Monday, September 12, 2011

Kalithea Thermi

Greek Trip, Day 16, Sunday 3 October 2010, Rhodes

Continuing the story from Rhodes and the sad failure of the Dodecanese campaign, our hire car was P1010860 delivered to the hotel. All we had to do was to find our way out of the old town and then to the main road down the East Coast. Sounds simple? Well, consider this photo.

We bumped around on the narrow streets for a while and then, with a bit of help, found our way out. Lost again, we drove around in the new town for a little until we got our bearings.

Finally, we got onto the main road and headed south. First stop, Kalithea Thermi.

Our hosts at the hotel had told us a little bit about this place and recommended that we visit.

Attracted by the sea and the then hot springs, the Italians built a spa there for the particular use of King Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini.

I had to refresh my memory of King Victor Emmanuel III for he is quite overshadowed in my mind by Mussolini. Born on 11 November 1869, he ascended to the Italian throne on  29 July 1900 following the assassination of his father King Umberto. He was then thirty, not all that much older than the country itself; Italy had only come into existence in 1861.  

220px-Victor_Emmanuel_III This illustration from 1902 presents Victor Emmanuel as a small peacock. Peacock he may have been, small he certainly was, a little over five feet.  He inherited a country that was still poorly developed. At the time the Kingdom was established the great bulk of the population was illiterate lacking a common language. What we now know as Italian was really spoken only in Tuscany.

Victor Emmanuel's Italy was a constitutional monarchy, although the King retained residual powers including the right to appoint the Prime Minister. Politics was unstable. Between 1900 and 1922 the King was forced to intervene ten times to resolve parliamentary crises, something that he found personally difficult because he was apparently shy and somewhat withdrawn and hated the day to day stresses of politics.

As in many new states, there was a strongly nationalist thread to politics covering three main threads: a desire to extend the country's boundaries to include all Italians; a desire the build Italy into a modern industrial state; and a desire to re-create an Italian Empire. As with Greece and the Byzantine Empire, the ideal of the Roman Empire exercised a powerful allure.

Benito Mussolini was one of the nationalist figures. Initially a member of the Socialist Party, he came to the view that socialism had failed. Placing weight upon nationalism, he built a new political movement, the Fascists.

Fascist violence had been growing in intensity throughout the summer and autumn of 1922, climaxing with the rumours of a possible coup. In October 1922, Mussolini led a force of his Fascist supporters on a March on Rome. Prime Minister Luigi Facta and his cabinet drafted a decree of martial law.

After some hesitation the King refused to sign it, citing doubts about the ability of the Army to contain the uprising. The King had really lost his nerve. The monarchy was generally popular and the Army loyal, but I think the King was simply unwilling to risk civil war. Instead, he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister. Mussolini then used this position to cement his power.P1110391

    Kalithea Thermi was opened in July 1929, just under seven years after Mussolini became PM. It was, I think, one of a number of building projects intended to put an Italian stamp on the Dodecanese.

I had no idea what to expect as we came up to the gates, and indeed it took me a little while to work out the layout. It's not until you get right inside that and walk around that you start to get a feel.

The complex is located on a small peninsular, with small bays/beaches on each side. It's a pretty location, although like many parts of the Greek Islands the surrounds are rocky and treeless.

The main building is built in a series of concentric circles and is designed to be light and airy to counterbalance the summer heat.

Even though many of the Mussolini period constructions were monumental imperial, the complex displays a lighter Italian design touch. You can take the Italian out of Italy, but not the Italian out of design!

In a way, the fate of Kalithea Thermi mirrored that of King Victor Emmanuel. In supping with the devil, the King doomed his own mP1110406onarchy. As Italian ambitions expanded, the King became Emperor of Abyssinia (1936) and then King of the Albanians (1939). The King retained his own popularity long after that of Mussolini had fallen. You can actually see this in the somewhat ironic popular ditty quoted in Wikipedia:

"When our Vittorio was plain King,
Coffee was a common thing.
When an Emperor he was made,
Coffee to a smell did fade.
Since he got Albania's throne,
Coffee's very smell has flown.
And if we have another victory
We're also going to lose our chicory.

On 24 July 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini. Then, on 8 September 1943, he announced an armistice with the Allies without first notifying the armed forces. Confusion reigned, allowing  the Germans, who had been expecting this move for some time to quickly disarm and intern many Italian forces.

New military forces loyal to the King and Government were formed who fought on the allied side. To try to preserve the monarchy, the King first transferred increasing power to his son, and then, on  9 May 1946, abdicated. P1010921

It was too late. Less than a month later, Italy voted to establish a republic. However, the country split down the middle. A clear majority in the north voted no, in the south yes.

Kalithea Thermi was damaged in the fighting during the last stages of the war. Even so, enough remained to make it a popular movie site. However, the Greek Government with limited funds and its own problems had little interest in maintaining or restoring a site of Italian power.

Deterioration was progressive and cumulative. Finally, the site became a ruin.

As with so many things connected with Greek history, it was the EU that funded the restoration of Kalithea Thermi. Today, you can once again see Kalithea Thermi as it was when the Italians strutted the Dodecanese stage.

Not, mind you, that you will get a full picture.  A bit like current Australian history, the past has to fit present perceptions. In some ways, the Italian period is brushed out in current descriptions.

Next stop, south to another part of Greek history and culture.          



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