April 15, 2022 66°F/19°C
It’s been a while since we’ve been in a truly scenic port, but Rhodes makes up for all the industry-heavy ports over the past while. It’s gorgeous, along the lines of Malta (which everyone told us was the most beautiful port). The 14th century crenelated city walls and gate are right here beside us, as are the bright white houses of the newer part of town, abutted against stunning blue waters. It’s a feast for the eyes.
Our optional half day tour today added 1-1/2 hours on Mt. Filerimos and in the ancient city of Ialyssos to what was on the included 2-1/2 tour of the Old Town of Rhodes.
Our scenic drive took us past an ancient amphitheatre.
At the top of Mount Filerimos, the ascent to which was through forests in many shades of green, on roads overlooking the sea, we alit to tour the Church of our Lady, built by the Knights of St. John during the 15th century. There are still monks in residence in the monastery there, but the church has no active congregation.
We were told to note the Maltese Cross on the church’s bell tower. Even though this site predated the Knights of St. John being given Malta, the crosses are now all referred to by that name.
The church is famous for its unique Madonna icon, the original of which is now housed in the Knights’ headquarters in Rome.
Each year, on the feast day of St. John, Knights in full regalia meet here, and the old stone walls are bedecked with their banners. It must be incredible to witness.
The site is also home to a huge cross, which overlooks the city and sea below. The path leading to the cross is called “The Road to Calvary”, and features bronze reliefs of the Stations of the Cross.
What our tour description did not tell us was that the church grounds atop Mt. Filerimos are home to a colony of about 300 peacocks! The males’ “screams” often presage a flaring of their tail feathers and lots of strutting. The peahens honestly don’t seem all that impressed.
After our visit on the mountain, we returned to the Old Town of Rhodes, one of the best preserved mediaeval walled towns in the world.
Before our independent wandering, our group toured the Palace of the Grandmasters, built during the 14th century. Rhodes is yet another place where the history is found in layers. The palace was originally built as a Byzantine citadel in the 7th century. After the Knights Hospitaller conquered parts of Greece in the 13th century, the citadel was turned into a palace for the grandmaster by 1309. In the early 1500s the Ottomans captured Rhodes, and converted the palace (which in the interim had bern damaged in an earthquake) back into a fortress. The Ottoman Turks beld onto Rhodes until 1912, when Italy captured it and declared it an Italian territory. By then, the second floor of the palace was gone, and the first floor severely damaged, but In the 1930’s Benito Mussolini decided he’d like to restore the palace to its former glory.
Getting to the Palace of the Grandmasters required first entering the walled city by going through three gates and crossing two dry moats. There was never water in the moats; they were designed as strategic “traps” between sections of the wall inside which the Knights could more easily battle intruders. They also made great places into which to catapult huge boulders. Today they’re playing fields for children on field trips.
I was fascinated that the dates on several plaques and carvings in the palace listed the date in both Roman numerals in the usual BC/AD calendar and in number of years of the “Fascist Era”.
Since there were no blueprints or records of how the palace originally looked, the current second – and third! – stories were built according to what the Italians thought it “should” look like. It is gorgeous, especially the crenelations on top of the towers, but likely not like the original.
The fantastic mosaic floors throughout were added by the Italians, brought in pieces from the ancient Casa Romana villa and the greater archeological site uncovered on the nearby Greek island of Kos due to an earthquake in 1933, and reassembled in the palace. The mosaics themselves date to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.
The Italians also added several stunning Murano glass chandeliers, definitely not true to the Knights’ 14th century construction.
Since the Italians knew that the Grandmasters’ personal quarters often featured a daisy motif, they tiled those rooms with daisy-patterned floor tiles.
The rich wall decoration was hand-painted; it is not wallpaper.
The window “glass” is actually alabaster marble, sliced so thinly as to be translucent! Again, certainly not original to the palace’s construction, but nonetheless beautiful.
After leaving the palace, we strolled down the Street of the Knights , which housed the hospital on the right, and the various knights’ inns on the left. As was the case in Malta, each linguistic group (as opposed to countries, whose borders were not yet fixed) had its own inn and its own role within the order. The group within the “langue”/language of French was the hospitallers; Italian was the order’s fleet; German was the financiers (much like in today’s EU !); Provence, Auvergne, Aragon, and English each had their own role.
We thoroughly enjoyed Rhodes. In our opinion, it was the most vibrant old town we’ve seen yet, with lots of shops, restaurants, and cafés on either side of the cobbled streets. Plus, the town just smells great, full of wisteria and orange and lemon blossoms. We ate a wonderful Greek lunch, drank strong Greek coffees, wandered the many streets of shops …. and really wanted to stay. This is a place well worth returning to.
… and it has cats everywhere!
A fabulous day was capped off by surf and turf being grilled on the Aquavit Terrace, and an evening of stellar entertainment by the female vocalists of the Viking Star, presenting the anthemic songs of powerhouse singers in a show called “Girls’ Night In”.