The largest of the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes Greece has known many civilizations throughout its long history. Inhabited since the end of the Neolithic period (4000 BC), the city of Rhodes prospered for centuries during its Golden Age. In 164 BC Rhodes lost its independence and became a province of the Roman Empire during which time it developed into a renowned center of learning for arts and science.
During the Byzantine period that followed, Rhodes became an important military base and in 1309 BC it was sold to the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The order was originally founded to provide care for pilgrims to the Holy Land but ultimately evolved into a military unit. During the reign of the Knights of the Order of St John, the fortifications were expanded and reinforced.
When the Arabs attacked in the 7th century, they occupied the island for several decades. Then, in 1522 it was the Ottoman Turks who captured the city and during their rule Rhodes lost much of its international character. But the Italians took over in 1912 and set about radically transforming the city into much of what you see today. They completed extensive infrastructure works like roads and electricity, rebuilt the Grand Master’s Palace, preserved the remains of the Knights’ period and removed much of the Ottoman additions.
It was just after 9:00pm when my short flight from Crete touched down in Rhodes. I made my way outside the airport and caught the local bus into town (a nice money saver at 3 euro versus 27 euro for a taxi). Twenty minutes later I was stepping off the bus downtown. I knew my hotel, the Oktober Rooms, was pretty close to the bus station and with the help of Google maps on my phone I was there in less than 5 minutes. It turned out to be a great budget hotel, very modern and new and in a terrific location.
One day in Rhodes
I just had one full day on the island of Rhodes and after some thorough research I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do:
1) explore the well-preserved old walled city of Rhodes and
2) see the town of Lindos, which I’d read was the island’s most beautiful town.
I began my day with a walk along the marina toward the Old Town. The first order of business was buying a ferry ticket to Symi for the following day. Along the waterfront there were endless counters offering ferries and boating day trips and I finally found the one I needed, Dodecanese Seaways. There were two ferry options to Symi in the morning, a 9:30am departure that made a stop on the southern end of Symi to visit the Panormitis Monastery before continuing on to town and a direct ferry at 8:30am. I wanted the 9:30am but it was totally booked so I had to settle for the direct at 8:30am.
With that done, I wandered along the water until I came to the imposing entrance to the Old Town known as the Marine Gate. Since this was my first visit to the Dodecanese Islands, I was initially surprised by the Muslim influences in the Old Town of Rhodes until I read a little more about the island’s history of various conquerors. The Arab and Ottoman periods resulted in the construction of a number of mosques that still stand within the Old Town walls.
The streets were very different from anything else I’d seen in Greece, it actually reminded me the most of the Bascarsija neighborhood in Sarajevo. Not at all what I expected but definitely beautiful. The Old Town was full of the usual tourist shops, cafes and restaurants but despite that I was easily drawn in to its medieval feel as I wandered along the Street of the Knights.
I worked my way over to the town’s crown jewel, the Palace of the Grand Masters. The most important monument from the period of the Knights’ rule, the palace was neglected by the Turks (who turned it into a prison) and was nearly blown up along with the Church of St. John in 1856. An enormous reconstruction project began under Italian occupation and today its Gothic architecture towers over the Old Town
For my final stop in the walled city, I wanted to get an aerial view. Rumor had it the best views over the city were from the belfry of the clock tower. Built at the end of the 7th century, the clock tower sits on the ruins of the Byzantine tower connected with the Palace of the Grand Masters. It was also virtually destroyed in the 1856 explosion but was lovingly restored to its original Baroque glory and now offers the best viewpoint in the city.
It was a great spot to get a look over the city and make sure I hadn’t missed anything important on my hasty tour of town before catching the bus to Lindos.
The Acropolis of Lindos
Considered the most picturesque town on the island of Rhodes, Lindos owes its beauty to the strict regulations of the Archaeological Society which controls all development in the village. The traditional white stucco with bright blue trim are the classic Greek façade I’ve come to expect from the islands but hadn’t seen yet on this trip.
A little over an hour after departing Rhodes Town, the bus rounded its final corner and my first view of Lindos was awe-inspiring. The whitewashed village is literally sandwiched between a stunning arc of beach below and the towering Acropolis of Lindos above. I knew right away that I wanted to see both the beach and the Acropolis up close but from my current position that would translate into a lot of ground to cover. Sigh. More hiking.
The bus dropped me off at a road above the village so I decided follow the road down and start with the beach. There were actually two beaches and they were both lovely but packed with tourists. Time to take a walk up to the village.
For those not willing to do all the walking necessary to get around Lindos, not to worry, there were lots of donkeys available to get you up those steep hills. A nice photo op, surely, but I figured I could handle the walk.
The village, aside from the expected assortment of souvenir stands, was majestic in its architectural purity and a gorgeous example of a Greek village straight out of central casting.
As I wandered its narrow arteries I found a sign pointing the way to the Acropolis and followed the path. Before long I was climbing up above the village and entering the medieval walls of the Castle of the Knights. The Acropolis of Lindos contains the ruins of Rhodes’ three Dorian towns including the especially impressive Sanctuary of Athena.
The views from the Acropolis were incredible from all sides and I could easily see why people consider Lindos the island’s most beautiful town. By the time I made my way back down to the village it was nearly 5pm and I was hoping to make a 5:30pm bus back to Rhodes town with a long uphill climb to the bus stop still ahead. I made it just in time and got one of the last seats on the very crowded bus back to town.
Once back in Rhodes town, I grabbed dinner at a café within the walls of the Old Town and walked back to the hotel. That 8:30am ferry to Symi would come pretty early in the morning but my anticipation for my next stop had been growing for days so I was excited to move on to island #2 in the Dodecanese.
Next up, Symi!