The Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese

Down by the commercial harbour on the Psaldi side the Italians laid out a seaside promenade. Walking back towards the Castle of Nerazia from the seafront stadium you come first on your right to a seaside restaurant and then Albergo Gelsomino, a guest house for Italian dignitaries. Opposite is the former Catholic Church, now the Orthodox cathedral, with the playful “dices” on its modernist façade and a connected colonnaded administration building. To the left of the Cathedral the handsome villa which was the Bishop’s residence is being remodelled with considerable insensitivity by a rich local businessman who didn’t consider the original sufficiently vulgar for his purposes.

Continuing by the sea there is a handsome two story range of restaurants with terraces in front of the Bourg, the former walled Crusader Town and to the left of the entrance gateway you can see the only remaining crusader house. At the end of this terrace you come to the landmark Italian building in Kos which visitors arriving by ferry immediately pick out the handsome Law Courts and Police Headquarters building reminiscent of the modernist Moorish style used in Eritrea and Libya. In the centre of the building is a cool courtyard overlooked by balconies which naturally cool the building using the airflow off the sea. This building was very much a symbol of Fascist authority with the inscription at the rear of the building overlooking the Plane Tree of Hippocrates proclaiming the dominance of the law in Latin and the ceremonial steps on the corner opposite the Fortress of Nerazia the pebble stone mosaic incorporates the arms of the House of Savoy, Kings of Italy.

Continuing around by the side of Nerazia the Italians filled the sea moat which separated the fortress from the Bourg and planted Phoinikon (Palm Trees) Avenue which handsomely connects the commercial harbour to the Mandraki, the ancient harbour of Kos. Here you can see first the Municipal Buildings and at the Dolphin Fountain the Harbour Master’s building.

The Synagogue

Two modernist buildings in Kos are imbued with particular pathos. Immediately after the destruction of the old synagogue in the earthquake of 1933 a handsome new one in the modernist style was built very close to the port. It exists up to this day and is located on 4, Alexandrou Diakou Street. The synagogue served the religious needs of the 140 members of the Jewish Community. When Italy surrendered in 1943, the islands of the Dodecanese were occupied by the Germans. The members of the Jewish Community of Kos were arrested and their properties were seized. On July 22, 1944, the Jews from Kos and Rhodes were crowded on three cargo ships which went to the port of Piraeus. Once there, they were forced onto cattle trains and were deported to Auschwitz. During the Holocaust, all members of the Jewish Community of Kos perished. Only one person survived the Holocaust and returned to the island. Today this is their memorial. The Jewish synagogue has a plaque outside In memory of the Jewish Community of Kos – 16th century to 1944. The Synagogue is easily recognized due to the Star of David on the gates and it is now used as a Municipal Cultural Center. There is a monument inside the door listing the names of the 140 Jews from Kos whose lives were destroyed in this pointless act of evil by the racist Nazi State in the dying days of WWII.

The large Catholic Church opposite the Municipal Buildings is now the Orthodox Cathedral and the small catholic community instead uses the elegant circular church near the Casa Romana. This was originally the funerary church of the catholic cemetery and the Orthodox cemetery is behind it. Here you can see the gravestones of the Italians executed on 4th October 1943 including several to Fante Ignoto (Unknown Soldier). When the island of Kos in the fell to the German forces, a total of 1,388 British and 3,145 Italian troops were taken prisoner. Italy had signed an armistice on September 8 and the Italian troops were now fighting on the British side. On September 11, Hitler gave the order to execute all Italian officers who were captured. The officer in charge of the Italian troops was Colonel Felice Leggio. He, and 101 of his officers, were marched to a salt pan just east of the town of Kos and there, shot in groups of ten. They were buried in mass graves. When Kos was returned to Greece after the war, the bodies were dug up and transported back to Italy for burial in the Military Cemetery at Bari. In this peaceful spot in front of the circular funerary church there is a monument to the victims of this massacre. It is worth noting that nobody was ever punished for this war crime or for the deportation and killing in the death camp of Auschwitz- Birkenau of the ancient Jewish community.