Restorations during the Italian occupation

The Italians landed on the island of Rhodes in May 1912, with the intention of establishing themselves permanently in the area. However, after the end of the WW II, they were obliged to surrendered their possessions in the Dodecanese to the Greek state. During the years of the occupation using the almost free local labour force, they carried out an extensive program of restorations with the aim to consolidate their presence in the Dodecanese islands and validate their authority on a symbolic level.

Progressively, during the long years of the Ottoman occupation, the island lost the architectural splendor of the Hospitaller era. Important buildings and monuments were transformed – in some case completely abandoned – with numerous additions that had changed their original character. Not surprisingly, the Italian projects were focused in promoting the “Italian character” of the Hospitaller buildings, first by removing later additions and then by applying a selective use of history to the restoration process. Nevertheless, we can divide the Italian interventions into two different periods. The first covers the early years of the Italian occupation till middle of the 1930s, and the second extends from about the middle of the 1930s to the departure of the Italians. The distinction is based on the different restoration approach used, which were largely reflected the political shift in Italy.

Specifically, the first projects followed the scientific principles of restoration as formulated down to the beginning of the 20th century, and which took into account first and foremost the form and structure of a monument. Three projects were carried out at Panagià Filerimou in 1919, when consolidation work was undertaken after the completion of the excavation and documentation of the monument.

During the second period, the scientific aspect of the restoration receded into the background, giving way to an intent that may almost be described as stage design. The interventions on the monuments were aimed at reconstructing them stylistically in a form that they probably never had. They were so extensive that in some cases they could be called reconstruction work. This change in the ideology of the restorations had a political cause. The rise and domination of nationalism in Italy and its possessions affected the choices of the people drawing up studies for the restoration projects. The work carried out on Filerimos from 1931 to 1935 was characteristic of this mentality: the interventions made in 1919 were removed and the church was reconstructed, retaining indicatively a few features of each building phase.

The Italians carried out a remarkable amount of work during this period. In addition to Filerimos, they engaged in a large number of projects in Rhodes town. The fortification walls were consolidated and conserved for their entire length, the Palace of the Grand Master was reconstructed, the Knights’ Hospital was restored, along with most of the Inns of the Tongues, and the Ottoman additions were removed from the ecclesiastical monuments in the town.

The restoration methods they used are the subject of fierce criticism today. Although they were imposed by the political circumstances of their day, they nevertheless helped to preserve many monuments that would possibly not otherwise have survived to the present. It would be difficult to carry out a similar programme of investigating, recording, and modifying the monuments of an area in the absence of the specific circumstances.