By Jim Ferri
I was walking along the ancient street when a woman carrying an open carton of a few dozen fresh eggs walked by me. I watched with interest as every shop owner she passed called out to her, she acknowledging each with a smile and wave, sometimes tossing a remark back their way.
I followed her further into the labyrinth of shops and restaurants, where wide shop awnings soon stretched out over the street, providing a welcomed respite from the hot Mediterranean sun.
It was then I realized how I was slowly being drawn in by the charm of this place, unlike any other I had ever visited in the Mediterranean.
An Astounding Place
I was in the ancient city of Rhodes, on the eastern Mediterranean island of the same name, an incredible city still clinging to its Byzantine past. The medieval aura here is strong; on some streets you half expect a knight on horseback to come trotting across the cobblestone lanes.
Capital of the 12-island Dodecanese chain, Rhodes has a convoluted past. An important trading center in 400BC, it later came under the rule of Rome and subsequently became part of the Byzantine Empire. Then in the early 14th century it was conquered by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem who turned it into a thriving Medieval city.
200 or so years later Rhodes was seized by the Ottoman Turks, then grabbed by Italy in 1912 and, surprisingly, didn’t become part of Greece until 1948. In 1988 it was designated a UNESCO World heritage Site, which has helped safeguard the cultural elements and influences of its past that remain so obvious today.
A Surprisingly Unspoiled City
I stayed in Rhodes for three nights at the Rodos Park Suite & Spa Hotel on the edge of the Old Town. It was a very comfortable hotel that also turned out to be quite well situated near D’Amboise Gate, the most impressive of all the city’s gates that lead into the Old Town.
From my hotel I had an excellent view of the incredible fortress built by the knights, which included a defensive network of two adjacent moats and two huge walls. When I crossed the bridge over the moats I couldn’t help but marvel at how well preserved everything was, including the old city doors at the gate, huge wooden barricades covered with metal plate.
As I delved deeper into the city I also was amazed at how unspoiled the city’s interior was, as well. Although its old buildings and houses contain a plethora of shops, restaurants and little cafés that cater to tourists, I still felt more like an observer than a tourist as I walked about. And it was all exceptionally clean and quiet, without the expected touts pulling on your arm on every turn.
There’s A Lot To Do in Rhodes
Rhodes’ warren of streets and narrow alleys, all lined with medieval buildings, minarets, old houses, tranquil little squares and fountains, transport you back to other eras. Rarely do you find 24 centuries of history condensed in such a relatively small area.
The Palace of the Grand Master, the focus of the old city for many, is near D’Amboise Gate. Originally a 7th century AD fortress, it was converted in the early 14th century into the residence of the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John by the Knights. Today it’s been repurposed as a museum of Hellenistic and Roman antiquities.
The adjacent Street of the Knights is considered to be one of the best preserved
Medieval streets in Europe. Along it are buildings that housed the Knights as well as medieval inns that housed visitors to the island. I ducked down one alleyway and found, appropriately, a little hotel tucked in a corner.
A few blocks from the top of the street is the Mosque of Suleiman, now in disrepair but still symbolic of the Turkish conquest in 1523. Around the area you find other mosques and an occasional bathhouse. At the bottom of the Street of the Knights is the Archaeological Museum set in the former Hospital of the Knights, and the Byzantine Museum, occupying the former cathedral of the Knights.
Beyond the museums on the other side of the city walls is Mandraki Harbor, a beautiful little harbor filled with tour boats and the occasional yacht, whose water is incredibly clear. It’s a picturesque place that’s well worth a stroll, or even an evening dinner at one of the multitude of restaurants that flood the area on the far side of the street.
In a Rental Car, Discovering Anthony Quinn Beach
I would have liked to spend more time wandering about the Old Town but I also wanted to venture further afield and see more of the island.
Taxis charge a flat rate to different towns on the island and knowing that a trip to Lindos would be €62 each way – over $200 for the round-trip – I arranged for a car rental at my hotel for a flat rate of $35 for a small car. “The tank is only a quarter full,” the agency owner told me. “Just bring it back with about the same amount of petrol.”
Driving along the east coast of the island I passed many resorts popular with vacationing Europeans sprinkled along the shoreline. I sped past them but when I saw a sign for Ladiko Beach I turned down the little road and headed for the coast.
At Ladiko is Anthony Quinn Beach, so named for the actor since some of the scenes of 1961 adventure The Guns of Navarone were filmed here. I found two beautiful little bays divided by a small promontory, a gorgeous place to sunbathe along the clear turquoise water.
On to Lindos
The real intent for my drive, however, was to visit the little town of Lindos, once a powerful and wealthy village. Soon after leaving Ladiko I saw it when I came around a bend and was rewarded with a beautiful view of sugar-cube-like buildings climbing from the bay up to an ancient Acropolis.
Lindos turned out to be a fantastic little village that now survives only on tourism, which is fine, I thought, since they keep the place clean and tidy and don’t try to rip you off too much.
The village is a maze of little lanes, some only a few feet wide, all heading uphill towards the ancient fortress 380 feet above the sea. Walking along them in the bright sun, past shops where brilliantly colored clothing hung on the white walls, I sometimes felt as if I was walking in a rainbow.
Since I wasn’t feeling intensely energetic I had planned to take a donkey to the top but missed the place where I was to hire one. Since I was then so close to the start of the walkway the led to the top, I just followed the line of walkers instead.
The climb was steep and there were a few moments where I contemplated heading back down for a burro. But when I got to the Acropolis I realized the view out across the sun-speckled Mediterranean was well-worth the effort.