Pulling into Rhodes is at first glance disappointing. The island has a big population, it’s the fourth largest Greek island, and the first thing one sees are big collections of condos and other modern buildings. This is kind of startling after Mykonos and Santorini have become your models for Greek islands.
However, as the boat turns to dock in the harbor abutting the medieval part of the city Rhodes Town comes into view, and it satisfies. The medieval fortress walls are impressive and the castle behind it is visible from the water. It’s “younger” than the ruins we have been seeing—and vaults us into visions of knights rather than Greek Gods. It’s actually refreshing to see a whole new kind of city.
You disembark a very short walk from the entrances to the city within the walls and as usual, the streets are lined with shops leading to the biggest tourists sights: the halls and buildings of the Knights of St. John who lived here, on and off, for a couple of hundred years, starting early in the 14th century. The architecture is military and stark, but because so many buildings are relatively intact, there is a nice overall effect. Many of the historic buildings are still inhabited, so its nice to be in an old city that still has some life in it! There are plenty of tourists in this city too, so it has an urban feel.
Our guide (speaking fluid English with an accent picked up in Manchester!) led us directly to the Hospital of the Knights which now houses the Archaeological Museum. The 15th century building is the largest open to the public and its got a number of grand spaces. There are beautiful plazas and a quite romantic garden with ancient statuary in it. Most impressive to me were the Roman mosaic floors imported from Kos (another Greek island). They were in great shape—almost all were intact and had exquisite details.
What was disconcerting and disturbing were the changes done to the building during the Italian occupation under Mussolini. While some of the Italian work was an expensive renovation of the rooms, there was one plaque carved in stone which was a declaration from the dictator that included a new way of dating future history: after the emergence of Mussolini. Fortunately, he never got to revise the way we count years, but it was a chilling reminder of what kind of men the Allies fought in the Second World War.
The streets of Rhodes were pleasant to walk through with a number of churches and interesting ruins. There is also an old Jewish quarter—also sad to see since almost all of Rhodes’s Jews were deported and only 50 out of the 200 escaped being murdered by the Nazis. There is a restored Synagogue that was funded by survivors.
This town was not as carefree an experience as the previous islands-too much “modern” history had intervened. Some of our group cut off to go to one of Rhodes’s famed beaches, and some took the half an hour or so ride to Lindos, an ancient and supposedly charming city. I, however, cut back to the boat to get a massage.
I am sure the beach was worth it but the massage was so good that I know I made the right choice for myself. The masseuse kept asking until she got the pressure just right and there was a “tropical shower” afterwards that shot water at about six places on my body. Oh happy day. This would, of course, have been over the top romantic if it was coed…but sadly, no.
I dragged myself out of the shower (can you use up all the hot water in a ship?), got my act together to go to dinner, and went early to bed. There was entertainment on the ship but between the sun, absorbing the day’s history lesson, and the massage, it was all I could do just to sit up straight to eat.