When we arrive at Eleousa and get out of the vehicle, the first thing we feel is the fresh mountain air. Eleousa is situated in the most verdant part of Rhodes island – at the foot of Mt Profitis Ilias. And then, we see a beautiful square surrounded by a few crumbling ruins of imposing buildings witnessing the former presence of Italian dictatorship exhibiting their ideology and rule over the nation.
For us, Eleousa is always a short stopover between our Sunday church visit and the family lunch in a village tavern. Springtime, when fresh herbs and blooming bushes cover the terrain, islanders come here for long hikes or bike rides. In fall, Eleousa is an enticing location to play with those colorful, crunchy autumn leaves as there are many plane trees surrounding the area. Eleousa is at the beginning of a very scenic mountain route that leads to Rhodes’ countryside. Let your Rhodes nature discovery begin with Eleousa, and, if lucky, one can even see dama-dama deer crossing forest routes.
Eleousa is a rather recent settlement. The village was established in 1935 as a base for lumberjacks & sawyers who emigrated from the Fiemme Valley in North Italy. The original name of the village was CAMPOCHIARO. It was one of the four rural villages built during Italian dictatorship in attempts to control all the agricultural production of the island and promote the political regime.
Already from the very beginning, the island’s Italian rulers understood the great potential of the land and the forest. The ambition of the governor Mario Lago was to create a successful showcase for the Italian colonial Empire. The governor undertook a series of massive public works creating new roads connecting villages and the capital city, monumental buildings in accordance with fascist architecture style, water supply constructions to name a few. By the time the Campochiaro was built, Rhodes island was already being promoted as a fascinating tourism destination for officials and wealthy travelers from Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Middle-East. A short documentary below will introduce you to Rhodes as it was promoted by Italians (YouTube source: Rhodes, the pearl of Mediterranean before WW2).
In order to manage the forest, Italians needed men with experience. In 1934 the governor Mario Lago invited 30 families from North Italy to administer and manage approx. 55 thousand hectares of a mature forest promising them a good salary with benefits, a village with a church and a school, a house for each family with a plot of land. For skillful workers, it was a great opportunity as at that time there was a huge scarcity of work and misery in Trentino province. The newly created village was almost 300 m (984.25 ft) above the sea level, giving them alpine feeling, and about an hour’s drive from the capital city.
Campochiaro was built in a very strategic location. New roads were created to facilitate the connection between other rural villages and to transport goods, and later military equipment. The two main highways connecting Rhodes with Mt Prophet Ilias and Lindos were paved with asphalt. Campochiaro was on the way to the two posh hotels built in the forest of Prophet Ilias – “Elafos” and “Elafina” and a villa where many officials, including the governor of the island, Mario Lago and later Cesare Maria de Vecchi, spent the hot summer days. The forest was cleaned and well-maintained so the officials could go hunting during their free time. Probably this explains why Campochiaro had so impressive constructions like the catholic church, the school, the market, and the services building – to impress the visitors and to remind them of their homeland.
But just like everything else, it was a part of the fascist propaganda. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it did not last long.
In 1936 a new governor, the right hand of Mussolini, Cesare Maria de Vecchi took over the island and imposed strict rules and regulations. The island was heavily militarized and many villages served as military bases. During WWII, Campochiaro became an important military base with some 20,000 Italian soldiers. In the newly built village, all services buildings were adjusted to the army’s needs. One of the buildings was used as a military prison. Italians had to face the local Greek rebels trying to regain their sovereignty, the Allied forces fighting to capture the Dodecanese islands, and finally the German army. On 11th September 1943, Italians surrendered to Germans. It was one of the last major German victories in the war. The foresters and their families, not receiving any support from the Italian government, were forced to leave Rhodes. The last Italian family left in 1947 when Rhodes rejoined with motherland Greece. Extensive research by Renzo Maria Grosselli, a journalist, sociologist and historian, was published in 2013 documenting the life of Italian families from Trentino: “Gli uomini del legno sull’isola delle rose: La vicenda storica del villaggio italiano di Campochiaro a Rodi 1935-1947“.
After the Dodecanese islands united with Greece, Campochiaro was named after Aghia Eleousa, meaning “Our Lady of Tenderness”. The church was converted to Greek Orthodox and was dedicated to St. Charalambos.
The abandoned buildings turned out to be a perfect spot to house patients with tuberculosis. The Sanatorium of Saint Eleousa represents an important part of the history of respiratory medicine in the Dodecanese.
The Sanatorium named “Queen Frederica” initially had a capacity of 80 patients and 54 staff members. The central personality in the history of the sanatorium was the respiratory physician Emmanuel G. Kostaridis, who was the scientific director of the institute, and the administrative director for more than 15 years.
The Sanatorium was one of the first of the therapeutic institutions in Greece where isoniazid, the “new” drug for that time, was used. The Sanatorium operated 23 years and hospitalized 1,581 patients in total from various regions of Greece. Unfortunately, the long distance from the town, the lack of basic laboratory support, bureaucratic obstacles, and retirement of its director, led to the closure of the Sanatorium in August 1970.
Since then, nothing has been done to utilize or to preserve the impressive premises, and we can only hope that one day the ghost-city will turn into a beautiful green location for all of us to treasure. Sources: Rodiaki & HTS.
Further down the road, following signs for Profitis Ilias, you come across an enormous Italian built reservoir with a fountain – a beautiful & refreshing oasis in the middle of the mountains.
The cistern was built as a part of an irrigation system to supply the village and its fields with fresh water that comes from the Koskinisti spring. Due to many plane trees surrounding the fountain, the water seems emerald green!
Amongst gold fish, you will also notice a small fish Gizani («Ladigesocypris ghigii-Pisces Cyprinidae») – the only freshwater fish that is endemic to Rhodes and lives in the springs and the streams of Rhodes. Although Gizani is referred to “Lilliputian champion of survival”, it is listed in Annex II of the European Union Directive for Habitats Protection (92/43/EEC) as an endangered species of top priority, as well as in the Red Book of Endangered Species of Greece. It is also protected by Presidential Decree No 67/1981 of the Greek State. For more information on Gizani, check the LIFE-Nature Project.
To learn more about Italian woodworkers and how Greeks were helping and hiding them from Germans so they could survive, go to one of the local taverns and speak with their owners. They will have many stories from their families to tell. And of course, do not miss the tasty stuffed kolokythoanthi (zucchini flowers) with cheese, the pitaroudia (savvy pancakes made with pumpkin, tomato, and onion), or goat meat cooked in red sauce with beans!
If you have been to Eleousa, let us know in the comments below, how you liked it! If you find this information useful and interesting, make sure to share it! We will be very happy and appreciate it!
Discover Rhodes & Fall in Love ❤️
Distance from Rhodes Town: 36 km (22.37 mi)
At the foot of Mt Profitis Ilias
Nearby villages: Dimylia, Apollonas, Archipoli
Access: Only by Tour Coaches, Taxi, Private/rented cars & motorbikes