The Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese

The Architecture as a Fascist propaganda

Rationalist-Fascist architecture was an Italian architectural style of the late 1920’s promoted and practiced initially by the Gruppo 7 group, whose architects included Luigi Figini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco, Gino Pollini, Carlo Enrico Rava, Giuseppe Terragni, Ubaldo Castagnola and Adalberto Libera. Two branches have been identified, a modernist branch with Giuseppe Terragni being the most prominent exponent, and a conservative branch of which Marcello Piacentini and the La Burbera group were most influential. Throughout the Fascist era in Italy architecture was used as a rhetorical device; it became the preferred vehicle for launching Fascist propaganda. It most forcefully portrayed, in the solidity of its materials and the vastness of its measures, the sublimity of imperial power. Buildings, piazzas, and ruins were privileged backdrops for public demonstrations, ritual re-enactments, and oratorical theatrics; spectacles aimed at cultivating a Fascist body politic.

Rationalist-Fascist architecture was a much misused term, for it reflects the range of architectural approaches current in Italy in the 1920s and 30s. These certainly included the austere geometrical rationalism of Giuseppe Terragni, but there was also the mannered and inventive classicism of the Novocento style associated with such architects as Giovanni Muzio as well as the monumental stripped classicism of Marcello Piacentini. There were also rounded and streamlined structures inspired by American art deco as well as by Italian futurism, with its obsession with machine imagery. The greatest example of these is to be found in the Eritrean capital of Asmara in East Africa where there are also interesting earlier and more conservative buildings. The city was completely built by the Italians. Asmara represents perhaps the most concentrated and intact assemblage of Modernist architecture anywhere in the world. The urban design within the Historic Perimeter has remained untouched since its original implementation and subsequent evolution throughout the 1930s, and the architectural elements exemplify a superlative example of Modernist architecture in a complete urban setting. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the Dodecanese Mussolini embarked on a program of Italianization, hoping to make Rhodes a modern transportation hub that would serve as a focal point for the spread of Italian culture in the Levant. The islands were overwhelmingly Greek-speaking, with Turkish-speaking minority and even smaller Ladino-speaking Jewish minority (with only a few immigrant Italian speakers). The Fascist program did have some positive effects in its attempts to modernize the islands, resulting in the eradication of malaria, the construction of hospitals, aqueducts, a power plant to provide Rhodes’ capital with electric lighting and the establishment of the Dodecanese Cadastre. The main castle of the Knights of St. John was also rebuilt.

There are two distinct periods in the history of the Italian Occupation of the Dodecanese reflected in the reflected in the architecture and in the perception of the occupation by the Greek inhabitants. Mario Lago was the governor of Rhodes until 1934; during that period relations with the largely prevailing Greek community were relatively good, taking into account that the governor was the representative of a very authoritarian and nationalist regime. Children had to attend schools where they were taught Italian, but they could learn Greek at religious institutions. At the cafés pricelists were affixed both in Italian and Greek.