a Greek town; they seem like ill-fit ting clothes on today’s inhabitants and shop-keepers.
LAKKI AND THE ITALIAN URBAN PLAN OF 1934
The large ancient towns of Kos and Rhodes offered the Italians little scope for laying out a new town from scratch, but in the empty spaces around this bay there was ample possibility to give architectural form to the political and cultural pretensions that lay behind Italy’s occupation of the Dodecanese Islands. The military base in the area of Lepida on the south shore of the bay came first (the ‘G. Rossetti Air Base’ of 1923); this grew into the largest military base in the Eastern Mediterranean, and included a number of residences and buildings for military administration and housing laid out with gardens, which are now the core of the Leros National Sanatorium. Growing needs for housing and entertainment for the officers and their families led the authorities to expropriate land and create the new town of ‘Porto Lago’ in 1934—today’s Lakki—which was designed to meet the civilian needs of a military community of about 7,500 people. The architects of the plan were Rodolfo Petracco and Armando Bernabiti, who had already been deeply involved in the master-plans for Rhodes and Kos (see vols 2 & 6 in this series). The style here on Leros represents a half-way house between the more whimsical work of Florestano di Fausto (often called ‘Integrationist’ because of its aspiration to combine local traditions in architecture together with a new ‘Rationalist’ approach) seen in the early Italian buildings of the 1920s on Kos and Rhodes , and the heavier and more rigorously ‘purified’ forms (typified by the Theatre and Demarcheion in Rhodes ) which began to dominate in the later years of Fascism. The forms of the architecture here are simple and comprehensible, creating a constant play between symmetry and asymmetry, and between regular and irregular forms. Above all else, the spirit of the design lies in ‘stream lined’ buildings; they seem to intimate a future world of machine-oriented orderliness. The lines are clear and clean, and the volumes full and satisfying. In the predominantly white cubic forms, flat roofs and brightly coloured detailing of these buildings there is still an obvious connection with the local, vernacular architecture of the islands.
The street plan of the town is not a regimented grid pattern, but a rounded and decentralised design, which sympathetically absorbs and reflects the natural curve of the shoreline. Nor are the shapes and volumes of the buildings drearily regular, symmetrical or predictable, but are scattered spatially and alternate between rounded and rectangular forms. In and around the centre of the promenade are the bold circular tower of the former town hall, the long horizontal form of the Hotel Roma (later called the Leros Palace Hotel, and currently in a condition almost beyond salvation), the semicircular projecting foyer of the theatre (all by Armando Bernabiti), the sharp vertical of the clock tower (set at an interestingly obtuse angle to the building from which it rises) beside the low, half-domed circle-in-a-square of the food market with its airy internal peristyle (both by Rodolfo Petracco); further east is the curving façade of the commercial building which occupies the next block (note the herring-bone decoration of the upper floor on the southeast corner), and finally the arcaded front of the *Elementary School (Petracco) at the eastern extremity, which repeats and synthesises all these shapes in what is certainly the most interesting design of the whole complex. The administrative buildings that frame the town to the sides are deliberately more rectilinear; and in the spacious plots behind are warehouses, hospital buildings, the church of St Francis (now of Aghios Nikolaos) by Bernabiti, and many private houses built for the non-commissioned officers—no two the same, and each one an experiment in a new inversion or combination of the familiar forms. Everywhere, too, the Italians had the sense to plant trees in abundance.
The setting of this architecture and the bay of Lakki are beautiful; the wideness of the lagoon complements the low spaciousness of the town, and the flat, fertile land around sets off the play of its geometrical shapes. Today, a number of memorials and war monuments punctuate the townscape: those on the waterfront commemorate a defining moment in the Dodecanese Campaign of 1943—the sinking by the German Air Force of the Greek destroyer Vasilissa Olga, and (on the road south to Lepida) of the British destroyer HMS Intrepid, both on 26 September 1943—which opened the way to the eventual capture of the island by German forces on 16th November 1943 (see Battle of Leros, below). A few blocks inland from the shore, in Plateia Eleftherias, is a monument to a figure who fought for the independence and freedom from occupation of the Dodecanese, Paris Roussos (1875–1966).
Looking west-southwest from the waterfront, the distant island of Levitha (Ancient Lebinthos) can be seen distantly through the centre of the narrow entrance of the bay.
Leros Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.