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Rhodes, Greece: island of the knights

History lives and breathes in this center of the ancient world.

Still-standing columns at Rhodes' Acropolis of Lindos remind visitors of the island's storied past.
Still-standing columns at Rhodes' Acropolis of Lindos remind visitors of the island's storied past.

Rhodes is probably best known as the island once home to the Colossus of Rhodes, a 98-foot-high statue of the Greek god Helios and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the tallest structure in ancient times has long disappeared, but the deer statues, where the colossus once stood, remain guarding Mandraki Harbour.

Hippocrates Square in Rhodes Old Town. (photo: Ian Woolcock, Thinkstock.com)

History's all over the place on the largest of the Dodecanese islands, with the Crusaders as well as Ottoman and Italian invaders having left their lasting legacy in Rhodes's Old Town. Further afield, the whitewashed villages, cobblestoned streets and beachfront tavernas are quintessentially Greek.

Rhodes' Acropolis

When visiting a new place I like to get up high for a first overview – be it a castle tower, skyscraper or mountaintop. In Rhodes, the ruins of the acropolis dominating the western part of the city fit my bill.

After a decent uphill walk in some 90°F weather, I stood in front of the remains of the Temple of Apollo. As always when encountering monuments of times long gone by, I felt reverence and admiration for the achievements of generations past.

The whole acropolis has not been excavated yet, but a small theatre and stadium below were open to the public. A local man was running circles in the stadium like his ancestors some hundreds of years ago.

Rhodes city walls and harbor.

Discovering Old Town

Thanks to a strategic position in the Aegean Sea, Rhodes's Old Town has been an important seafaring and trading center since its beginnings in 407 B.C. It's surprisingly well-preserved despite a tumultuous history, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

While strolling aimlessly through the well-worn streets, in every alley, around every corner, I discovered something new: bastions, thick gates, minarets, fountains, churches and busy squares. The cobblestoned Street of the Knights, one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe, was crowded with tourists.

Palace of the Grand Master courtyard.

The Palace of the Grand Master was arguably my highlight of Old Town. Originally a Byzantine fortress, it was converted into a residence in the 14th century by the Knights of St John. The building was destroyed in 1856 by a large gunpowder explosion, only to be rebuilt in the 20th century as a holiday residence for Fascist ruler Benito Mussolini, among others.

Ancient city-state of Líndos

If there's one can't-miss site on Rhodes, it has to be the remains of the acropolis of Líndos (top). After about an hour bus trip from Rhodes Old Town, I emerged at Líndos village.

The walk in the shade on narrow cobbled streets and along cubic whitewashed houses and Byzantine churches passed rather quickly, and before long I had reached the ancient site. A natural watchtower facing the open sea, the acropolis was built on a steep rock, high above sea level. I stood for awhile and took in the stunning 360° views over the village, olive groves and turquoise sea.

The acropolis covers a number of different monuments from various time periods, and it took me around two to three hours to get a good look at all of them. Although the site is well-maintained, you have to be careful with slippery steps and pieces of stone strewn about.

Monastery of Filerimos

With what felt like a lifetime of Greek history under my belt, I had one last stop to make before returning home. On the way from the airport, I had noticed a large cross on top of a hill. A look on the map told me to head uphill to a place called the Monastery of Filerimos.

The hilltop Monastery of Filerimos.

My navigation skills aren’t the best, but I had to see the cross, so I started hiking through lush green bush further and further up. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered overgrown, possibly ancient columns next to the unbeaten path – making me feel like an archeologist before an important discovery. Presumably, the locals have all sorts of ancient monuments in their back gardens; it was an elevating feeling anyway.

Unfortunately, due to my dawdling, I opened the gates to the monastery just 30 minutes before closing time. But the silence and peace of the place made any time constraints disappear. The monastery has been occupied by monks continuously for over 16 centuries (although peacocks seemed to be the only residents at the time of my visit).

The Path of Golgotha, held to be the path that Jesus, carrying the cross, walked to his crucifixion, is depicted on brass plaques on Filerimos Hill. A shaded pathway connects the monastery with the enormous 18-meter concrete cross I'd seen days before. After walking up the internal staircase I had a last look over the island, and left off where I started – with a view from the top.

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Still-standing columns at Rhodes' Acropolis of Lindos remind visitors of the island's storied past.
Still-standing columns at Rhodes' Acropolis of Lindos remind visitors of the island's storied past.

Rhodes is probably best known as the island once home to the Colossus of Rhodes, a 98-foot-high statue of the Greek god Helios and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the tallest structure in ancient times has long disappeared, but the deer statues, where the colossus once stood, remain guarding Mandraki Harbour.

Hippocrates Square in Rhodes Old Town. (photo: Ian Woolcock, Thinkstock.com)

History's all over the place on the largest of the Dodecanese islands, with the Crusaders as well as Ottoman and Italian invaders having left their lasting legacy in Rhodes's Old Town. Further afield, the whitewashed villages, cobblestoned streets and beachfront tavernas are quintessentially Greek.

Rhodes' Acropolis

When visiting a new place I like to get up high for a first overview – be it a castle tower, skyscraper or mountaintop. In Rhodes, the ruins of the acropolis dominating the western part of the city fit my bill.

After a decent uphill walk in some 90°F weather, I stood in front of the remains of the Temple of Apollo. As always when encountering monuments of times long gone by, I felt reverence and admiration for the achievements of generations past.

The whole acropolis has not been excavated yet, but a small theatre and stadium below were open to the public. A local man was running circles in the stadium like his ancestors some hundreds of years ago.

Rhodes city walls and harbor.

Discovering Old Town

Thanks to a strategic position in the Aegean Sea, Rhodes's Old Town has been an important seafaring and trading center since its beginnings in 407 B.C. It's surprisingly well-preserved despite a tumultuous history, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

While strolling aimlessly through the well-worn streets, in every alley, around every corner, I discovered something new: bastions, thick gates, minarets, fountains, churches and busy squares. The cobblestoned Street of the Knights, one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe, was crowded with tourists.

Palace of the Grand Master courtyard.

The Palace of the Grand Master was arguably my highlight of Old Town. Originally a Byzantine fortress, it was converted into a residence in the 14th century by the Knights of St John. The building was destroyed in 1856 by a large gunpowder explosion, only to be rebuilt in the 20th century as a holiday residence for Fascist ruler Benito Mussolini, among others.

Ancient city-state of Líndos

If there's one can't-miss site on Rhodes, it has to be the remains of the acropolis of Líndos (top). After about an hour bus trip from Rhodes Old Town, I emerged at Líndos village.

The walk in the shade on narrow cobbled streets and along cubic whitewashed houses and Byzantine churches passed rather quickly, and before long I had reached the ancient site. A natural watchtower facing the open sea, the acropolis was built on a steep rock, high above sea level. I stood for awhile and took in the stunning 360° views over the village, olive groves and turquoise sea.

The acropolis covers a number of different monuments from various time periods, and it took me around two to three hours to get a good look at all of them. Although the site is well-maintained, you have to be careful with slippery steps and pieces of stone strewn about.

Monastery of Filerimos

With what felt like a lifetime of Greek history under my belt, I had one last stop to make before returning home. On the way from the airport, I had noticed a large cross on top of a hill. A look on the map told me to head uphill to a place called the Monastery of Filerimos.

The hilltop Monastery of Filerimos.

My navigation skills aren’t the best, but I had to see the cross, so I started hiking through lush green bush further and further up. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered overgrown, possibly ancient columns next to the unbeaten path – making me feel like an archeologist before an important discovery. Presumably, the locals have all sorts of ancient monuments in their back gardens; it was an elevating feeling anyway.

Unfortunately, due to my dawdling, I opened the gates to the monastery just 30 minutes before closing time. But the silence and peace of the place made any time constraints disappear. The monastery has been occupied by monks continuously for over 16 centuries (although peacocks seemed to be the only residents at the time of my visit).

The Path of Golgotha, held to be the path that Jesus, carrying the cross, walked to his crucifixion, is depicted on brass plaques on Filerimos Hill. A shaded pathway connects the monastery with the enormous 18-meter concrete cross I'd seen days before. After walking up the internal staircase I had a last look over the island, and left off where I started – with a view from the top.

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