Villa Rossa is an iconic building from 1864 owned by Nikolaos Aspiotis. This “Red Villa” illustrates Corfu’s transition from a landowning to an industrial era marked by the establishment of a number of notable factories, including the graphic arts industry Aspiotis-E.L.K.A., owned by N. Aspiotis, which grew to become the largest printing house in the Balkans, in the late 19th century.
Following the collapse of the Venetian Republic, Corfu’s first printing house was established during the French occupation of 1797. In 1798, a printing house was erected outside the New Fortress’s entrance, near the church of Virgin Mary of Tenedos. The first publication in French was issued the same year, a circular from the French commander referring to the opening of “the first printing house in Greece.”
The battle-hymn “Thourios” of Rigas Feraios, Greek writer and pioneer of the Greek War of Independence, was printed in this print shop in the year 1800, in which he said, “It’s finer to live one hour as a free man than forty years as a slave and prisoner.” Corfu was officially ruled by the British in 1815, and journalistic freedom was suppressed two years later. In 1848, the freedom of the press was restored with an address, and private newspapers were printed and disseminated in Corfu. Corfu stayed under British rule until 1864 when it was reunited with Greece.
Gerasimos Aspiotis, in partnership with Ioannis Lansas, created the famous Aspiotis Printing House in Corfu in 1873. The painter Nikolaos Aspiotis, Gerasimos’ father, was the company’s financier, putting up six gold pounds of England. Gerasimos Aspiotis created the Elpis (Hope) playing-card factory in Corfu, which merged with the Athens Lithograph and Box-making Company (ELKA) in 1928 to form Aspioti-ELKA. In 1884, Aspiotis was awarded a contract by the Greek government to be the country’s exclusive maker of playing cards. Gerasimos Aspiotis’ father, the painter Nikolaos Aspiotis, designed the cards.
Konstantinos Aspiotis, Gerasimos’ son, became the company’s director in 1902. The company’s product range evolved to include the printing of bonds, shares, ads, tickets, and other related items under the direction of Konstantinos Aspiotis. With the introduction of the method of tricolor chromolithography, which had already been established in Europe, Konstantinos Aspiotis increased the manufacture of chromolithographic postcards. With over a thousand postcards on their publishing assets throughout the first part of the twentieth century, Aspiotis is regarded as one of Greece’s major postcard publishers. The corporation grew its market share in an expanded domestic market during the Balkan Wars and the subsequent extension of Greek territory.
The following images are some Angelos Giallinas’ watercolor works, reproduced in three color lithography by Aspiotis in Corfu.
The Italian Air Force attacked and destroyed the Aspioti-ELKA facility in Corfu on October 28, 1940, the first day of the Greco-Italian War. The Greek government gave Aspioti-ELKA permission to shift its machinery and equipment from its Corfu manufacturing to its Athens facility on the same day, following a protracted wait of many months. The authorization to move the machinery was issued one day too late, and the factory, including the machinery, was now in ruins. Today, you can only find the foundations in the place where the factory once was, parts of it are covered by a parking lot. A little further on a hill, there are the ruins of the house of the factory’s security guard.
When it closed in 1997, Aspioti-ELKA had been in operation for nearly a century and was Greece’s oldest company of its kind. The National Bank of Greece sold the company to Jean Jacques Lesueur in 1992, and it was declared bankrupt in October 1997. The National Bank of Greece maintains a huge collection of the company’s material assets that have been manufactured or acquired throughout the years.
The Aspiotis Family’s estate “Villa Rosa” is one of Corfu’s most famous and majestic mansions. Nikolaos Aspiotis purchased the site on the outskirts of Corfu Town in 1860 to build his home. The construction of Villa Rossa began in 1864. The building’s early designs were created by the building’s first owner and painter Nikolaos Aspiotis, who was influenced by Italian architecture, while the expansions and final shapes were created by the well-known English architect Thomas Mawson. Many of the materials and embellishments utilized in the construction were brought from England. Villa Rosa is a structure that is intimately linked to Corfu’s contemporary history and is an important landmark in the town due to its characteristic architecture and brilliant red color.
Villa Rossa is located near San Rocco Square and can be seen from Lefkimmi Road, which connects the city to the island’s southern region. The plot where Villa Rossa is situated which is approximately 5,400 square meters, is densely forested with unique centuries-old high-rise trees. Aside from the main mansion, there are several auxiliary structures on the property. The old stable, which was subsequently transformed into a vehicle garage, is located at the bottom of the garden. The caretaker’s apartment was on the first level. The little hexagonal kiosk that served as an auxiliary facility for the large tennis court and the small auxiliary structure of the old cistern are both within short distance. A metal pergola structure was surrounded by climbing plants at the back of Villa Rossa. The pergola served as an outdoor living area, leading to a wide garden with lush vegetation, including several roses.
The main structure is 830 square meters in size, three stories high, and includes 24 rooms. It comprises the reception areas on the ground floor, ancillary spaces in the semi-basement, and bedrooms and bathrooms on the two upper floors. It is a large-city villa with Ionian and Italian architectural influences, as well as English components. The rich red hue of the building’s exterior has ornamental pseudo-columns and horizontal zones with embossed decoration. The Ministry of Culture designated the Villa Rossa complex as a 19th-century historically listed building in 1986.
Days of splendor, prosperity, and adoration passed over the mansion. It hosted monarchs, princes, statesmen, and intellectuals from all over Greece and Europe. After Nikolaos Aspiotis’ death, Villa Rossa was handed down to the family’s heirs. Marie Aspiotis, Konstantinos Aspiotis’ daughter, was the villa’s final occupant. Marie Aspioti was a well-known poet and writer. She was a close friend of Lawrence Durrell and had been awarded an MBE. In collaboration with French writer René Puaux, Marie Aspioti published the book Corfu in French in 1930. “She is, I think, the first Greek friend I made,” Lawrence Durrell writes in the preface to his 1965 book Lear’s Corfu, “and as a girl in her twenties she wrote a book about Corfu in French, which was the first study of the island to fall into my hands.” She was the director of the British Council’s Corfu branch and a close family friend of Prince Philip. Marie Aspiotis’ Villa Rosa estate became decrepit as she grew older, but she continued to live there with her mother despite the fact that she could no longer afford to repair it.
Marie died in 1996, and the year after that the State purchased Villa Rosa through the Public Land Service. The Public Land Service ceded Villa Rossa to the Prefecture of Corfu with precise stipulations for the building’s restoration by the end of 1999. The Public Land Service decided to cancel the concession decision on September 22, 2005, because the prerequisites for the restoration of the building had not been satisfied within the 5-year timeframe. Finally, the Prefecture stated that preliminary procedures for the development of the building had been initiated and that work on the restoration of Villa Rossa and its reuse as a cultural space and exhibition area, as well as the restoration of the auxiliary buildings on the plot as support for the new operation of the building, and the configuration of the complex’s surrounding area would begin soon, after many years of abandonment. Within two years, the full project was completed and delivered.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, vida-omada.blogspost.com, foreas.gr, architects.com, maravea.gr, Corfu Perspectives Guided Tours