On Rhodes’ northernmost tip, only a short distance away from the Old Town stands one of the island’s grandest buildings – and one that encapsulates much of the island’s modern history.
The Grande Albergo delle Rose – Italian for the “Grand Hotel of Roses” – so named thanks to the surrounding rose garden – first opened its doors nine decades ago on May 24, 1927 when Rhodes was under Italian occupation (the island would not be united with the rest of Greece until 1948).
Throughout the years royalty, statesmen and other prominent international figures have walked through the imposing front doors, including Greek prime ministers Eleftherios Venizelos, Konstantinos Karamanlis and Georgios Papandreou, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan.
Its lavish premises have housed events of great historic importance, most significantly the 1948 signing of the foundation of the State of Israel.
The History of the Grand Hotel of Roses
The elegant structure was the brainchild of Mario Lago, the Italian governor of the Dodecanese from 1924-1936. Throughout his governorship, Lago imposed sweeping changes on the city of Rhodes such as city beautification projects and economic reforms including measures to promote tourism. As such he saw the need for a luxury hotel on the island to host foreign dignitaries, aristocrats and other members of the elite on the Isle of the Knights in an effort to project Italian power.
In 1924, the governor commissioned the famous Venetian construction company Sagar to design the deluxe hotel. The architectural trend of that period was a combination of Byzantine, Arabian, Ottoman and Venetian lines, and the fusion was applied to Rhodes’ newest and grandest hotel.
Construction began on the 26th of March 1925, and a little over 2 years later the hotel opened its gates. A lavish inauguration ceremony in the presence of local authorities and prominent personalities from Italy and Egypt attracted extensive public attention.
Aside from luxury furnishings to make even the most demanding member of international aristocracy feel at home, the hotel also housed a casino that attracted wealthy gamblers from across the world to try their luck in Rhodes’ famously pleasant climate. The hotel came to be known as the “Dream of the East” among the affluent travelers of the day.
In November 1936, seven years after it first opened its doors,, a new governor of the Dodecanese was appointed, Cesare Maria de Vecchi. He was not fond of the architectural design that his predecessor had applied across the town, and demanded that all buildings immediately be renovated.
Inevitably, this also applied to the Grande Albergo delle Rose, which underwent minor refurbishment. A more modest and simple line known as “rurale” was applied, and the building took a form similar to that of the present day.
Among the changes instigated by the new governor was the commissioning of a fresco in one of the opulent halls of the hotel that was a popular hangout of the Italian aristocrats of the time. The artist chosen to execute the piece was the then 26-year old Afro Basaldela, an important 20th century impressionist painter whose works have been exhibited in major museums such as the Ermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Today the work known as the “Fresco of the Colours” remains one of the hotel’s many draws.
After the unification of the islands of the Dodecanese with Greece, the Grande Albergo delle Rose was used for the requirements of the Greek State. In September 1955, its administration was handed over to the company Astir S.A., and was eventually conceded to the Municipality of Rhodes.
However the hotel ultimately fell into disrepair and closed its doors in the mid-1970s after half a century of operation.
The Grand Hotel of Roses Blossoms Once Again
Fortunately that was not the end of the story. Less than three decades later, in early 1999, the hotel’s management was undertaken by Casino Rodos S.A., which sought to revive the glamour, outstanding beauty and fine distinction that the hotel had once epitomized.
Following an extensive renovation in 2002 the hotel and casino once again opened their doors offering luxury stays in one of the island’s grandest landmarks.