Most of Europe takes holiday in August – and the beaches and islands of Greece are a popular destination. Demetri’s been interested in Rhodes (Rodos in Greek) for many reasons, so our August holiday is a week here. We rented a lovely house in the village of Koskinou with a swimming pool and room for 8 of us – Papou, Theodoris and Mina and us five.
Rhodes is the capital of and largest island in the Dodecanse islands. It’s less than 10 km from Turkey, in fact on clear days we could see the Turkish coast from our kitchen. The first settlers look to have arrived in 500 BC; Rhodes became a strong power in the years to follow. The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was constructed in the harbor of Rhodes town.
The island was under Roman rule for 300 years starting in 70 A.D., and then occupied by Venetians and Turks. It was controlled by Italy until 1947 when it was transferred to Greece. There’s a great deal of Italian influence here – architecture, food, leather, residents, gelato …. we had some lovely dinners inside the old city in the taverna gardens.
The town of Rhodes has an amazing walled old city fortified by the Knights of Saint John in 1309. Their initial role was to care for wounded and ailing crusaders, and they built a large hospital. The Knights represented all of the major European catholic countries – a total of 8 ‘houses’ — and they restored and built about 30 castles on the island. The old city was the main fortress; during foreign attacks each group of Knights was assigned to defend certain sections. The large moat is now a public park. Rhodes was finally captured by the Turks in 1522, but because the Knights had fought so valiantly, they were given safe passage out (significant — this is not the way the Ottoman Empire rolled). Thousands of Rhodians departed with them; many settled in Crete which is southeast of Rhodes. The Knights themselves found a new home in Malta.
The Palace of Grand Masters, built in the 14th century by the Knights, has 150+ rooms. 24 are open to the public now & they’re filled with mosaics, multicolored marble, frescoes, beautiful tile and antique furniture from the 16th century (Peter called one collection of tall seats the “knight cubbies”). Because the Italians occupied and controlled Rhodes until after WWII, they were the ones who restored the castle in the early 20th century. The Palace served as holiday residence for King Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini. There’s a grand plaque in the front hall honoring both men … and Fascism. It has a beautiful inner courtyard full of statues from the Greek and Roman periods. Today, the Palace and the fabulous archaeological museum around the corner belong to the Greek state.
Walking through this old city is amazingly cool. The streets are cobblestone, the sidewalks are full of mosaics and there are fountains and springs for a quick drink or a splash on the face.