The lovely Classical remnants of the Lindos acropolis hover like a dream on the rocky cliffs high above the deep blue Aegean Sea. Come climb these layers of history with me.
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, gives 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.
After wandering the Medieval walled Old Town of Rhodos, Thor and I headed out in our rental car to explore the rocky east coast of the island. Our destination: the ancient acropolis of Lindos, the famous beauty spot of the island. (Which is saying something, since seemingly everywhere you look on the island, there are gorgeous sights.) The roads are easy and well-maintained, and the Rhodians continue the long tradition of Greek philoxenia — welcoming the stranger — by making everything smooth and friendly for the tourist visitors. A welcome change from my earlier travels is the clean absence of litter along roadways. As we rounded a turn high above the sea, Lindos appeared below us, whitewashed houses of the traditional village at the foot of the rocky acropolis gleaming in the sun:
Lawrence Durrell, in his memoir of the post-World War II years on the island, Reflections on a Marine Venus, described what was a more arduous trek to the site, past workers along the shoreline laboriously and very carefully digging up German mines to defuse them:
“Nearing Lindos…. a gnarled rock-hewn landscape — a coast bitten out in huge mouthfuls of metamorphic rock, gleaming dully with mica, and shot through with the colours of iron and trap. It was as if a storm at sea had suddenly been solidified and compressed into these frowning capes and fastnesses of coloured rock. The sea boomed upon the sand of the long beaches…. You come upon Lindos through a narrow gulley of rock. It is as if you had been leaning against a door leading to a poem when suddenly it swung open letting you stumble directly into the heart of it…. The little harbour is all but land-locked and the blue of it drenches you like spray. The beach-shallows are picked out in lime-green and yellow, against the reddish, deckle-edged surfaces of stone. In the air above it rides the acropolis…. Lindos, under the sweetness of its decoration, is like a trumpet-call, beaten out in gold-leaf and vibrating across the blue airs of time.”
Obviously, Durrell felt much more affinity with ancient Lindos than the Italian restoration of the Palace of the Grand Masters (see Part 8 last week)! He also approved of the traditional village clustered at the base of the acropolis: “Its beauty is of a scrupulous Aegean order, and perfect in its kind. The narrow streets which rise and fall like music are paved with clean sea-pebbles, and criss-crossed with little inter-communicating alleys. Their width is enough to accommodate two mules abreast, but no car can enter them. Everything is painted white, a dazzling glitter of plaster and white-wash, so that if you half closed your eyes you might imagine that Lindos reflected back the snowy reflections of a passing cloud.”
And, yes, those black-and-white pebble mosaics–choklakia–still pave the narrow lanes and decorate courtyards:
As everywhere in Greece, the site is layered with ancient and modern history. Minoan remains have been found in the area, confirming early Cretan influence; the island offered good ports and a convenient stop on the way to Asia Minor. After the collapse of the Minoan civilization (1400-1500 B.C.), Rhodos became one of the independent island kingdoms in the late Bronze Age. Later it was occupied by the Dorians from mainland Greece, when the first temple with remaining columns was built on the acropolis around 300 BC. Lindos was one of three major Rhodian ports at that time, along with Ialysos and Kamiros, joining with the islands of Kos, Knidos, and Halikarnassos in the Dorian League to protect shipping interest in the area. The photo above shows one of the two naturally-protected harbors on either side of the Lindos acropolis–now mostly welcoming pleasure boats and bathers.
Lindos is one of the hottest spots (literally) on the island, and Thor and I visited during a September heat wave, so it was a bit of a sweaty climb up many stone steps to the Medieval gate of the acropolis. Yes, those same Knights of St. John who built the fortress in Rhodes Town added to the ancient walls with their own fortifications of this strategic site, around 1300 AD.
Still visible in the original rock wall beside the steps is this carved relief of a Rhodian Trireme (warship) from about 180 BC.
We entered at the top past the remains of the Medieval castle and the earlier Roman temple of Diocletian from the 3rd century AD:
Drinking lots of water in the heat, we proceeded to the staircase of the Propylea, a monumental gateway (similar to that on the Athens acropolis) in front of the Temple of Lindian Athena:
The Temple of Lindian Athena was a Doric construction from the 4th century BC:
Below the steep cliff beside the temple, the second sheltered bay on the south side beckoned like a cool blue drink (touring is thirsty work):
When I stood beside the remaining columns of the Hellenistic stoa, the breathtaking beauty of this site merged with the geometric purity of design, all of it glowing in the sunlight that blended sky and sea, to transport me into the sort of exalted trance that must have inspired Durrell’s lyric descriptions:
Snugged up against the Classical ruins are the Medieval, with the Greek Orthodox Church of St. John from the 13th or 14th century AD, atop the footings of a previous church built as early as the 6th century:
And tucked into a courtyard, we found one of the goddess Athena’s sacred olive trees:
The benevolent tyrant Kleobolos, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, ruled the island, and is supposedly buried below the acropolis on the northern point of the bay (there is some dispute about that location). He is known for such sayings as “Ignorance and talkativeness bear the chief sway among men.” (Hmm, sort of rings true about a certain ignorant politician of today?) And “Nothing in excess.” Kleobolos is supposed to have supported women’s involvement in public affairs, and his daughter was a famous poet of the time. Everything moves in cycles, it seems.
Another glimpse over the cliff to the cooling sea beckoning us for a swim (gorgeous Rhodian beaches will be covered in an upcoming blog post). Like Peter Mitchell in my novel THE ARIADNE CONNECTION, I’m hypnotized by the clear beauty of the Aegean and Mediterrean Seas, and I can’t get enough of swimming and snorkeling in them: “He kicked hard, straight down into hushed shadow. The water split and reformed around him as he arrowed into it, sharp-edged as flowing crystal. It was bare underneath, too, rock outlined precise below him, not much in the way of fish or plants. Here and there a sparse weed curtsied in the swell, fingerlings scattering in a silver spurt of alarm. But the water: incredible clear blue like swimming in air, and the pure salt cool of it you could almost see forever stay forever, siren voices calling him deeper….”
On the way down from the acropolis, we stopped to pet the donkeys waiting to give tourists a ride up:
The donkeys a’re corralled in stone pens that make use of the caves in the hillside. In Greece, the ubiquitous caves are used for everything from animal stables to hermit-monk dwellings.
Searching for water in the blazing heat, in the village square Thor found one of the wonderful vapas with clean natural springwater funneled from the cliffside into a basin, and dunked his head to cool off. We bought a couple of bottles of chilled water to drink as we strolled the pebbled lanes. Ahead of us, a hatless tourist was clearly struggling with heat-stroke. Thor caught up and asked if she would like cold water poured over the back of her neck (after a drink), and she gratefully accepted, perking up enough to go find shade and more water. The Greek sun is powerful, and it’s not kidding around! Continuing our rambles, we found a few of the historic doorways decorated with carvings. These traditional sea-captain houses, built between the 15th and 18th centuries AD, are called archontika. The carved chains are supposed to indicate how many ships the captain owned.
Tired and happy after a meal and cold beers in a local taverna, we headed off to find a beach: “Sto plaz!”
Next week: Back to Rhodos Old Town and the Archeology Museum, with artifacts from Lindos and other island sites, like this lovely Aphrodite (Venus) that inspired Lawrence Durrell:
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. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com