Succumbing to the charms on the Greek Island of Rhodes
Fall is the best season to visit the Mediterranean. The sun is still bright, the temperatures are warm and — most importantly — the crowds are considerably thinner than during the summer.
The Greek island of Rhodes — located 11 miles off the Turkish coast — should be on the “must-visit” list of any traveler to the region. It served for millennia as a bustling crossroads for commerce and in the crosshairs of military conflagrations between Europe and the Middle East.
The fourth largest of the Greek islands still bustles, but today it bustles with tourists.
No one had told us that Rhodes (Rodos in Greek) was one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations. Apparently, it was the 541-square mile island's turn to host virtually everyone in the Mediterranean region on the day we visited.
That's not to say we didn't succumb to Rhodes' charm. But the challenges of the visit were manifest. Herewith, the good, the bad — and the loud.
CLIMBING THE ACROPOLIS
The Lindos Acropolis, located along the island's southeastern shore, offered us our first trial by heat and humanity. As Greek ruins go, it was largely unremarkable and not worth the effort it took to visit.
An acropolis is a settlement or military post built atop a high, generally rocky hill and used for defense against invaders. Thanks to its terrain, Greece has many acropolises, including two on Rhodes.
This one rose above the village of Lindos, a collection of whitewashed buildings and trinket stands filling a warren of streets wrapping the base. Admission was 6 euros (about $6.75). Visitors can climb the steep streets and trails to the top or ride a donkey for 10 euros (about $11.25).
We chose to walk or, rather, climb. We'd suggest renting the donkey.
Our footpath took us to the ruins of the Doric Temple of Athena Lindia (of which only a few columns remain), remnants of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. John, and other tumbled stones from various fortifications erected over the millennia. The walking surface was uneven and, in some cases, downright treacherous, but the site also afforded a sweeping view of the southern Mediterranean Sea.
The view apparently overwhelmed one man, who pushed my wife out of the way to get a better picture of his friend and the sea, nearly knocking my wife down the mountain.
After about 30 minutes we climbed down — hot and dusty but with life and limb intact, regretting our visit with every step.
Then we ran into the orange juice vendors.
Freshly squeezed from local fruit, the pulpy juice that nearly every stand and shop sold was the best we had ever tasted. Or, maybe we were just thirsty.
OLD TOWN AND THE PALACE
Things fared better when we returned to the city of Rhodes and, especially, Old Town Rhodes and the Palace of the Grand Masters.
As the Greek island nearest to the Holy Land, Rhodes became a popular stopover for the knights of the Crusades. In 1309, the Knights of St. John, an order of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, claimed Rhodes as its headquarters.
The Crusaders constructed a settlement that took on all the trappings of a medieval village, so much so that it has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and is considered the best-preserved village of its type in Europe.
Thick walls of a Frankish style surround the old town area of 104 acres, which itself is home to a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with shops and residences. Eleven gates provide access to the area, and in its day, responsibility for the various walls and escarpments were ceded to different groups of crusaders from Spain, Portugal, England and Germany.
The fortifications' expansion, built on previously constructed Byzantine foundations, was overseen by Grand Master Antonio de Fluvian Riviere. He then ruled from the Palace of the Grand Master, the destination of most visitors.
Admission to the palace is 6 euros, or 10 euros with a combined admission to the palace and the Archeological Museum of Rhodes. We chose the palace but skipped the museum.
Over the centuries, the palace has been destroyed and restored several times, most recently by Italians in the early 20th century. Their restoration created a much larger and more fanciful medieval fortress than the original, but that's just one more aspect that makes the palace such an interesting destination.
Walking the cool stone hallways was a distinctly different and more relaxing experience than scrambling to the top of the dusty, sun-baked acropolis. Although not as tricked out with historical bric-a-brac as some more touristy locations, the palace nevertheless offers its own cache of historical items, from ancient Rhodes as well as the island's period of rule under the Ottoman Empire.
From the ancient period comes a sculpture of the head of Helios, the Greek sun god. Mythology holds that Rhodes was pulled from its ocean depths to serve as his home.
But it's the grand halls and rooms fit for a king that gives the historic structure its charm.
SINGING FOR HIS SUPPER
We left the palace refreshed and relaxed. At the palace gate, heading toward the city center, we were greeted by an unusual sound.
A young boy — who may have been 12, but just barely — sat on the ground behind a cup for coins, singing his heart out. Street musicians are not unusual in Greece, but we had never heard anyone sing so badly, so loudly, and with so much pride. What he lacked in talent he certainly made up for in heart.
That he was so painfully out of tune made no difference to him. He seemed happy just to be alive and able to sing at all. After a challenging day, he brought smiles to our faces.
We dropped some euros into his cup as we passed, agreeing that he was the best thing to come along since orange juice.
Ruins on top of the Lindos Acropolis.