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Bringing the Empire Home: Italian Fascism’s Mediterranean Tour of Rhodes


From 1912 until World War II, Italy occupied Rhodes and thirteen other islands in the Southeast Aegean as part of its territorial expansion. In comparison with Italian colonies in Africa the islands have received significantly less historical and critical attention. This article brings the Southeast Aegean into the light and into dialogue with ongoing debates about Italy’s colonial past. I argue that the islands offer an important lens onto the relationship between overseas expansion and the remaking of Italian national identity at home. The essay reconstructs a massive project to reinvent the port of Rhodes as an upscale resort town of cultural attraction for Italian and European tourists. It describes how the urban renovation of Rhodes was marked simultaneously by the desire to modernize the island and by the desire to preserve, embellish and celebrate the exotic setting of the island. Analyzing architecture, urban planning, touring propaganda, and representations of the local community in photography and film, the article illuminates Italian fantasies of recuperating cosmopolitan histories through Mediterranean colonial tourism. At the same time, these fantasies evolved over time. The articles tracks an unresolvable ambivalence about whether the islands were “Western” or “Eastern”—part of  metropolitan Italy or part of its overseas expansion—and its ideological challenge to the Fascist ideas about nation and race.

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