The Dodecanese are a group of Greek islands in the southeast Aegean Sea. Their name means “twelve islands” but in fact, some other 150 smaller islands belong to this island group. The biggest 12 Dodecanese are: Rhodes, Kos, Patmos, Astipalea, Kalimnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Leros, Nisyros, Symi, Tilos and Kastellorizo. There are about 14 smaller islands more that are also inhabited while the rest are too tiny and desolate. More info about the islands and the whole group could be found if you Visit Greece.
R H O D E S I S L A N D
The Ancient world is still alive. It still keeps the spirit of the Knights of Saint John. The Turkish influence is also spread out. It was under the rule of Italy from 1912-1943. It’s a wonderful place, a great mixture of cultures, epochs and traditions. Simply it’s the Rhodes Island – one of the largest islands of Dedocanese and of the greatest importance due to its situation. That’s why the region has always been ruled by the island and Rhodes has been a maritime force ever since. Moreover, the collection of maritime laws (well-known as “Rhodian Sea Law”) were spread out and accepted throughout the Mediterranean basin in the Byzantine period of time still influencing today’s admiralty law.
The island is arrow-shaped. It’s not big (about 80x38km). It’s supposed to be the sunniest place in Greece because it was given to the Sun God Helios by Zeus. ” …. when the first rays of light were beginning to show, a piece of land began to spring out of the Aegean Sea. Cheerfully, Helios jumped into the island’s crystal-clear waters, filling it with light and making it the brightest island of the Mediterranean! Helios then chose the nymph Rhodes, a daughter of Poseidon, to lay with and they gave birth to seven sons. Fully enamored, Helios named the picturesque island Rhodes after his maid.” (more about the story here).
The Greek Titan Helios always played a significant role on Rhodes. In 280 BC the Rhodians built a 30-metre bronze cult statue to celebrate a Rhodes’ victory. It was erected in the town of Rhodes and was considered one of the tallest statues of the ancient world as well as one of the Seven Wonders of Antiquity. Unfortunately, the Colossus of Rhodes, as it was named, was distracted by an earthquake. The locals weren’t allowed to gather the remains and then to rebuild the statue and when the Ottoman invasion occurred, the ruins were carried off entirely. That’s why nowadays we cannot see it but at the entrance of that island’s main harbor where it stood, now there are two statues of deer near the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The legend goes to the past when the island was full of snakes and God sent deer which would eat the snakes and save the whole island.
Other landmarks from the Ancient times are the Monte Smith and the town of Lindos. Monte Smith is only 2-3 kilometers far away from the new town of Rhodes and houses the Acropolis of Rhodes from the Hellenistic period with the Temple of Apollo, the stadium and amphitheatre. On the other hand, the Acropolis of Lindos is worth visiting. It’s among the 5 most visited places in Greece (after the Acropolis in Athens, Delphi, Peloponnese and Crete). The town is situated to the east. It is a Hellenistic acropolis that was dominated by the Temple of Athena Lindia. With the coming of the Knights of St John some of the buildings were disused, others were overlaid by a huge fortress as a defence against the Ottomans.
The Byzantine period for Rhodes was relatively long and lasted from 395 till 1309 when the Knights Hospitaller occupied the island. The Byzantines left lots of churches while the Knights fortified and rebuilt the cities of the island into European, typical, medieval towns. The Ottoman period started with the occupation of the Rhodes Island by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522 and ended up in 1912 when the Italians seized the Aegean gem during the Italo-Turkish War. Thus they set their possession of the Isole italiane dell’Egeo till 1943. By the way, the Rhodians are grateful to Italy and consider it their liberator from the Ottomans. Coming to the island the Italians contributed greatly to the development of the infrastructure there and built a lot. They also brought their VespaS 😉 that have still been the most convenient means of transport, especially along the numerous, tiny, winding, cobbled streets. For a short period time the island was in British and then German hands when finally it was united with Greece in 1947.
In conclusion I’ll say that the Rhodes Island is a very charming place and a real Aegean paradise filled with history, mixed cultures, delicious cuisine and extremely hospitable and lovely people.
While wandering along the tiny, cobbled streets of the Old Town of Rhodes one feels like being in the Medieval times within the castle walls. Walking along the Street of the Knights a real traveller with an imagination at work could imagine being surrounded by the Knights themselves and even could imagine himself being one of them walking along the street to the “Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes” where his horse (nowadays 4×4 😉 ) is waiting for him. While passing by it one immediately dives into other epochs by seeing a Christian Church turned into a mosque with a minare on the roof. Going outside modern Rhodes greets visitors with all of its cafes and pretty tavernas, shopping areas and small souvenir kiosks and numerous state-of-the-art hotels. And … only 2-3 km from the centre people go back to the Antiquity.
It’s worth visiting the island even in winter when it’s not overcrowded with tourists but it’s inhabited mainly by locals. The Greeks on Rhodes work hard in the sphere of tourism in summer, in the peak season, welcoming thousands of tourists annually. And in winter period they gather grape and olives for the production of the local Rhodes red & white wine and olive oil, respectively. By the way, if you happen to travel for New Year’s celebrations like I did in 2013-2014 be prepared for huge and long-lasting fests together with the locals after midnight. Principally, the Greeks celebrate New Year at home with their families till midnight and after the best wishes to and the usual cin-cin with their beloved ones, they go to have a party until the morning hours. That’s why if you wanna have a walk along the streets of the town of Rhodes on January 01, the whole city (and maybe the whole island) will be sleepy and the sea promenade as well as the centre will be deserted and only for you. 🙂 The few people you might meet will be extremely polite and will greet you with “Χρόνια Πολλά ” (“Xronia polla” or “I wish you to live a long life”).
And last thing about the places of interest in the town of Rhodes. The Aquarium of Rhodes, actually, combines a research centre, aquarium and museum. It was constructed by the Italians during the 30s of the last century under the name of “Reale Istituto di Ricerce Biologiche di Rodi” (or “Royal Biological Research Institute of Rhodes”). After the end of their rule it was renamed as “Hellenic Hydrobiological Institute”. Nowadays it is simply known as the “Hydrobiological Station of Rhodes” where research on the oceanography of the Dodecanese is carried out. The aquarium and the adjacent museum are too small. The aquarium is like a cave with winding tunnels and there are fish tanks embedded in the walls on both sides. The adjacent museum is full of “statues” of artificial sea animals like sharks, turtles and different sea shells and sea flora and fauna as well as maps of the island and the region and there is one open fish tank where visitors can see a big lobster and some smaller fishes swimming happily.
By the way, while being near the three mills and the Lightouse of Alexandria, I heard some very irritating noises like a bombardment and saw some unpleasant smoke from the other waterfront. The first moment I thought it was a salutatory sign for the New Year but I was mistaken. Some training was held in the early morning hours. And one more thing here. The nearest Turkish point is only about 18 km far away from the Rhodes shores and on the other hand, there is a ferry line that connects Marmara in Turkey with the island and thus lots of tourists of the Turkish resort visit Rhodes in the peak season. Due to its proximity to Turkey, be careful with the mobile operator. The signal of Turkcell is too strong and you might not know you use its services unless a manual network selection has been chosen.
This way I felt the real Rhodes and its charm, and got acquainted with the natives’ way of life. Unlike the sunny summer period when there is no rain at all for months, I “had the chance to get drowned” in a storm (actually, I had a full programme with a heavy rain, flashes and thunders) on the last day of my stay. Despite it, even then I had a great time drinking typical Rhodes wine (no matter red or white) or “Souma” (a strong alcoholic drink, like a grappa/brandy, made of grapes), eating typical “mezethes” (i.e. appetizers, starters) cooked with Rhodes olive oil and tasting the Greek traditional dessert from the Rhodes Island called “Melekouni” (a local sweet of nuts and honey like Nut Brittle which is made for weddings and baptisms).
And in the end, here is a short video about the Rhodes Island on YouTube. Enjoy it.