Visiting the island of Rhodes — or Rhodos, as the Greeks translate the name — is an escape into sensual beauty. And, of course, more rich layers of history.
Note: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gave an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.
The concept of Greece as a unified political entity is pretty new. It wasn’t until the Greek War of Independence in the early 1800s that much of the present Greek territory was freed from Turkish Ottoman control, and then another war drove out the Great Powers-appointed king from Bavaria. Continual turmoil followed, including civil war and the dictatorship of Metaxas. The eastern Mediterranean islands, including Rhodos, did not become part of the country until 1948. Looking at the map, we see that the large island of Rhodos at the lower far right is very close to Turkey, and its cultural heritage reflects that proximity. The Ottoman influence is very evident with the many historic mosques, along with Classic-era Greek remains, Byzantine influence, Medieval European buildings and city walls from the Knights of St. John, and later Venetian and Italian presence. Even more than other Greek islands, Rhodos has an identity all its own.
Thor and I took a local Aegean Airlines flight from Athens to Rhodos, picking up a rental car at the small island airport, and were happy to learn that the “roads on Rhodes” were excellent and easy to navigate. We headed toward Rhodos Town and our hotel located in one of the best-preserved Medieval walled cities in the world. No cars are allowed within the labyrinth of narrow lanes (but watch out for scooters!), so we wandered for a while with our bags before finding the quaint 14th-century building housing the Camelot guesthouse. Its lovely courtyard features the black-and-white pebble mosaics of which the islanders are justifiably proud.
Today I’ll give you a quick overview of sites we visited on the island, and in following installments will fill in more context and history.
Rhodos Town, inhabited for more than 2400 years, has good harbors right outside the Medieval walls. This is one of many original gates into the old town:
The walls were built starting in 1309 AD by the Knights of St. John, Crusaders who had guarded the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem until the Christians were ousted 1291. They bought Rhodos from a Genoese pirate and relocated there. The walls made for an impressive defense from various forces fighting to gain control of the important shipping center.
A view from the Palace of the Grand Masters in the Knights quarter highlights the diversity of influences, with a mosque minaret and a Greek Orthodox church tower cheek by jowl.
One of the many mosaic floors within the Palace of the Grand Masters, which the Italian Fascists restored in somewhat questionable taste before World War II. The many stunning mosaic floors were taken from Hellenistic sites on the island of Kos, this one featuring the dreaded mythical Medusa with her hair of serpents. One glimpse of her would turn a person to stone, so thankfully we survived:
The ancient city of Lindos is a must-see, on its dramatic acropolis overlooking the deep blue sea. The site has been inhabited since around 3000 BC, with two natural harbors for trading. The remains of Classic temples date from the 4th century BC:
The acropolis overlooks one of the natural Lindos harbors, with shelter for pleasure boats and a swimming beach along the rugged east coast of the island:
Spread at the foot of the acropolis is the quaint village of Lindos, known for its handmade lace:
As always, Thor and I on our travels look for any available body of water to swim and snorkel. The Rhodos beaches are rocky but stunning, with cool, amazingly clear water shading from turquoise to purple-blue depths right offshore. This beach, north of Lindos and near the Kallithea spa (top blog photo) offered an idyllic break after the hot hike up to the acropolis. Most of the island beaches offer lounge chairs for a modest fee, and provide warm outdoor showers to rinse off. This one also had an open-air taverna offering cold beer and snacks! The best part was drifting over the shallows shimmering with light over the bottom composed of smooth marble pebbles in all colors. Chairete! Rejoice!
I’ll be back next Saturday with some rambles around Rhodos Old Town. See you then!
You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect.