Aghia Eleousa Village can be found at the start of the remarkably picturesque mountain route leading to the countryside of Rhodes Island. The village marks the beginning of your nature discovery of the island, and if you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the dama dama deer crossing the forest routes.
Plane trees surround the small village right in the midst of one of the island’s most verdant areas that offer pure and fresh country air with the relaxing purling sounds of the running waters in the background.
Aghia Eleousa is a quite recent settlement that was only established in 1935. The village used as the base for the sawyers and lumberjacks that emigrated from North Italy’s Fiemme Valley. Campochiarro is the initial name of this village. This was among the four rural villages that were built during the dictatorship of Italy in their attempts to take over the island’s agricultural production and promote its political rule.
Right from the start, the Italian rulers of the island understood the remarkable potential of both the forest and the land. Governor Mario Lago’s ambition was to develop a thriving showcase for the Italian colonial Empire. Lago undertook several immense public works to develop new roads that connect the capital city and villages, monumental buildings of fascist architecture style, and constructions of water supply, just to mention a few.
During the establishment of Campochiarro, Rhodes Island was already being promoted as a wonderful tourism destination for affluent travelers and officials from Italy, Egypt, the Middle East, and Greece.
Italians needed experienced men for managing the forest. Lago invited 30 North Italian families in 1934 to manage and approximately 55,000 hectares of the mature forest. The families were promised a good salary and benefits, a house and a plot of land for every family, and a village with a school and a church.
This was a wonderful opportunity for skillful workers during a time of misery and scarcity of work in the province of Trentino. The newly formed village was around 300 meters above sea level that gave off an alpine feeling, just one hour’s drive away from the capital city.
With a very strategic location, Campochiarro also had many impressive constructions that aim to impress visitors and remind them of their own homeland.
However, all of these were only part of the fascist propaganda, and these didn’t last a long time. Strict regulations and rules were imposed when Mussolini’s right hand, Cesare Maria de Vecchi, became the new governor and took over the island in 1936. Extensive militarization occurred, with most villages used as military villages.
Campochiarro became a crucial military base during World War II with around 20,000 Italian soldiers. All the service buildings in the newly constructed village were adapted to the needs of the army, one of which served as a military prison.
The Italians dealt with the local Greek rebels attempting to reclaim their sovereignty, as well as the Allied forces that wanted to conquer the Dodecanese islands and the German army.
The Italians finally surrendered to the Germans on September 11, 1943, and this was among the German’’ last major war victories. The foresters together with their families didn’t receive support from the government of Italy and were forced to leave the island.
It was in 1947 when the last Italian family left when Rhodes joined hands once again with the motherland Greece.
After the Dodecanese islands joined forces with Greece, Campochiarro was named after Aghia Eleousa, which means “Our Lady of Tenderness.”
Don’t miss the chance to look for the dilapidated by still impressive Italian sanatorium as well as the Italian aqueduct right above the village. Imposing buildings also surround the square of the village, the biggest of which features the arches and small-curved balconies where the market used to be.
The prison used to be located right across it that is now used as a school. The sanatorium used to stand at the end of the Square and the church of Agios Charalámbos was located on the other end. It used to be a Catholic church but is currently an Orthodox one.
The sanatorium is situated next to the main church and the ex-italian army headquarter building. It was built in the early 20th century and served as a treatment center for tuberculosis patients. It was one of the first sanatoriums in Greece and played an important role in the treatment of tuberculosis in the country. However, with the development of new treatments, the sanatorium became obsolete and was eventually abandoned in 1970.
Today, the abandoned sanatorium is a popular destination for urban explorers and photographers. The building is in a state of disrepair, but its unique architecture and historical significance make it a fascinating site to explore.
Several hundred meters from Eleousa main square, you will find a huge round cistern that is filled by the waters coming from the nearby Koskinisti spring. This serves as the home to a notably extensive population of Gizani fish, the local type of extremely rare freshwater fish. It is all that remained of the already nonexistent population of Platy stream.
By keep driving the road west of the village you will meet the monastery of St. Nikolas Fountoukli. Built in the early 15th century, the monastery is a magnificent example of Byzantine architecture. The temple was constructed and decorated probably in the memory of the founder’s three children. A girl and two boys that depicts in the north wall. The interior is adorned with intricate frescoes and icons, creating a peaceful and serene atmosphere. The church is dedicated to St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop who took care of the poor and sick. There is not any entrance fee.
On the same route, following the road on the slopes of Profitis Ilias mountain you can also visit the historic hotels of Elafos and Elafina. The hotels are nestled among pine trees and offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Aegean Sea.
Elafos Hotel was built in 1929 and was originally used as a hunting lodge for the Italian occupying forces. Today, it has been fully renovated and offers comfortable accommodation for guests. Elafina Hotel, on the other hand, was built in 1932 and was originally used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. Both hotels offer a peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the island’s popular tourist areas, with opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and enjoying the beautiful natural scenery.
In the same area, visitors can also explore the Villa De Vecchi, also known as the “Mousolini ‘s villa”. A Gothic-style villa built in the same era as the hotels that now stands abandoned but still retains its eerie charm.
Aghia Eleousa Village is found approximately 40 kilometers from Rhodes City in the wooded area fin the Profitis Ilias Mountain’s foothills. The locality of Archipoli is closest to it in the east with Dimylia just a short distance away in the west.
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