|The island of Rhodes will forever be coupled in
everybody's mind with "the Colossus of Rhodes."
The bronze Colossus, which (according to legend) stood
astride the main harbour, was a more than 35 m. tall
statue of the sun god (thus "Isle of the Sun")
commemorating the city's success in repelling a siege in
the 4th century BC. The Colossus, was considered one of
the 7 wonders of the world. (For the record, the others
were: the Pyramids of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of
Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of
Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and
the Lighthouse at Alexandria.)
The huge statue long
ago was destroyed by an earthquake and, later, its bronze
was carted off for other uses. Now you can see a couple
of pedestals topped by statues of deer where the feet of
the Colossus might have stood.
Rhodes is a rather large island that offers a great deal. In your sightseeing you must include the Archeological Museum and the Palace of the Knights of St. John, plus the winding streets and the massive city walls. The island has been inhabited since the beginning of time. Though it certainly participated in the Mycenaean civilization (centered on Crete and Santorini), its recorded history doesn't begin until the second millennium BCE, when Dorian Greeks settled here. In the 5th century BCE its three main cities, members of the Athenian-led Delian League, broke with Athens and founded the City of Rhodes. Not exempt from the wars between Sparta and Athens, the island came finally under the jurisdiction of Alexander the Great. Later, under the Romans, Rhodes prospered as a result of aiding Caesar in his civil war against Pompey only to be devastated by one of Caesar's assassins following that doleful deed.
When the Roman Empire broke apart, Rhodes became part of the Byzantine empire until it was occupied by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem early in the 14th century. The Knights stayed until they were driven out in 1522 by Suleiman the Magnificent, the beginning of Turkish rule that lasted until 1912, when the Italians occupied the island, only to be united with Greece after World War II, which political identification remains until this day. Of all that historical coming and going, the most visible remains are the buildings left by the Knights of St. John.
|Once the Hospital of the Knights, the Archaeological Museum is a square building with a large open courtyard in the center with stone canon balls scattered around and beautiful mosaic floors. Of course, there are some quite remarkable statues, vases, and some items that are simply curious.|
|The Palace of the Knights of St. John (or the Grand
Masters), built in the thirteenth century, contains some
300 rooms that were restored and refurbished by the
Italians, often, for example, with mosaic floors. The
palace survived the Ottoman siege in 1522 but in 1856 it
met catastrophe when a cache of 300-year-old ammunition
in a building across the street exploded. The Italian
restoration, which in the early twentieth century made
the castle into more of a "modern" building
than it had been for the medieval Knights, was barely
finished when World War II began. But that was in ample
time for Mussolini to take up residence there when he
came to Rhodes.
An interesting footnote about the Knights of St. John has to do with their administrative order. Since they came from a variety of so-called Catholic countries of Europe, the Knights divided themselves into national or linguistic groups called Tongues.Thus there were Tongues of Auvergne, England, Provence, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. In Rhodes each of these had an "Inn" that was governed by a bailiff and a council. These buildings are now government offices and are not open to the public.
What is open to the public are shaded plazas upon many of which is just the right cafe for a mid-day coffee. And then there are the narrow streets and winding byways where a pedestrian risks being run down by a Vespa speeding around an abrupt corner but at the same time can marvel at the way arches form buttresses to keep ancient houses upright and can wonder what dishes the smells from some partially open doorway portends for a family's dinner.
There is a wall around the old town, of course, and a mote outside the wall, which today means there are two walls, between which stretches a broad dirt path where excavation and restoration may be seen in progress. A walk through this area offers the added benefit of a respite from the shopping crowds in the old town's center.
|Back inside the walls, the walk once again enters a maze of streets where it is easy to get lost. And amid the warrens of dwellings that remind of pueblos in the American southwest, there appears the ruin of a church with a minaret in the background before emerging into an open space before an ancient mosque and the beautiful fountain beside it.|