You are here: Home ￫ click here to EXPLORE Rhodes ￫ general
Cosmopolitan, spacious, immensely varied, blessed with a fullness of vegetation and an unforgettable radiance of light, the island of Rhodes has always been a proudly self-sufficient world of its own. The first line of Horace’s seventh Ode cites ‘claram Rhodon’ as a paragon of beauty, and the poet’s choice of the word clarus artfully evokes not only its ‘fame’ but also the ‘brilliance’ of its light: the island was, from the beginning, sacred to Helios, divinity of the sun. Roman statesmen and emperors travelled here to enjoy and imbibe the island’s art and culture, and intellectuals from all over the civilised world came to study with its scientists, thinkers and orators.
The island has a long and important history. One of its most fascinating moments relates to the creation of the city of Rhodes itself. It is a testimony to the pragmatism and (intermittent) farsightedness of the Ancient Greek mind that three, well-established, thriving and competing ancient cities in different parts of the island—Lindos, Ialysos and Kameiros—should have taken the peaceful and momentous decision to ‘synoecise’ in 408/7 bc—that is, to renounce their individual independence and combine together so as to found and build a new and greater city which was to be called, like the island, ‘Rhodes ’. This phenomenon had happened elsewhere in the Greek world but rarely on such a significant scale. Each city knew that what it was combining to create would eclipse its own individual importance: but the result was the emergence of one of the richest cities of the later Greek world, ex travagantly praised by Strabo and Pliny for its beauty and wealth of art.
Out of the blue, over a thousand years later, the island’s character was once again utterly transformed, this time by the arrival of an international group of wealthy, aristocratic warriors—the Hospitaller Knights of St John— who embellished and cultivated and fortified the island as a chivalric kingdom in the sea. The Knights too were a kind of synoecism—an unique confluence of different nationalities with common Christian interests, creating something that was not a state, nor a nation, nor anything that had a precedent, but which was nonetheless a fully independent entity and which became a crucial—some times solitary—player in the theatre of Mediterranean history. Finally, at the beginning of the last century, the Italians arrived with different ambitions and built Rhodes into a regional capital of their empire with a new centre created in a memorable, but somewhat alien and eclectic kind of architecture. In short, there is nothing common place in the story of this remarkable island.
As a consequence, of all the cities in Greece Rhodes is the only one that comes close to Athens in the density and richness of its monuments. In fact, in the sheer variety to be seen—Hellenistic, Mediaeval, Ottoman, Traditional, Italian Colonial—it substantially outshines the capital. Modern Rhodes lives naturally and unaffectedly with this legacy. Although it has more than its fair share of heavy tourism the island does not live solely on its past but sup ports a vital and independent commercial and cultural life of its own which makes it an equal pleasure to visit in or out of season. An acquaintance with the island takes time; but it will continue to surprise with new finds however of ten visited. The interest of the city itself is amply matched by the island as a whole where there is an exhilarating ar ray of monuments which, in one way or another, are out of the ordinary. Amongst ancient archaeological sites in the Islands, Ancient Kameiros is one of the most untouched having suffered no over-building or interference between its abandonment at the end of Antiquity and its re-discovery at the beginning of the last century. Few sanctuaries in all of Greece have a more improbable or panoramic site than that of Zeus Atabyrios on the summit of the is land’s highest peak. Three of the most complete painted Byzantine interiors in the Aegean—each quite distinct from the other—are to be seen in the main churches at Lindos, Asklepieio, and at the Monastery of Tharri; and for the quality and idiosyncrasy of their artists’ style, the murals in the much smaller churches of Aghii Giorgios and Michai―l at Prophilia (12th century), and of Aghios Nikolaos at Trianda (15th century) should not be missed. Dozens more chapels with painted interiors dot the intimate and bucolic landscape of the island’s interior: one of particular charm, the rural chapel of Aghios Nikolaos ‘Foundoukli’, lies just outside the island’s most bizarre vil lage—the semi-abandoned Italian agricultural settlement, now called Eleousa on the slopes of Mount Prophitis Elias, whose buildings in an eclectic architecture of the 1930s are now mostly derelict. The folded hills of the deserted centre of the island and the dunes of its south are home to many unusual trees, flowers, reptiles, birds and butterflies. The only European home of the Liquidambar orientalis tree, with its curative and calmative gum and beautiful autumn colours, is on Rhodes ; its presence is part of the reason for the extraordinary display of the millions of Jersey tiger moths that congregate nearby in the ‘Petaloudes Valley’ in high summer. There are wild peonies that grow in the lower mountain slopes; and turtles in the shallow waters of the south. All of them are a rare beauty to behold; but their continued presence on the island cannot for ever be taken for granted.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.