April. Does it really matter that swimming season doesn’t really start for another two months? Here, you always breathe sea air, the sun shines brightly even in winter, and two seas “embrace” the beautiful island of Rhodes, Greece. Almost every Greek island has its own ancient history, special coloring, and antique attractions, but Rhodes stands out from them. Well, what do you know about this tiny island?
Probably, the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. As legend says, it was a giant 36-meter-high bronze statue of Helios, the Greek titan-god of the sun. It guarded the entrance to the port and served as a lighthouse for ancient seamen. In medieval times, some believed that ships entered the harbour between the legs of the giant, but when we explored Mandraki Harbour, we had serious doubts about the reliability of these claims.
Don’t bother going to the island of Rhodes looking for smithereens of the former World Wonder lying somewhere under the sea. The real appeal of the island is in its unique history. No one will be surprised by traces of Greek and Byzantine culture, but the most interesting fact is that from 1306 to 1523, Rhodes was under the reign of Hospitallers (later the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta). Many beautiful constructions in Rhodes are connected with them: massive fortifications, the Palace of the Grand Master, the well-preserved Street of Knights, their former Hospital (now a museum), and the ruins of numerous small forts scattered along the coast.
From a distance, the Palace of the Grand Master and the fortifications around it disappointed rather than impressed us. Fortunately, first impressions turned out to be false. We felt the enormity of the medieval builders’ plans only after descending into the moat between the walls on the sixth day of our stay on the island. It has shown itself to be a miracle of medieval military architecture.
If your cruise liner will stay in Rhodes for a couple of days, don’t spend your time on useless excursions to Butterfly Valley or Seven Springs. You will get the strongest impressions from a walk along the moat between the old city walls. You can be sure, an assault of these fortifications was a very hard task. If you take one wall, you see another, and then a dead end with hungry dogs or maybe tigers. Even now, the remnants of secret passages are visible everywhere. I can only imagine how romantic excursions with torches in these catacombs could be if the administration of Rhodes would find money to clear away the garbage littering this underground network.
In the old city of Rhodes, you will find a mix of ancient Greek ruins, Byzantine and medieval architecture, the Jewish quarter, and bazars. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the oldest continuously inhabited medieval town of Europe. But don’t stop now. The Palace of the Grand Master must also be visited. Yes, it is a reconstruction, but it shows how serious knights built their new residence in Rhodes after leaving Palestine. This palace is much more impressive than their next one, in Malta. Visit the archaeological museum of the city, former hospital of knights. It will be more interesting than just strolling along the 200-meter Knights Street which ends by the museum.
The island of Rhodes is not big and its capital is not a metropolis. We stayed in Atrium Platinum Resort & Spa, Ixia, and every morning walked to Rhodes City, spending the whole day there, and returning in the evening. There were three ways to go: the beautiful promenade along the coast, the way through the residential area of the new city, and the more demanding walk along the rock ridge. The wind is strong on the rocks, but you will see the Acropolis of Rhodes with its ancient stadium and the ruins of the Temple Pythian Apollo which was extensively damaged by bombing during WWII. Here, in the oratorical school, Cicero and Julius Caesar practiced their eloquence.
In April, we didn’t plan to swim in the sea. The town of Ixia is located in the windy part of Rhodes. Swimming is a problem there even in summer because of waves, but spring gives you comfortable conditions for excursions—few tourists and no heat.
The Greeks are very hospitable and at the same time unobtrusive. It is not like in Turkey whose coast is easily discernible on the horizon, nor like Jerusalem with its seething Arab quarter. You’ll find seemingly the same narrow medieval streets, endless retail shops and their owners inviting you in all languages to enter, but they don’t grab your hands and don’t announce the incredible prices for their goods. Be assured, you will not be offered an “ancient” statue of the goddess Athena at the price of a Ferrari. It seemed to us the inhabitants of Rhodes are different even from the mainland Greeks, including the Athenians.
Another attraction of Rhodes is the local cuisine. There are dozens of cafes where you will eat tasty and inexpensive food in most cases. Our favorite was Symposium Restaurant Garden in the Old City of Rhodes. We have visited many areas of Greece, with the exception of Corfu, but neither in Athens, nor in Loutraki, nor Crete or Halkidiki was there such seafood as in Rhodes. More precisely, the products of the sea were available in those regions, but nowhere was the food prepared as expertly and tastily as on Rhodes.
The town of Lindos
What if you want to see something more than the city of Rhodes? Perhaps, a marine trip to the Turkish towns of Marmaris or Bodrum would be exciting, but we did not find time for it. We allowed ourselves just one trip—to the town of Lindos, having rented a cheerful orange Smart microcar. (It cost 60 Euro per day and in April, the roads were empty.) We went to this city, famous for its Acropolis, a fortress of the knights Hospitallers, and two beautiful beaches. In Lindos, you should take into account your physical condition to overcome many ascents and descents. However, the islanders tried to create a maximum of comfort for their guests: for 5 Euro, you will get a cute donkey fulfilling the role of local taxi.
The landscapes of Lindos are gorgeous: on the cliff top, medieval walls surround the ruins of the ancient Acropolis, the second largest and important in Greece. I doubted it, but the Greeks think so. The bas-relief of an ancient Greek warship is carved in the foot of the rock where the Acropolis sits (altitude is 116 meters). This work of art dates back to the 2nd century BC. You can find something similar in Petra, Jordan, but preservation of this bas-relief is a little bit better. The central temple is dedicated to the goddess Athena (4th century BC, but unfortunately, a reconstruction). A guide will tell you that Alexander the Great visited it to ask for mercy from gods.
The Acropolis has the ancient theater, the stage, and the tribune carved in the rock. They were built before our era, but in the Middle Ages, knights surrounded them by impressive walls, and now the whole complex combines elegance, power, and asceticism. The view from the top is breathtaking.
One piece of travel advice
The Acropolis opens at 8:00 a.m. Tourist buses from hotels and the port arrive in Lindos between 9 and 10 o’clock in the morning. You have half an hour to stay tête-à-tête with the city and the museum. We easily sacrificed the hotel breakfast, and entered the archeological site at 8:00 a.m. in the company of three other tourists/photographers. You need no more than one hour to explore the whole complex. Despite the stories of guides, the Acropolis of Lindos is not in the same league as its majestic brother in Athens.
When we went down to the town to order a much desired breakfast, its narrow streets were filled with hundreds of tourists moving uphill on foot or by donkeys. The municipal parking lot was full of buses. For us, it remained a mystery why so many people arrived at Lindos. Two amazing beaches? But the end of April is not an appropriate time for swimming yet. If there are so many tourists in the spring, you can imagine the pandemonium that is going on here in July or August. Be careful with the choice of the month for visiting Lindos!
The wish to stay in Lindos did not arise. Ixia was a much more comfortable place.