By Nick Squires and Josephine McKenna 16 August 2014
Villa De Vecchi was built for Fascist dictator but he was killed before setting foot in it; now Greece is offering a 50-year lease on the dilapidated building to help pay off its debts
Graffiti is seen on the wall of a room inside the Villa de Vecchi Photo: Bloomberg
A once-magnificent villa built for Benito Mussolini on the Mediterranean island of Rhodes is to be leased by the Greek government as part of the country’s plan to rake in the billions of pounds needed to pay off its international debts.
The timber and stone Villa De Vecchi was built in 1936 by Count Cesare De Vecchi, a staunch Mussolini loyalist who was appointed governor of the Dodecanese islands, which had been seized by Italy from the Ottoman Turks in 1912.
Despite the islands forming part of Mussolini’s plan to carve out a new Roman empire - he envisioned using Rhodes as a naval base from which he could project Italian power into the Near East - the Fascist dictator never set foot in the villa.
Benito Mussolini (Rex)
Nor did he live to see out his planned retirement on the idyllic island, which was owned by the Knights of Malta during the Middle Ages.
Greek start-ups rise from the ruins 29 Jun 2014
Instead, after being caught trying to flee from northern Italy to Switzerland at the end of the war, he was shot by partisans and his body, along with that of his mistress, was strung up from a petrol station in an act of public retribution.
The villa was abandoned after the Dodecanese were ceded to Greece in 1947.
Now the government’s Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund is offering a 50-year lease on the rundown two-storey villa to help pay off Greece’s monumental debts.
These days the Italianate-style villa, which sits high above the town of Rhodes and has panoramic views of the Aegean Sea, has fallen into disrepair and shows few signs of its former glory.
Villa De Vecchi (Bloomberg)
Paint is peeling from the building’s walls, which are covered in graffiti and streaked with green algae.
The villa is one of 14 former hotels and hospitals that are being offered for conversion into boutique accommodation.
“Villa De Vecchi is a historic, two-storey building which was built by the Italian occupation authorities,” the development fund said. “It is of unique architectural value and is located in an an area of unique natural beauty, which constitutes a popular tourism destination throughout the year.”
De Vecchi’s high-handed rule over the Dodecanese made him deeply unpopular with Greeks, who were forced to learn Italian and subjected to many other humiliations.
“When the claxon sounded announcing the arrival of his enormous limousine, all other vehicles had to stop and, under threat of imprisonment, citizens were required to get out and stand to attention, making the Fascist salute as he passed,” wrote Denis Mack Smith, a historian of the Fascist regime in his book “Mussolini’s Roman Empire”.
“De Vecchi employed the Fascist methods of bludgeon and castor oil to such effect that even the Duce was moved to anger at his incompetence and inhumanity.”
The Dodecanese were an early part of an Italian colonial empire that eventually encompassed Libya, Somalia and Eritrea.
The Greek government is offering to sell or rent thousands of properties, including a castle on Corfu and a former US military base in Crete, in a bid to recover billions of euros to help pay off its debts to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
Earlier this year there were angry protests in Athens after public buildings and historic landmarks were added to the government’s fire sale.
While Rhodes and other Greek islands have attracted mass tourism for decades, the Greek government is looking to adopt a new strategy, encouraging higher-spending visitors with boutique hotels and unusual accommodation.
The Greeks recognise that they struggle to compete against other low-cost destinations such as Turkey.
A spokeswoman for the HRADF in Athens said the fund wanted to see the properties restored to their former glory but declined to discuss the tender process or the potential rental price.
Greece’s ambitious privatisation programme has been plagued with problems since the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund intervened in the country in May 2010.
After a public outcry that the country was selling off its cultural heritage, sales have been scaled back.