The Castle of Kritinia (53km), often just referred to as ‘Kastellos’, is the largest of the Knights’ fortresses along the island’s west coast. From its cliff-side position, high (130m) above emerald water, 1.5km southwest of the har bour of Skala Kameirou, it dominates the western passage and the channel of Chalki, and has fine views beyond to Tilos, Symi and Nisyros. The walls on the landward side are well-preserved with three imposing towers—one rectangular, one polygonal, and one circular. Both the joins of the masonry and the coats of arms here—Grand Masters Pierre d’Aubusson (main block) and Emery d’Amboise and Fabrizio del Carretto (eastern wing)—are evidence that the structure was raised in several successive campaigns of building between 1478 and 1521. Though its principal purpose must have been for look-out and signalling, the ruins of a large collapsed chapel (bearing the royal arms of France on one of the quoins) and three cisterns in the centre, suggest the presence of a fairly large permanent garrison. The village of Kritinia (55km) itself is attractively sited in a panoramic hollow of the hills above, around a plane shaded plateia with a small fountain (commemorating Captain Federico Marozzo della Rocca, veteran of the 1916 Italian campaigns in Friuli). The folklore museum above the village by the main road has a wide variety of local kinds of earthenware and pottery, urns and storage pithoi. Beyond Kritinia, the road climbs rapidly towards the flank of Mount Atavyros (1,216m), the island’s highest, bulkiest and—in Antiquity—most sacred, mountain. Above 800m altitude its long ridge is bare limestone; be low, it is densely wooded in pine and (to the north side) in oak and chestnut. The ascent to the -summit of Aghios Ioannis can be made either from the south in a relatively gradual, five to six hour (return) climb from the village of Aghios Isidoros, or else by road from the junction 5km south of the (southern exit of) Kritinia, which climbs through the pine forests in the saddle between the two peaks of the mountain and approaches Aghios Ioannis from the south west. Either way the effort is amply rewarded if the weather is clear by the sight of one of the most dramatically placed sanctuaries in the Aegean. The whole island lies beneath; Crete is visible to the southwest and Asia Minor to the northeast. It is said that Althaemenes, son of Catreus, King of Crete, fled to Rhodes after a frightening oracular prediction and settled on the island, founding a temple to Zeus Atabyrios on the only point on the island from which his homeland could clearly be seen. He brought with him many settlers from Crete; the name of the village above the coast below— Kritinia, or Cretenia in Antiquity—may derive from this. At Acragas (Agrigento) in Sicily, Zeus Atabyrios was worshipped together with Athena, whose cult may also have been present on the mountaintop here. A number of figurines of bulls have been found at this site, and ancient sources refer to the presence of large bronze bulls in the sanctuary which were wont to bellow and groan when some ill-fate was approaching. The extensive remains are clearly visible on the ridge. The large rectangular base (c. 15m x 11m) of a structure, surrounded by a peribolos of about 40m square, occupies the top of the ridge. Below to the north east side is the 20m long base of a stoa or portico in four courses of rusticated ashlar blocks of probably 5th century workmanship, with what appears to be a water-pool at its western end. Elements of other structures fill the space between the two areas. A number of meticulously cut and carved architectural elements lie all round, including blocks and pedestals bearing dowel-holes and what appears to be a lustral basin. Yet there is no evidence of columns or entablature suggesting a temple. What was here probably partook more of the nature of a large altar (oriented perfectly east/west) than of an actual temple. The grey stone was quarried on the saddle just below the rise to the west. The name of the summit Aghios Ioannis, suggests the ruins were ‘Christianised’ at some point as a chapel; but no visible evidence of this remains. Constructing, visiting, even conceiving of a sanctuary in such a place so arduous of access, is a measure of the enduring freedom of the Ancient Greek imagination. If the Divine and Invisible were present to them in even such a daunting place, no thought was given to mere human convenience in honouring that presence. The site, to be properly under stood, needs to be visited by foot in a storm, as the peak is enveloped in the thunder and lightning of Zeus. On the fertile lower slopes of the northern side of the mountain are some of the island’s most renowned vines. The sprawling settlement of Embonas (62km) is the principal centre for wine production; the C.A.I.R. co-operative is based here which produces a variety of wines— amongst which is Greece’s only methode champenoise wine. Production of a less commercial nature continues also on the southern slopes at Aghios Isidoros, a tranquil village backed by the massif of the mountain and over looking an ocean of pine-clad hills descending to the sea towards the east.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.