CULTURE

Politics and architecture in the Italian Dodecanese

In a stretch of just a few, large blocks, the architectural variety that extends across the Rhodes port seafront known as Mandraki encapsulates one of the most interesting periods in the history of the island, that of the Italian occupation. This was where the Italians built their «Foro Italico» when they took over the island in 1912 and where they erected monumental buildings as an expression of their colonial power. Considering that most of the buildings here were built within a period of three decades, their stylistic range is impressive and, at times, amusing in the fascist pomposity that it evokes. From the new market to the Post Office and the theater, an array of buildings reveals the interface between architecture, history and politics. All this is cogently recounted in «Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese Islands (1912-1943),» a book which was written by architecture historian Professor Vassilis Colonas, illustrated by photographer Yiorgis Yerolymbos and recently published by Olkos Publications in a bilingual (Greek and English) edition. The book concentrates on the architecture of the four principal islands of the Dodecanese – Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos and Leros – and leaves out the smaller islands, probably because the civic architecture with which Italian rule became associated is poorly represented on those islands. The book provides a wealth of diverse information and helps the reader understand architectural developments within a broader context. There is, for example, an extensive chapter on inter-war architecture in Italy and another on Italian colonial architecture; both of which provide an opportunity for some interesting comparisons between buildings in Italian cities and the Italian colonies, including Libya and Albania. These chapters also show the interesting oscillations between a modern and classical style in the aesthetics of fascist Italy. Architectural developments in the Dodecanese are treated during two different periods: the time of Mario Lago’s administration from 1924-36 and that of his successor Cesare Maria De Vecchi, former governor of Somalia and minister of education under Mussolini who then became the governor of the Dodecanese from the mid-1930s to 1943. Florestano di Fausto was chief architect in the early period. The Rhodes Administration Building, the Hotel of the Roses and the Post Office are some of the buildings he designed. In the 1920s, all of them show a taste for a revival of classical architecture that originated from the Italian Novecento and can also be traced to the manifesto of the Gruppo 7 architectural team, particularly their claim for «pure grandeur» and «serene beauty.» First Pietro Lombardi and later Bernabiti were the architects behind many of the buildings in the Dodecanese in the 1930s. Following the aesthetics of purification, Bernabiti removed many of the decorative elements that typified the early buildings and followed a more austere style that, however, still utilized the Roman past as fascist propaganda.