Few places preserve Italian rationalist and fascist architecture like the Greek port town of Lakki. It feels like part of a strangely forgotten time capsule of architecture inspired by Mussolini’s vision for a fascist Mediterranean utopia. Its cinema, a pale, rounded building, is a fine example of the architecture that came to dominate the small seaside community.
The town was originally known as Portolago. Mussolini established this community on the island of Leros in the 1930s as a naval base for the Italian Royal Navy when the island was under Italian colonial rule. The swampy site was uninhabited, making it an ideal spot to create a planned community inspired by the modernist, rationalist, and utopian ideas Italian fascists and other 20th-century nationalist politicians embraced.
Mussolini sent two modernist architects, Armando Bernabiti and Rodolfo Petracco, to design a rationalist community for the Italian military who lived at the port. The result was a mashup of Italian razionalismo, Art Deco, and Byzantine architectural styles. Bernabiti is the mastermind behind the town cinema, which was completed in 1938.
However, the architects’ grand creative plans for Portolago were abandoned when the Italian government transferred their rule of the island to Greece in 1947. The historical significance of Lakki’s architecture became mostly forgotten by locals, who mainly associated it with Italian fascist rule. Some buildings were altered or fell into disrepair. Those that survive stand like towering reminders of the town’s fascist origins.
A few dedicated history buffs recognize the town’s historical value and are attempting to preserve what architectural gems are left. Though they don’t think the site is ready to achieve UNESCO World Heritage designation, they want to educate people about the site and preserve it for future generations.
Know Before You Go
The island of Leros is accessible by air (there are direct flights from Athens), ferry, or catamaran.