English Travel Villages of Rhodes

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Rhodes: The Tale of Eleousa and Campochiaro

From the Italian Foothills to the Forest of the Aegean: A Story of Culture, Pain, and Tranquility

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Rhodes: The Tale of Eleousa and Campochiaro

Built in 1935 as home to immigrant Italian farm workers, peaceful Eleousa sits in the Mount Profitis Ilias foothills, surrounded by pine forest. Noted for family-friendly tavernas that are popular weekend destinations, its central square is also home to a former sanatorium and the Italianate-style Agios Charalambos Church. The rural, Byzantine-era Agios Nikolaos Fountoukli Church nearby has faded frescoes

Born in the mist of Benito Mussolini’s fascist delirium 85 years ago, the village of Campochiaro in the mountains of northern Rhodes has been a tranquil forest settlement for lumberjacks from Italy’s Fiemme valley, a place of pain and suffering for tuberculosis patients of post-war Greece and, finally, today, a land of ghosts.

It all started when the bigotry of «Il Duce» nested in this remote island and in the dense forest of Mount Profitis Elias, where he envisaged to build a village in the pattern of the forest villages of the Italian Alps. Rhodes, along with all the islands of the Dodecanese (a complex of about 150 islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea) had passed in 1912 from the Ottomans to the Italians, as a result of the Italo-Turkish war.

In the dictator's mind, Rhodes would play a key role in spreading Italian culture throughout the region from the Aegean to the far reaches of Jordan. Thus, he began the Italianization of the island, with a series of major projects in the island’s capital, and among others with the construction of villages such as Campochiaro (bright village, in Italian). The island, despite its Greek-speaking inhabitants, was rapidly transforming into an Italian colony.


The village was designed by architects Amedeo Bernabiti and Rodolfo Petracco and was founded in 1935, between the Psinthos and Fountoukli peaks and 270 meters above sea level. The land belonged to the Monastery of Koskinistis, and the negotiations for its expropriation were so complicated that it took the mediation of the island’s Italian Governor Mario Lago to the Bishop of Rhodes.

"The village was designed to be self-sufficient. It was equipped with all the necessary infrastructure for the daily life of the 1930s: a church, a school, municipal offices, a police station, a clinic, shops and buildings for agricultural and industrial activities", explained Irini Toliou, Head of the General Archives of the Greek State for Prefecture of Dodecanese.

Campochiaro was indeed a miniature of the forest villages of the Italian Alps. Impressive buildings in the architectural form of rationalism, with the fascist regime's favorite cement painted in bright colors, surrounded the rectangular square of the village. Peripherally, walls, stairs and amphitheater seats were built, as was the water supply reservoir at the edge of the village.

The Italian government sent to Campochiaro loggers from the Fiemme Valley to exploit the timber and develop tourism - thus attracting their wealthy compatriots to the luxurious mansions of Profitis Elias.

"The peculiarity of Campochiaro was that it was not a rural village, but a forest village. By the second half of the 1920s, the colonial government of the Aegean islands had developed an extensive reforestation program for Rhodes. With this they wanted to promote the protection of the soil, (which, due to the lack of interest of the former Ottoman administration, was now showing hydrogeological instability), and to increase the production of wood. The timber was essential for the huge public housing program planned [by the Italians] for the city of Rhodes.

"For this reason, the local government requested specialized lumberjacks from Italy and, at the suggestion of Mussolini, entire families from Trentino-Alto Adige were invited to move to the Dodecanese islands. These loggers, in addition to introducing more rational forest exploitation systems, were also excellent craftsmen. Their ability is proven to this day, in the admirable wooden works in houses and public buildings of Rhodes", continued Irini Toliou.

Thus, in November 1936, Campochiaro was home to 180 people, divided into 30 families, and housed in 50 houses, each rented at a symbolic price of 20 lire per month. For years to come, these families would experience a simulation of paradise on earth.


However, although Rhodes never belonged to the Greek state before 1946, for the Greeks who largely lived on the island the creation of Italian villages such as Campochiaro and the corresponding change in the ethnological composition of the population was only one of the pressures they were experiencing by the colonization of the Italians.

Another one was the Italianization of the Greeks through the language; the replacement of Greek education by the Italian. Under the leadership of the Quadrumviro of fascism, the new Governor of Rhodes Cesare Maria De Vecchi, now the study of the Greek language became an optional lesson, and only for the first grades of primary school. In the same time, speaking Greek in schools was banned, Greek teachers were replaced by Italians, and all Greek publications were abolished.

Remembering the famous secret school of the Greeks during the years of Ottoman rule, now the Orthodox Bishop of the island, Apostolos, started to organize secret schools for teaching the Greek language in hidden places (such as churches and remote houses), covering it all up as religious catechism.

However, for the Italians in Campochiaro, life went on carefree in a paradise on earth. And it should not have changed much for them when World War II broke out, although many Greeks of the island traveled to the Greek borders with Albania to repel the invasion of fascist Italy in October 1940. In fact the first dead Greek officer of WW2 was from the Dodecanese.

Although the Italian invasion was repulsed by the Greeks, the Germans invaded the country in April 1941 and soon ceded most of Greece, including the islands, to their allied Italian occupation forces. Thus, the German soldiers of the Sturmdivision Rhodos paraded without any problems in the central square of Campochiaro, in front of the then Italian Commander of the Dodecanese, Admiral Inigo Campioni.

Rhodes, now under total control of the Axis, became the stronghold of the latter for the invasion of Crete in the spring of 1941. After the surrender of the Italians in September 1943, following the 2,5 years of their occupation of Rhodes, Germany took control of the island. Losing WW2, the Nazi forces left Rhodes in 8 May 1945, surrendering it to the British - which, in turn, conveyed the Dodecanese to Greece in 1947.


The very little that was left standing in rural Greece from the onslaught of fascism during World War II was soon completely demolished by the Greek Civil War, which essentially began even before the German withdrawal and was formally held in 1946-49.

The country was a vast area of impoverished people on the verge of hunger, of refugees from Asia Minor who were destroyed by the Dictatorship of 1936 and the war as soon as they started standing on their feet, of crippled soldiers from the Albanian borders, of uprooted and persecuted communists in a society wildly split by the Germans and the British, of betrayed and now hunted National Resistance partisans, of weak and skinny figures desperately seeking a small income.

The lack of quality food and medical care created the ideal conditions for tuberculosis to flourish, as was the case even in less devastated by the war northern European countries. And, also as everywhere in Europe, the patients of the white plague in Greece were isolated in remote and deserted places. Their disease was contagious, but it wasn’t just that; they were treated as social waste, too.

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