Rhodes is wonderful. We would go there again in a heartbeat, though never in tourist season.
Rhodes, “Rodos,” is the capital of the Dodecanese province of Greece, in the S.E. Aegean. This literally means “12 islands,” but in fact there are more than 1100, of which only 287 are named and 32 are inhabited. Rhodes is 4 times bigger than Malta. That’s not saying much…
We have become old hands at eating breakfast at dawn, as the destination becomes clearer with the sunrise. This day, we could see the hills and coast of Turkey. Rhodes has long been strategic, starting with the Phoenicians and ending with WWII. It is directly astride the sea lanes from Asia, Europe and Africa. Now it is a playground with 60,000 residents who have no income during the winter, except for the occasional cruise ship. In summer, the population more than doubles, with tourism making up 65% of the economy.
We slipped into Rhodes Town, the former harbor where the Colossus of Rhodes stood. No one seriously believes that the statue spanned the harbor entrance, where 2 small bronze fallow deer now stand. [Fallow deer were brought in from Europe to Rhodes to kill snakes. Did you know that deer kill snakes? Honest?]
The consensus is that the Colossus stood on the highest hill above the harbor, where a palace stands today. It was about the size and scale of the Statue of Liberty, without the upraised arm, and probably the same ‘bronze sheets over inner structure’ construction. The Colossus came down in an earthquake 66 years after being erected, but lay on the ground for 7 centuries. Finally, the invading Saracens sold it for scrap. In all that time, no one drew a picture of it.
The guide told us that the letter the evangelist Paul wrote to “the Colossians” was addressed to the people of ‘Colossus’ town. The statue represented Helios, the sun god, with blazes coming out of his head, like the Statue of Liberty’s crown. They say he had the face of Alexander the Great. A grown man could not hug the thumb. Why a grown man would want to do so remains unclear.
Rhodes has 300 days of Helios’ sunshine a year, but has that miracle of year-round water that is necessary for an island people to survive.
Rhodes Town itself is a World Heritage Site, the best preserved walled medieval city in the world. But we had to wait to explore the town, as we had a bus trip to Lindos.
The tour took us through the modern city of Rhodes, which is ugly, with elements catering to tourists from all around the globe. It would be a nightmare in the summer, with drunks and brats everywhere.
Once out of the garish part of town we passed the Necropolis, literally “dead town,” a huge cemetery representing all the religions of the world, each with its own enclosure. Rhodes was indeed a crossroads of the Mediterranean world. The Dorian tribes, 2400 years ago, joined their 3 city-states on the island into a defensive league and created Rhodes Town, where no town had stood before. [Like the infant US created a city for the federal government.] The town had 5 natural ports, of which 3 are still in use. And 1 in which our ship rode at dock.
We bussed about 35 miles down the SE coast of Rhodes to Lindos, an ancient holy site on a high hill [“acropolis”], surrounded by bright white houses. The homes are whitewashed at Easter, Aug 15th [I didn’t catch the significance of that day, just dutifully noted it down] and Christmas. Lovely bays bite into the foot of the hill. [As I re-read this, it sounds more painful than beautiful, but ‘bite’ describes the white crescents of the beaches.]
We decanted from our bus and took the local bus halfway up the hill. There, we watched a local fisherman feeding some of his catch to the feral cats. I gave him a small tip and confused him, but I pointed to the cats and he threw them some more fish.
The walk up the hill is etched into our minds: the little town of tiny whitewashed shops; the pedestrian-narrow streets which are actually staircases; the black and white stone mosaics in the path; the craggy outcroppings of living rock, around which the pathway curled; the intrusion—understandable, but annoying—of women hawking machine-embroidered [!] linens; almost 300 steps to the walls of the acropolis.
We stopped before the great acropolis walls to view a boat carved in bas-relief into the living rock itself. From the size and style of carving, many have decided that it is the original site of the so-called “Victory of Samothrace.” This 2-3 times life-size statue of marble was found in the sea off that island and now resides in the Louvre in Paris, where it commands a grand staircase. We saw it there in 2003.
Also at this level were openings to cisterns to collect water for the citadel. Though the island itself is abundant with artesian wells, the rock of the fortress was not. Feral cats had been placed here to guard the wells.
A final flight of steps led us into the heart of the medieval fortress. This had been used by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem [the Hospitallers] when they were run out of Cyprus, by the Turkish Moslems, after the fall of Byzantium in 1291 AD. The family shields of the Grand Masters were carved into the towers.
Climbing ever higher, we arrived at the most ancient of the buildings, the temple to Athena Lindos, dating to the 6th century BC. This classical temple is being reassembled on its foundation; it is surrounded by the bases of hundreds of statues, with feet imprints. The triumphant Roman general Cassius shipped 3000 statues, votive offerings to the goddess, to Rome, while the chunky stone bases were incorporated into buildings on the citadel. Now the bases sit forlornly, with the feet indentations filled with rainwater.
Here is what it is like to be me. While I was standing on the steps of the little temple, taking photos of the Bay of St. Paul below, some chick asked me to move so her mother could take her photo on the temple steps. Why in the world would she think her photo was more important to her than mine was to me? I just do not get people. I pretended not to hear, and took several more photos of the bay and the caves beneath the acropolis. And a few weeds. And the shore. And the cave again. And the bay again.
The afore-mentioned bay is the one where the Apostle Paul put ashore on his missionary trip to Rhodes. By all accounts, he was well received and obviously made converts, or he wouldn’t have needed to write them an epistle. Or even so much as a letter.
Wending our way back down the hill, we stopped in a few of the shops. [I bought another “Eye of God”]. After learning that the “Rose of Rhodes” is a hibiscus, we selected a delightful small square plate with that design, from a shop named “Μeandros” [as in meander] which is the Greek word for the design we call ‘Greek Key.’
Taking a bus to our bus, we had a few minutes in a store with CTC, and a walk to the statue of King Chilon, whose claim to fame was saying, “Nothing in excess.” If I said that, no one would care.
Heading back to town, we made one stop at a keramikos [ceramics] workshop, where we saw the artist scratching the patterns freehand into a slip of damp clay, while an artisan applied wet enamel within the lines. When fired, this creates a cloisonné. One of the few remaining such workshops on the island, the reasonable prices surprised us. Our guide had explained the ancient island tradition of sacrificing a rooster in the foundations of a new house, along with salt, garlic, a broom and an eye of God. But, he cleverly added, you could buy a plate with a rooster on it and receive almost the same benefit. Therefore, I HAD to get one, obviously! I selected a small plate for about $20, a lovely gray, but not the secret red formula of the artist—available only on the $40 plates. While I was checking out, I asked the young man at the counter if this would keep my house safe. He replied, “That’s really up to you.” I feel insecure, but I hung the plate next to the front door nonetheless, where you can see it to this very day.
Coming next—our visit to Rhodes Town.
N4 28 Cruise 6
CTC = cheap tourist crap
[12-17-09] for photos, visit