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Koundouriotou Square, the Rhodes Administration Building and the Cathedral
Koundouriotou Square is a rich assemblage of some of the most interesting architecture of the Italian period. On the landward (west) side, the low wall of the cemetery (punctuated by a fine, carved Ottoman fountain, 10m to the north of the cemetery entrance) joins two early buildings by Florestano di Fausto: the Naval Administration Building (1925) to the south, with ornate window and door frames imitating those of the architecture of the Knights, and a unique, interwoven basket-work design in the plaster on the lower areas; and to the north, the Rhodes Garrison Building (1926), whose fine monumental doorway dominating the façade is directly in spired by elements of the Doge’s palace in Venice. Opposite (north side of the square) is the large pantheon-like dome of the ‘Elli’ building (1935: now a cafe and formerly ‘La Ronda Sea Baths’ complex) whose bolder, undecorated surfaces and purer geometric forms are typical of the work of Armando Bernabiti. The magnificent domed interior space is enlarged by an open surrounding ambulatory offering unencumbered glimpses of the open sea. Towards the shore (east side) is Rodolfo Petracco’s Lido building of 1929 (formerly the Navy Club) with an extravagantly oriental silhouette, and an entrance decorated with relief mouldings of marine creatures and an anchor.
Closing off the square to the south is the most ornate of the four different façades of the ‘Rhodes Administration Building’ (the Nomarchia, or Prefecture today) dating from 1926/7 by Florestano di Fausto. Although designed to be the centrepiece of the original Foro Italico, this is a highly idiosyncratic building, exhibiting many peculiarities of design and with something of an unresolved crisis of architectural identity. The arcade and its supporting columns are almost exaggeratedly ‘submerged’ here: the arches are of pointed, Gothic form at the north end and become almost immediately rounded and ‘Rationalist’ along the eastern front. The depth of the building is also precariously narrow in relation to its length. The short north façade is in a highly ornate, Venetian Gothic style, with extensive use of stone tracery; the long west façade is in severe Hospitaller idiom; and the east, port-side façade is a Rationalist meditation on the waterside front of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, whose brick-work patterns are deliberately mimicked here. The resulting amalgam is not unsuccessful, but comes at considerable cost to stylistic coherence. The character of all these buildings is in total contrast to the severe ‘Teatro Puccini’ of a decade later, which can be glimpsed just beyond to the southwest.
At its southern end, the ‘Rhodes Administration Building’ is linked by means of an open Flag Court to the Offices of the Metropolitan of Rhodes , which in turn is contiguous with the city’s cathedral. The court is a wide arched space, framing open views of the harbour and enclosing a ceremonial flag-pole mounted inside a well-preserved 2nd century ad, Roman altar in white marble decorated with bucrania and garlands: the borders of the broad spans of its arches are richly decorated with carved motifs in Hospitaller style. Di Fausto’s two ecclesiastical buildings, projected in 1924 and completed in 1929—the former Archbishop’s Residence (Offices of the Metropolitan) and the Cathedral of St John (now the Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation)—strike a rather dour note by comparison. The cathedral (which is curiously oriented on a north south axis) was created as a faithful recreation of the Hospitaller church of St John which once stood across from the Castle of the Grand Master and was destroyed in 1856; its exterior was originally spare and its interior undecorated, as befitted a military church. Once it became an Orthodox place of worship af ter 1947, a complete cycle of wall-paintings, in traditional Orthodox iconography, was commissioned for the inte rior. The painter, Photis Kontoglou (1895–1965) from Aivali in Greek Asia Minor, had always possessed artistic sympathies close to Byzantine subjects (see also his other works in the Museum of Modern Greek Art). The cycle includes the scenes of the Life of Christ, and of the Life of Mary according to the 24 verses of the Acathist Hymn.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.