The Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese

On the other islands such as Patmos, Nisyros and Kalymnos whilst improving the infrastructure and harbours new construction was largely limited to harbour front administration buildings housing police / municipal and harbourmasters offices. The most spectacular are on Kalymnos, famous as the Island of the Sponge Divers. Here in Pothia the port of Kalymnos various Municipal buildings were constructed by the Italians between 1930-35 in a Venetian style on either side of the Orthodox Cathedral and Bell tower and adorn the seafront along with a variety of shops and cafes. Pothia is built in a natural amphitheatre and the eye is drawn inwards as you approach the harbour to the satisfying composition of the buildings with their domed corner turrets, arcaded colonnades and balconies and the bell tower providing the visual exclamation mark.


Up close there are stucco cartouches with a lyre representing the unique musical tradition of this island and ceramic arms of the House of Savoy. The building on the right of the Cathedral has on the first floor the Mayoralty but the ground floor was a covered market with a central courtyard shaded by palms. Kalymnos is a badly administered island and 10 years or more ago they decided to “modernise” the market. Well many years later it is still being modernised but in the process they have subdivided the building destroying its architectural integrity. As well as being architecturally inept the harbour front really needs a venue such as the Merkato on Kos where the many day-trippers and visitors to Kalymnos could savour and purchase the produce of the island so the current mess is a big loss to the island.


South of Kalymnos is the island of Leros which on its western side has Lakki, the largest natural harbour in Greece, almost resembling a lake with its tiny opening of just 400m, hence its Italian name Portolago – the lake port. The Great battle of Leros during the Second World War inspired Alistair MacLean to write his novel “The Guns of Navarone”. The battle of Leros lasted for almost 50 days and nights from the 23 of September 1943 to the 16th of November 1943, when the German forces launched “Operation Leopard” to capture the island from the Italian and the British forces after Italy’s capitulation in 1943. Whilst the movie of the same name is set on Rhodes as you enter the port of Lakki the two capes especially the north one where the Italians had their defence guns and fortifications, has an absolute similarity to the film settings and the big guns which protected the port and dominated the sea approaches.

Mussolini’s vision of a new Roman Empire took shape here in 1923 when Italian architects and town planners turned their energies to building the new town. Under the watchful eye of Mussolini Portolago, was created in the 1930s, with its now infamous Italian Rationalist art-deco architecture and streets wide enough for military parading. The Greeks later renamed it Lakki, the Greek for “Lake.” The Italians tried to “Italianise” Leros as all the other Dodecanese and the inhabitants responded by declaring the autonomy of the islands under the title “The Aegean State”, with the aim of reunification with Greece. The fortification of Leros and the creation of a major naval base at Lakki ensured that the Italians had control over an area of vital interest to the Allies (the Aegean, the Dardanelles and the Near East). Mussolini saw Leros as a crucial base for Italian domination of the eastern Aegean, even building a mansion for himself in the town of Portolago (now Lakki).