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It's probably a safe bet that most people, including avid readers of the New Testament, don't think about Paul's brief stop on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1) when someone mentions Rhodes. The island's name might prompt memories of the "Island of Roses" or even "Isle of the Sun," but those slogans are attached to many other places in the world. No, "Rhodes" is forever coupled with "Colossus."

The bronze Colossus, which (according to legend) stood astride the harbor of the city of Rhodes, was a more-than-100-foot-tall statue of the sun god (thus "Isle of the Sun") commemorating the city's success in repelling a siege in the 4th century BCE. The Colossus, which certainly stood to one side of the harbor and not across it, was considered one of the ancient 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 felled 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 mighthave stood. Deer? Deer were imported to help get rid of snakes and now are the modern symbols of Rhodes. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Rhodes is a rather large island that offers a great deal more than can be taken in during the eight or so hours allowed by a 3-day/3-island cruise. What could be seen in a few hours, though, is a good bit of Rhodes Town, including the Archeological Museum and the Palace of the Knights of St. John, plus winding streets, the (fortunately) dry mote with massive city walls, and the synagogue.

Rhodes (and Mykonos for a shorter time and that at night) was virtually the only stop where participants were free to explore for an extended time without a local guide. People went in different ways; therefore this report does not reflect the preferences of everyone on the tour -- de gustibus non disputandum.

The island has been inhabited since the beginning of time. Though it almost certainly participated in the Mycenaean civilization (centered on Crete and/or Santorini), its recorded history doesn't begin until the second millennium BCE, when Dorian Greeks settled there. 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 (Hospittalers) 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 'til this day. Of all that historical coming and going, the most visible (and visitable) remains are the magnificent buildings left by the Knights of St. John.

Once the Hospital of the Knights, the Archeological 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 the requisite statues (some of which are quite remarkable), vases, and 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 moved from Kos, a neighboring island. 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 isopen to the public are shaded plazas upon many of which is just the right café 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. On their way out of the mote your intrepid authors indulged their narcissistic propensities.

Back inside the walls, the walk once again enters a maze of streets where it is easy to get lost (but one is never lost unless there is urgent necessity to be at a particular place at a particular time). And then, 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.

And then, just as the romance of this lovely island and it's glorious history is in full swing, reality enters: Rhodes' sole synagogue. It is beautifully restored and fully functional. But it was not always so. The legend in French on the bema informs all who come that way that it was given by a Jewish family in memory of other family members, including children, mort in deportation en l'annee 1944.

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