Rhodes: Medieval Walls and 21st Century Shopping

View of the town of Lindos from the acropolis.

 

The Grand Master

RHODES, Greece — I was up early for breakfast and was nearly knocked over at the sight of the medieval walls surrounding the Rhodes Old Town. It was a living postcard, under early morning light, outside the cruise ship where I was sitting.

I gulped breakfast and grabbed my camera for shots of the walls plus the Grand Master’s Palace, built when the

Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (meaning the crusaders) occupied the island (1309-1522).

The views here also included a

Fort St. Nicholas — actually a lighthouse — on a spit of land that juts out from Rhodes city.

building identified at the Governor’s Palace, which looked Venetian, and a small Fort St. Nicholas (a lighthouse) on a

The Governor’s Palace and other buildings visible from a docked cruise ship at the city of Rhodes.

spit of land that helps define the port area.

I was a passenger along with a number of other travel journalists on Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal, which stopped at several Greek islands. Rhodes is part of the Dodecanese island group, and it is the largest at 540 square miles.

The Rhodes port also was the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was destroyed in an earthquake before the time of Christ.

Fortifications at the Lindos acropolis on Rhodes. The visitors in the photo are ready to descend stone steps to a plaza below. Their figures indicate something of the scale of this structure.

The medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that would be the centerpiece of our visit, but first we headed to the Lindos archaeological site about 40 minutes away by van (34 miles).

The central attraction at Lindos is the acropolis dating from the fourth century B.C. and the Temple of Athena Lindia, dating from the same century.

There are medieval fortifications, as well. The crusaders fortified everything!

We walked up to the hilltop setting. There was another way to get there, by donkey. No thanks.

Walking took at least half an hour and involved steps of various sizes and conditions as well as broad paved walkways with an upward incline.

The last leg of this climb, for entry into the walled pinnacle, involved steps, some with walls at the side for support (and comfort), but the top set of steps had nothing on the sides. The wind was whipping us and a little daunting.

The ancients, the Byzantines, the crusaders and the Ottomans all used the Lindos acropolis as a fortress. The

Ottomans pushed the crusaders out in 1522.

On top of the Lindos acropolis, pillars that date from antiquity and, behind them, the Byzantine church of Ayios Ioannis.

The most impressive parts, for their size and state of repair, were the fortifications, mostly reflecting the work of the crusaders. We also viewed a Byzantine church dating from the Middle Ages.

Remains of the Temple of Athena Lindia, which dates from the fourth century B.C. It is at the highest level atop the Lindos acropolis.

There is not too much left from antiquity, but we walked over the oldest (and highest) part of the site anyway, very carefully on sloping rocks. The remains — a few pillars — of the Temple of Athena Lindia were dramatic in their isolation.

Views out over the Aegean and a rugged Rhodes coastline — and views of the town of Lindos below — were dramatic, too.

The white houses of Lindos cascade prettily down the side of the hilltop fortification. While walking up and back, we passed among them, many of which are shops with goods meant for tourists. Lindos is a beach area, too.

On cruise excursions, things can happen early in the day. By 10:45, we were leaving Lindos. En route to Rhodes city,

A hand-painted scene on a plate at the Dakas M Keramik factory in Faliraki on Rhodes.

we stopped at one of the area’s many ceramic factories. One journalist among us had a compelling need to buy.

Our particular destination was the Dakas M Keramik factory in Faliraki. We watched skilled workers paint some pieces by hand. It was not clear how many pieces in the factory’s seemingly vast inventory could have been painted one at a time. Some plates were truly artwork with one-of-a-kind scenes painted on them.

Farther along, Faliraki, a coastal town, turned into a strip mall of clubs and restaurants which were not open during our March visit, but they would be open for summer tourists. This is part of the island’s broad selection of beach areas, with big hotels and the works.

Once back at Rhodes city and specifically its medieval Old Town, our escort led us through one of the gates, and I counted three moats en route. This took us straight

to our first up-close viewing of the crusaders’ palace, the Palace of the Grand Masters.

One of numerous streets for shops and outdoor eateries in the walled Old Town of Rhodes.

The Old Town is divided into two sections, one the city of the knights with a name that I found spelled two ways, Collachium or Collachio. The rest of it, the Bourg or Burgo, is the lower town, the former Turkish quarter.

The Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent in the part of the Rhodes Old Town that was the Turkish quarter when the Ottomans held sway over the island.

The latter quarter includes the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent and an awfully lot of shops. In fact, the former Turkish quarter is loaded with shopping streets and must be incredibly packed in high season, which argues for a visit early in the year when streets can be — as they were for us — wonderfully free of crowds.

We were afforded what I regard as an invaluable opportunity wherever I travel, the chance to wander around a new area solo, looking into nooks

and crannies or shopping at my leisure.

Gyros, a Greek specialty, as well as crepes and waffles are offered at this outdoor cafe in the walled Old Town of Rhodes.

Lunch came in the middle of that, too. This was at a small, nearly deserted restaurant called Alexis. It was a lovely place, and we had a feast of really nice Greek food.

When I asked our escort about the lack of customers at lunch, he said this

was what restaurants looked like in the off-season and at a weekday lunchtime while locals are at work. He said locals would be at Alexis by nighttime.

The light was lovely all day, so I revisited some parts of the Old Town that I had loved the first time around. This was not hard to do as the walled city is not overly large.

Eventually, I walked out via a gate that opens right onto the port with our ship a short walk away.

The article and photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

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