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Italian architecture in the Dodecanese

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The architectural heritage left by the Italian domination in the Dodecanese has only recently begun to be appreciated. Many structures had been allowed to deteriorate, if not abandoned, by Greeks who would rather forget the entire Italian legacy.

Although the buildings are often dubbed “Art Deco”, and some contain elements of that style, most are properly classed as Rationalist (or in the case of Léros, Stream Line Modern). They drew on various post-World War I architectural, artistic and political trends across Europe, particularly Novecento (a sort of Neoclassicism), the collectivist ideologies of the time, and the paintings of Giorgio di Chirico. The school’s purest expressions tended to have grid-arrays of windows (or walls entirely of glass); tall, narrow ground-level arcades; rounded-off bulwarks; and either a uniform brick surface or grooved/patterned concrete. As well as in Italy and Greece, examples can still be found as far afield as Moscow or London (underground stations and blocks of flats), Los Angeles (apartment buildings) and Ethiopia (cinemas).

Italy initially attempted to create a hybrid of Rationalist style and local vernacular elements in the Dodecanese, both real and semi-mythical, to evoke a supposed generic “Mediterranean-ness”. Every Italian-claimed island had at least one specimen in this “protectorate” style, usually the gendarme station, post office, covered market or governor’s mansion, but only on the most populous or strategic islands were plans drawn up for sweeping urban re-ordering.

The years from 1936 to 1941 saw an intensified Fascist imperial ideology, an increased reference to the heritage of the Romans and their purported successors the Knights, and the replacement of the “protectorate” style with that of the “conqueror”. This involved “purification”, the stripping of many public buildings in Rhodes (though not, curiously, in Kos) of their orientalist ornamentation, its replacement with a cladding of porous stone to match medieval buildings in the old town, plus a monumental severity – blending Neoclassicism and modernism – and rigid symmetry to match institutional buildings (especially Fascist Party headquarters) and public squares across Italy.

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