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Rhodes - the island of Helios

04 February 2010 / 15:02:13  GRReporter
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On the map Rhodes resembles a dolphin, swimming in the Aegean Sea between the island of Crete and the Anatolian coast. Being the biggest island from the Dodecanese archipelago it is situated on a crossroad which is the reason why in the ancient city are still living various cultures and traditions even in modern days. The walk through its cobblestone paved streets will take you from the Palace of the Great master of the order of the Hospitaller Knights, who assumed possession of the island in 1309 until 1522, to hammams and mosques, then to the Jewish neighborhood Judeka where several years ago as part of the synagogue was opened a Jewish museum. The Byzantium cathedral is tolerantly positioned among the arches of Gothic churches. The Turkish Imaret – a shelter for poor people is placed between the Orthodox churches “St. Apostles” and “St. Paraskeva”. The Christian, Muslim and Jewish cemeteries rest one next to the other under the shades of the cypresses. The old town of Rhodes is announced by UNESCO to be a monument of the world cultural – historical heritage.

Pindar says that at the white ground between the Olympic Gods the God of the Son chose Rhodes to be his cloister. That is why the island with its mild climate is a great destination not only for the people who like the sea vacations in the summer, but also for those who enjoy the Mediterranean regions in the winter as well. It is not by accident that Rhodes is one of the most visited Greek islands. Not just because of its east-southern cost is covered with many sandy beaches, but also because the core of its capital city is a remarkably preserved medieval town. This ancient place is crowded with about a million tourists during the strong seasons and 110 000 permanent residents, a lot of them foreigners. This is just one more reason not to visit the island during its strongest season. The plan of the ancient Rhodes, which lies under almost the entire modern city is designed by Hipodam an architect from Milet. From being one of the most organized and prospering centers in the Hellenistic ages, through the Middle ages he falls down to the periphery of the historical events, until there come the friar  warriors from the St. John order in Jerusalem. While it is under their possession its port becomes the outpost of the Latin West and one of its doors to the Orient not only for the commerce with silk fabrics, olive oil, saffron, wine etc, but also for the traffic of ideas. The international members of the knightly army gathered from all over Europe brings to the Eastern Mediterranean lands the responses of innovative ideas of society, philosophy and art.

The miniatures from the 6067 code, kept in the National library in Paris, represent some of the masterpieces of the Gothic artistic techniques. The texts, which they illustrate describe the siege of Rhodes by the Turkish in 1480 and the events related to the fate of the Ottoman prince in exile Djem, well know to the Bulgarian readers form the novel of Vera Mutafchieva “The Djem case” (a Greek issue of the “Livanis” publishing house). After the death of Mehmed the conqueror II claimants for the throne are his two sons, his first born and legal inheritor Baiazid II and Djem. After the bloody and cruel rivalry, Baiazid takes the upper hand and Djem seeks protection at the Rhodes knights. The Great master of the order Pier d’Obiuison welcomes him as the prince represents a constant threat for his brother, which is a guarantee for the future truce with the ottomans and is the trump card in the organized next crusade. In his anger and desire for revenge Baiazid II chases Djem to Rhodes as well by sending hitmen to kill or poison him. After the revealing of these plans they negotiate for a truce between the ottomans and the order of the Rhodes knights and its patrons send the exile to Overn. Since then the prince has been transferred from one of their fortresses to the other and the Pope’s and king’s premises, however he continues to believe that one day he will sit on the throne. A toy in the policy of the Christian rulers, his “price” represented in ducats grows constantly, until Djem dies in Napoli, probably poisoned. With his hands already loose the sultan Baiazid starts to attack Rhodes. According to the Muslim legend in the old town of Rhodes still there is the so called House of Djem where the Great master d’Obiuison shelters the Turkish prince in exile. 

The impetuous story of Rhodes continues in the 20th century. In 1912 the Ottoman empire yields the possession of the Dodecanese to Italy after the war for the territories of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and they remain part of the Italian territories until 1924 when they are officially assigned to Greece. That is why even today the Dodecanese along with Kerkyra and the Ionian islands continue being the favorite tourist destination of the Italians. During the Italian fascist government starts the restoration of the medieval fortresses and building in the old town. The most remarkable of them is the Palace of the Great master. The Archeological museum of Rhodes is currently situated in the former hospital – one of the most important for the Hospitaller Knights building, as the cares for the poor and sick people were considered to be the main missions of the order. Stained glasses, rosettes and built in marble stones with the coats of arms of the warrior knights of various languages are adorning the walls of the palace.

You could find yourself in the old town by passing through one of the eleven remaining fortress doors and take a walk under the arches over the streets paved with small round stones (called votsaloto), which were build as strengthening mechanisms against earthquakes. You could walk passing by swept away from the time ochre and ink blue on the walls, build out of a yellowish sandstone. One of them – the most impressive one – the gothic “Street of the knights” will take you to the greatest building around – the Palace of the Great master. Another main route starts from the upper part of the central street “Sokratus”, which for many years has been the main commercial artery where the jewelers’ and souvenirs’ shops are crowded with tourists from the cruises.

The northern end of the island until where reaches the town is surrounded by continual beach with endless lines of lounges and umbrellas. The aquarium built by the Italians – officially known as the “Hydro biological institute” is situated in the furthest north end Punda. It offers a great variety with its underground labyrinth of containers with sea water where colorful fishes are swimming, sea shells are laying on the ground and other sea animals can be seen. Right next to it at the “Hundred date palm trees” square in Nestoridion is located the Museum which shelters one of the most significant collections of the modern Greek art of the 20th century. Close by the Albergo delle Rose built by the Italians has been turned into the famous Rhodes casino which attracts a great number of tourists from Israel. Here is also the Villa “Kleoboulos” where in 1945 – 1947 lived the writer Lawrence Darrell and not long ago it was restored and turned into the House of literature and art of the Dodecanese.

Rhodes is definitely worth to walk around, a trip which will take you at least one day by car. If you take the road outside the city on the east coast it is worth seeing the restored mineral baths in Kalithea, a wonderful example of an oriental art deco from 1928 – 1929, created by the young Italian architect Piero Lombardi, who well advanced in years designs the building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Then comes the resort Faliraki, famous for its night life. Cape Ladiko is further to the south at the beautiful “bay of Anthony Quinn”, called like this in honor of the actor who became famous for his parts in “Zorba the Greek” and “The guns of Navarone” (the second one was shot in Rhodes). The tourist attraction number two on the island is Lindos. Just like the old town of Rhodes his charm is also fighting with the tourist commercialization.

The ruins of the Kritinia fortress at the west coast are more than just a hollow shell from the past glorious times – from that point to the west there are fascinating views towards the next islands of Halki, Tilos, Alimnia and Nisyros. The road continues to curve south through thick forests in the foot of the highest mountain on the island Ataviros until Siana village, famous for its flavorful pine and herbal honey and with its suma – a grape distillate very similar to the Italian grappa, however with a more mild taste. Don’t forget to try the wine “Rhodes 2400” and the locally produced champagne with the brand name “Kair”.

Pictures – Zdravka Michailova

Tags: Rhodes Dodecanese islands travel
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