“In Greece one is ever filled with the sense of eternality which is expressed in the here and now; the moment one returns to the Western world, whether in Europe or America, this feeling of body, of eternality, of incarnated spirit is shattered” – Henry Miller
After all the walking from site to site there was time now for a break over a leisurely light lunch before a final bit of sightseeing which was something that I had completely overlooked thirty years ago – the Italian influence.
Italy had control over these islands between 1912 and 1943 and, unusually for invaders, they seem to have acknowledged that with occupation comes responsibility and they left a quite wonderful architectural legacy which they were able to achieve exclusively here in Kos because of the blank canvas that was presented to them in the reconstruction of the town after its complete destruction in the 1933 earthquake.
A feature of the fascist period in Italian history (as elsewhere) was the desire to establish an architectural identity and early twentieth century modernist style of architecture was one way to help build this vision. When Mussolini called for a fascist style of construction, architects used this challenge to imitate that of imperial Rome and to instigate a regeneration of historical pride. Fascist architecture was one of many ways for Mussolini to invigorate a cultural rebirth in Italy and to mark a new era of Italian culture.
Italian Fascists also considered themselves to be the heirs of the Hellenistic period and they extended their plans to Kos and the Dodecanese.
Close to the old town there was an exhibition centre of ‘Modern History and Italian Architecture’ and here there was an exhibition called ‘The creation of the new town of Kos 1912-1939’, which had copies of original architects drawings and an interesting narrative about the buildings.
After the earthquake the new town was designed on a socio-economic basis with the civic buildings and the mansions of the wealthy in the west and the industrial areas and the homes of the workers in the east. It was also designed around the now exposed archaeological sites and included extensive parks and gardens. Kos town is what it is today because of the Italians and their architects and although it is normal to malign the Fascist interlude in European history we have to concede that we have them to thank them for this.
With this knowledge we were able to more fully appreciate the importance of these civic and religious buildings as we made our way back to the hotel. The route back to the harbour took us past the Church of St Nicholas with its soaring arches and the Museum built in the same style, the Town Hall and the Municipal Market, schools, gymnasiums, the Italian officers club and the theatre. At the harbour are perhaps the two finest buildings, Government House, dazzling white with symmetrical designs and standing opposite with its back to the sea, the complimentary Hotel Jasmine, once no doubt the finest hotel in the town but now home of the Tourist Information Office and in need of some loving care and attention.
Full to overflowing with architecture, culture and new knowledge we returned to the hotel in the mid afternoon and spent the rest of the day in traditional holiday activities, reading, swimming and enjoying a glass of cold Mythos and as the afternoon turned into evening I sat in reflective mood on the balcony.
After three days, in a Henry Miller sort of way, I had shaken off my Anglo-Saxon persona and felt part of Greece again, I felt liberated by the informality of the Aegean, invigorated by the passion of the local people, inspired by the books that I was reading and comforted by the hospitality of the Greeks. But I knew that it could only be temporary; I used to think I could be something other than what I am, that somehow I could live in Greece and become Greek, or in France and become French but I know now that it is not possible because whilst you can take the Englishman out of England you can’t take England out of the Englishman and right now I am happy with that because the it is the last thing that I would want and I rather like being a temporary visitor.
At six o’clock the Costa Atlantica left the port with half a dozen ignorant blasts of its ship’s horn and I for one was pleased to see it go because it meant that the town would be quieter again tonight when we walked in later for our evening meal because our plan was to return to the same taverna as the previous evening.