The Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese

The Italian Architecture on the island of Kos

North of Rhodes on the 5th of May 1912, Italian troops, landed on the island of Kos with enough strength to expel the Ottomans. The Koans gathered on the streets and welcomed the Italians as liberators from Turkish oppression. They asked that they be allowed to unite with the rest of Greece which was already liberated. The Italians accepted this and declared that “The island of Kos was Greek and would remain Greek. It should be allowed to continue on its own strength and the like of the Turkish occupation which caused so much misfortune would never be allowed to happen again.” It was all unfortunately a sham and Italy had no intention of keeping her word.

In 1933 an earthquake greatly damaged the older part of Kos; it was soon evident that most of the fallen dwellings were built directly upon the foundations of ancient temples and markets. This led to a large campaign of excavations which was extended also to the outskirts of Kos. The archaeologists did not have far to dig before identifying two other areas with significant memories of the ancient town. The park which today replaces most of the medieval town was the commercial and political centre of Ancient Kos. Archaeologists have found evidence of a large market square surrounded by porticoes and temples; these were initially designed in the Hellenistic period (usually defined between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the annexation of Greece by Rome in 146 BC), but they were rebuilt or modified during the Roman rule over the island. The use of cipollino columns from Euboea is typical of the time of Emperor Hadrian. The site of the Roman agora was during the reign of the Knights of St. John the “Bourg” or the medieval walled town, a smaller version of the walled city of Rhodes. The Bourg was separated from the Castle of Nerazia by a sea moat which is today “Phoinikon” (Palm Trees) Avenue. Nothing much remains after the earthquake of 1933 but towers and walls have been preserved at the periphery and on the seaward side there is the one remaining Crusader House.

Despite regular and devastating earthquakes throughout its history Kos Town has remained on this site benefiting from the seaborne trade. It is the last major earthquake in 1933 (when the island was under Italian occupation) which gives us the shape and form of the contemporary city which spreads out from the harbour and which is home to half the island’s population. The Italians rebuilt with wide palm lined avenues and excavated the extensive Hellenistic and Roman archaelogical remains which were revealed by the earthquake. So modern Kos Town provides a fascinating mix of the Greek and Roman, the Crusader Knights who held out here until 1522, the Ottomans who left mosques, Hammans and fountains, the Italians who laid out the modern town and endowed it with fine public buildings, mock North African, fascist Internationalist and Art Deco and modern Greece of which Kos only became a part of in 1948. The maze like Ottoman Centre apart (known as Kos Old Town or Haluvazia in Turkish) this is a planned town with the pines, palms and shrubs planted by the Italians now fully matured.

Archaeological Museum in Eleftherias (Freedom) Square

Eleftherias (Freedom) square is the centre of Kos Town. It is the atmospheric open air “Drawing Room” of Kos where everybody goes for their evening stroll, to see and to be seen. It is overlooked on one side by the Nefterdar mosque which was built at the end of the 18th century and the ablution fountain, on the other by the Italian Colonial style Merkato, and by the Theatre and library and the Archaeological Museum on the other sides. Towered over at night by the illuminated crosses of the Orthodox Cathedral and adjoined by the ancient Roman Agora it provides a superb urban set piece symbolising the rich mix of influences which have made this unique island.
The Archaeological Museum was built by the Italians in the 1930s to display mainly Hellenistic and Roman treasures found in and around Kos Town and dating from the third century BC. The museum allows visitors to glimpse into the former glory enjoyed by this quaint port town. From original mosaics of Hippocrates, who taught here, to statues of Asklepieion, Artemis and Hygeia found north of Decumanus Maximus, a trip to the Archaeological Museum provides a good foundation before setting off to explore the surrounding sites.

Municipal Market

It was divided into three building zones according to class criteria: the north, central and south. The north section was broken up into small houses, for the town’s working classes (case popolari), the central section consisted mainly of two-storey houses with shops at street level intended for the town’s urban, middle class (palazzine). Finally, the east section contained the gardened mansions of the Italian settlers (villini). These zones can still be discerned today if you walk inland from the seaside road to Psaldi. On the seafront you can see the villas, inland the urban palazzine and on the far side of Artemisia you can see the low cost urban housing which are unified by arched entrances and a layout around courtyards which reinforces the neighbourhood and hides the high density nature of the housing. In their simplicity they remind us that the “White House” beloved of Modernist Architects was inspired by the simple vernacular architecture of the white houses of Greece.

Phoinikon (Palm Trees) Avenue

Characteristic elements of Kos’ Italian architecture are the extensive areas of greenery around the town, which also included tropical plants, and the public buildings, designed by Italian architects, and constructed both in Kos town and the settlements of Antimachia and Kardamena. The buildings constructed before the earthquake (Town Hall, the “Hippocrates” General Hospital/Ospedale Ippocrateo, Government House, and others), differ from those constructed after the earthquake (Casa del Fascio, Municipal Market, Casa Balilla, and others), regarding their style, as the first are exquisite examples of eclecticism while the latter contain elements of rationalism and fascist architecture.