Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Postcards From Rhodes - The Lost Village

Welcome back to the next instalment of our road trip around Rhodes! After exploring Mussolini's derelict mansion and enjoying the perfect peace of The Seven Springs it was time for lunch, Greek salads, pitta bread and Mythos in our third destination of the day, The Valley of the Butterflies.

This verdant canyon, an area of around 1km, is filled with ferns, plane trees, oak trees, pine trees and bay laurels. It is the only forest in Greece that includes oriental sweetgum trees (Liquidamar orientalis). A small river runs through the forest and in several places it forms waterfalls. Alongside the river a defined path follows its course. On the route, there are little bridges, steps, benches, all made of wood.

Here, from June through until September, the butterflies of the Panaxia quadripunctaria species gather, they have four orange dots on each wing. They are attracted by the scent of the juice secreted by the oriental sweetgum trees (which resemble plane trees). 

A few years ago the river waters had reduced due to extended periods of drought. The butterflies disappeared year after year and no one suspected the moisture deficiency. A study carried out by the Department of Environment of the University of the Aegean provided the solution with the use of a recycling system for the water in the ravine.

In his book, The Greek Islands (1978) Lawrence Durrell writes, The Valley of the Butterflies (the Petaloudes) is further west, under a little feature called Mount Psinthus, and may be too far to include in the usual one-day itinerary. But it is very strange and worth a visit. A series of narrow, shady ravines have been chosen as a dwelling by this small butterfly; there would be nothing remarkable about this, except that they exist in such large numbers that they flow in and out of the ground and amongst the trees like a soft cloud of dark-winged moths.

The butterflies sleep during the day and any disturbance of their sleep would result in unjustifiable loss of energy. So, leaving the path, smoking, whistling, clapping and shouting are forbidden making this area a wonderfully tranquil spot to visit. 

Driving back we passed through an extraordinary mountain village, seemingly abandoned. Obviously we needed to stop and investigate further. 

Clueless as to what it was, we wandered along the crumbling concrete piazza ascended the stairs and looked in amazement at the glorious patina of aged plaster adorning the walls.  

Directly across the square we entered what looked like a municipal building.

Inside, however, with its numerous bathrooms, steel doors wrenched from the walls and mouldering mattresses did it have a more sinister purpose?

Judging by the graffiti, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Thankfully someone had taped a sign with a QR code to one of the doors and the mystery behind our abandoned village was soon solved.

In 1925 the Italian colonial administration began a programme of reforestation on the Aegean islands, increasing timber production to facilitate numerous development projects in the region. The expropriation of land from Greeks on Rhodes then followed to allow construction of the necessary agrarian settlements. Campochiaro (today known as Eleousa) was uniquely a forest settlement as opposed to a rural one and one of four agrarian settlements built on Rhodes between 1923-1943. The settlements represent a rare typology of new town that the Italian state were pioneering in the countryside dedicated to agricultural production. Referred to as a ‘centro rurale’, similar settlements can be found in other Italian colonies such as Libya, with municipal buildings created in an international, rationalist style.

Commissioned in 1935 and completed in 1936 by architects Bernabiti and Petracco, Eleousa’s original inhabitants were mostly Italian woodworkers and their families from the regions of Trentino and Alto Adige. Designed as a logistical hub, settlers’ dwellings were spread separately outside of the piazza in the surrounding countryside. Campochiaro briefly fulfilled its purpose as a Fascist settlement from 1937 until the arrival of Nazi forces in 1943, serving as a headquarters until 1945. After unification with Greece in 1947, Campochiaro’s buildings were re-purposed as a sanatorium treating tuberculosis until 1970. In subsequent years part of the complex was used as a school, and thereafter a Greek army barracks until 2000. The original buildings have undergone several alterations over the years, now standing largely abandoned.

Our final stop before returning Dimitri to the hire shop was Stegna's nearest neighbour, the town of Archangelos. With a population of just over five thousand, Archangelos is the fifth largest town on the island and named in honour of the Archangel Michael, the town's patron saint.

Numerous small settlements existed in the broader area of Archangelos during the Hellenistic era. After the 7th century AD the settlements near the coast were abandoned due to the frequent invasions of pirates and their inhabitants settled inland, over time these settlements were merged into one forming the town of Archangelos.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Knights Hospitaller who were occupying the island of Rhodes since 1309, built a fortress on top of one of the town's nearby hills to protect from a possible Ottoman invasion on the island. Ruins of this, the castle of Saint John, remain today.

Major economic resources include tourism, agriculture (mainly olive oil and citrus fruits), stockbreeding and pottery. Pottery was always one of the major occupations of the people of Archangelos. It is said that the dome of Hagia Sophia was built using light bricks from the town.

It was a steep walk up to the Castle of St John but as Lord Jon's ancestor, The Blessed Adrian Fortescue, was a member of the order of the Knights Hospitaller, it would have been rude not to have paid a visit and once up there, the views were breathtaking.

By now it was beer o'clock and after dropping off Dimitri we stopped off at Gorgon Taverna for a well-deserved megáli býra (big beer).

The fifth and final installment coming soon. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 2 October 2022

Postcards From Rhodes - Mussolini's Mansion

Kalimera! Ready for more of our Greek adventures?

The mountain village of Profitas Ilias is a 28km drive from Stegna and the location of the infamous Villa De Vechi, also known as Mussolini's Mansion. Built by Count Cesare de Vecchi, an adviser to Benito Mussolini from 1936 until 1947, El Duce never actually spent summers here, as was the original intention, but Vecchi himself lived in the Italianate mansion when he was governor of the Dodecanese until 1947 when the islands were ceded to Greece and the house abandoned.

Some say that the building was deliberately allowed to fall into disrepair as a permanent reminder of the Count’s cruelty to the local people and of Italy’s failure to “Italianise” the Dodecanese. The Villa De Vechi isn't signposted but for those who can find it, its free to explore  but, be warned, do watch your step if you decide to pay a visit, it really is in a bad way.

A few months ago, we'd seen photos of Mussolini's Mansion posted on a derelict spaces site and, as you well know, neither of us resist a dilapidated building or exploring unusual places away from the well-trodden tourist trail. 

Daubed with almost a century of graffiti and with littered with the detritus of squatters, Mussolini's Mansion has a haunting beauty that stayed with us for the rest of the day.

The mansion even has it's own chapel.

You can see why they chose this location, you can see the island of Symi and the coast of Turkey from the French windows.

In the shadow of Mussolini's Mansion stands a former lodge, built by the Italians in 1929 to accommodate their army officers. It was named Albergo del Cervo (Deer’s Hotel) after the rare and strictly protected deer species of Dama Dama which inhabits the forest surrounding the hotel. During WW2, when the island fell to the Nazis, it was used as a military hospital and, after decades of dereliction, was eventually restored and is now a posh hotel.

Lying twenty kilometres from the village of Ilia Profitas you'll find Epta Piges (the Seven Springs), a more positive legacy from the Italian occupation. In 1931, these naturally occurring springs were channeled into an 186 metre long tunnel leading to a man-made lake which served as a reservoir for the neighbouring town of Kolumbia and continues to provide fresh water for the residents today.

Tranquil and shady, admission is free and is a delightful place to escape for an hour or two. You can drink the water (and top up your recyclable bottles) and the wild peacocks are more than happy to amble alongside although, try as we might, we only managed to find two of the seven springs. 

Visitors are welcome to wade through the tunnel but Jon didn't fancy it and I didn't want to ruin my leather sandals!

And we were still only halfway through our day!

Stay tuned to see where we visited next....