time now, Rhodes has been the official beauty spot of the Aegean, with
upwards of a million tourists a year flocking to the island to partake
of its many charms. High on the list of tourist attractions is Rhodes
city itself, home to a port which can handle cruise boats, charter yachts
and hydrofoils alike, and to an airport which attracts jumbo jets from
every corner of the world.
It's safe to say that most visitors head straight to Rhodes' Old Town,
which is located behind fortress walls built by the Knights of St. John
over a two-century period (1309-1522 A.D.) The Knights built houses and
palaces for themselves as well as erecting a stronghold that is considered
one of the great military constructs of all time. With its battlements
and fortifications, its moats and iron doors, it was well-nigh impregnable.
Its surrender to the Ottoman army of Sulieman the Magnificent was finally
negotiated on December 25, 1522 after a five-month siege.
The Levantine atmosphere of the walled city is still intact, though the
saddlers, blacksmiths and ironmongers of old have given way to hawkers
of tourist trinkets and snacks. The Palace of the Grand Masters still
stands, as does the Hospital of the Knights, which has been turned into
a museum containing artifacts, sculpture and jewelry from just about every
period of Rhodess history. Another tourist draw is a nightly sound
and light show which dramatizes key moments from the islands Crusader
can't compete with the Old Town for picturesqueness or history, but it
has many worthy things to offer, enough to justify an extended visit.
The city was founded after the Turks drove the Greeks out of the fortified
part of town. Dozens of neighborhoods took root, most of which now have
their own church, shops, streets, houses and hotels-many, many hotels.
Today Rhodes and its environs can boast of over five hundred hotels, most
of which are large, luxurious complexes containing indoor and outdoor
swimming pools, saunas, exercise rooms, nightclubs and restaurants. The
citys biggest attraction, however, is the site where the Colossus
of Rhodes stood in 300 B.C., astride the main harbor. The Colossus was
one of the seven wonders of the world. Made of either copper or bronze,
it took twelve years to build and stood 105 feet high with legs set wide
enough to allow ships to pass between them. This gigantic representation
of the god Apollo Helios held a torch in his right hand but kept his left
hand by his groin (perhaps to protect himself from tall-masted ships).
The statue stood until 227 B.C., when a severe earthquake toppled it (and
much of Rhodes city as well). Money was donated by friendly kingdoms to
reconstruct the city and raise the Colossus, but as it frequently happens
in the Levant, the money was spent on other things. The inhabitants, hoping
to escape reproach, made the excuse that an oracle had forbidden them
to resurrect the statue. So the damaged Colossus lay on its side for centuries
until the Saracens, after their capture of Rhodes, demolished the statue
and sold its pieces to a Syrian scrap dealer.
the broad esplanade overlooking the old harbor of Rhodes and its three
Byzantine windmills, no longer has its Colossus, but at its entrance are
two columns adorned with statues of the lovely gazelles of the island.
The ancient marketplace has been turned into a shopping mall, but there
are numerous cafes where its possible to sit and have a coffee and
watch all the bustling action: the arrival and departure of mammoth cruise
ships and elegant yachts, even the odd Greek fishing boat or two.
Just north of the main harbor is a series of official buildings built
during the Italian occupation--bank, court house, post office, theater,
city hall--in a style that has been described as Mussolini Gothic. Visitors
looking to take a day trip around Rhodes or a hydrofoil to a neighboring
island will find all kinds of choices here. There are popular public beaches
Most of Rhodes new city has been given over to tourism. Shops of
all kinds abound, making it possible to buy everything from fur coats
and leather jackets to gold and jewelry baubles. Banks, travel agencies
and fast-food stalls beckon on all sides, pharmacies, medical and dental
clinics as well. There is a hotel on every corner.
One of the
citys must-see attractions is the famed Hotel Des Roses (first built
by the Italians in 1927, with a Moorish design). Standing five stories
tall, the hotels 140 rooms were spacious and elegant. Downstairs
there was a grand ballroom and various sitting and dining rooms where
liveried servants served food and drink with exquisite taste and grace.
The hotel kept its reputation and prominence right through WW IIthe
Italian, German and British high commands all stayed there. The post-war
United Nations meeting to plan the establishment of the state of Israel
was held here, as was a major gathering of the World Council of Churches.
But the fortunes of the hotel began to wane in the ensuing years. The
hotels ownership went to the Greek state; eventually the property
was ceded to the Municipality of Rhodes.
Today the refurbished Hotel Des Roses now serves as a major gambling casino.
The bottom two floors are packed with blackjack, baccarat, dice and poker
tables, slot and video machines as well. The top three floors contain
modern suites, a restaurant and bars, along with a fitness center and
nightclub. There is an outdoor swimming pool as well.
To reach the Grand Old Lady of Rhodes, you must pass through an olive
grove where Lawrence Durrell, author of The Alexandria Quartet and Reflections
in a Marine Venus (a book about Rhodes), lived right after WW II in a
small house that once belonged to the Turkish poet Hascmet. Durrell at
that time was a press officer in the British Foreign Service.
About a mile outside Rhodes city, just off the highway to Lindos, is a
large park called Rodini which is filled with trees, shrubs and ponds.
There is also a bunch of aggressive, noisy peacocks. In ancient times
Rodini housed a center of the arts. Aeschines, a political opponent of
the celebrated orator Demosthenes, opened a School of Rhetoric here; such
painters and sculptors as Protogenes, Lyssipus, Polydoros and Timocharis
(who carved the rock-ship on the Lindos acropolis) offered their works.
Many famous Romans visited Rodini to partake of the intellectual and artistic
climate: Mark Anthony, Cicero, Cassius and Brutus, among others.
has something of an artistic and intellectual life; the municipal theater
regularly offers concerts, film and stage shows, symposiums, art exhibits
and lectures. There are also numerous upscale restaurants where one can
dine on fancy food and wine. There is no end of live entertainment as
well, everything from Greek pop song to rock and hip-hop bands. When it
comes to discos, Rhodes is no slouch either, with something like a hundred
clubs operating from midnight to dawn, their dance floors packed with
The 21st century's Colossus of Rhodes is a package tourist: clad in shorts
and a T-shirt, he stands tall with a beer in his upraised fist, ready
to boogie the night away.