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The Synagogue and Catalan Mansion
Both of the two narrow streets (Byzantiou and Symmiou) west of St Mary of the Burgh lead into the heart of Jewish Rhodes and to the Synagogue. On the right hand side of Byzantiou, a doorway with a Hebrew inscription gives onto the roofless, vaulted ruin of what was once a synagogue (‘Kahal Midrash’). During the last War, this area was the worst affected by British air-raids—just as it had been the area most damaged in the sieges of 1480 and 1522. Only about 40 Jews now remain on Rhodes and only one of the four synagogues and three oratories that once served the community survives—the Kahal Kadosh Shalom (or ‘Congregation of Peace’) at no. 8 Symmiou Street. Built between 1575 and 1577, it is the oldest stand synagogue in Greece (open daily, except Sat, 10.30–3).
An elegant and luminous rectangular prayer-hall of fine proportions is traversed breadth-wise by two rows of stone columns and pure arches. The lay-out is typical of Sephardic synagogues, with the Bema or Tevah, in the centre of the room facing in the canonical direction of Jerusalem. The floor is attractively paved in Rhodian chochlakia work with an abstract design, and bears the date 5601 (1840). The walls were originally decorated with murals of the Ten Commandments: these have been partially—and a little clumsily—repainted on the left-hand wall. (The difference can be seen on entering between the decorative elements on the central arch which are original, early 19th century work, and those on the smaller arch to the right which are re-painted.) The collection box is a fluted, pagan altar-stand. To the east side of the building is a courtyard where a water-fountain has been recently uncovered bearing an inscription in Hebrew with the date 5338 (1577)—the same year as the completion of the synagogue.
Across from the Synagogue, a little further up Symmiou Street, is a remarkable 15th century mansion referred to as the ‘Catalan House’, because of the especially wide voussoirs of the arch of its portal which are characteristic of Late Mediaeval, Catalan building practice. The gate leads into a low entrance-court with a broad, sweeping vault above. Much of the upper area inside has gone, leaving only the façade standing. The window frames are delicately defined with oak-leaf and rosette motifs: these combined with the massive doorway below, give the building a noble air that is unexpected in such an area of simple residences. The unusual and ornate shape of its surround suggests that the small coat of arms on the façade of the building belonged to a more recent owner.
The Jewish community of Rhodes
It was in the early years of Ottoman rule—one of the freest and most tranquil periods for the Jews in Greece—that the synagogue was built. Jews had been present in Rhodes since the 3rd or 2nd century bc, attracted by its commercial vitality; they are referred to by Suetonius a couple of centuries later; and in 12th century Byzantine Rhodes there was a community of over 500. Their co-existence with the Knights of St John was peaceful and constructive until, in the wake of the Spanish expulsion of Jews during the Inquisition, Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson under pressure from the Church imposed either exile or forced conversion on the island’s Jews in 1502. Most tookadvantage of the 40 day period of grace and left for S alonica, Ferrara, Constantinople and other destinations with already large Jewish populations. Suleiman the Magnificent, on taking the city, did more than rescind this proscription: he encouraged the repatriation of Jews to Rhodes , sanctioned a measure of administrative autonomy for them and accorded several privileges to the community. This attracted many Jews to Rhodes again, but the result was that the balance of the community changed: there were many more Sephardic refugees from Spain now settling in Rhodes than there were original, Greek speaking Jews, and they brought with them a Judaeo Spanish language referred to as ‘ladino’. It was widely used right through into the 20th century: the news paper of the community appeared in ladino. Italian occupation after 1912 initially brought no particular discrimination or problems under the Governorship of Mario Lago; but, with the arrival of Cesare Maria de Vecchi in 1936, restrictions increased and autonomy was successively reduced, until the Fascist racial laws finally enshrined the elimination of Jewry as an article of faith. The inevitable consequences of the island passing under Nazi German control in 1943 are dispassionately recounted in the small display in the rooms adjoining the Synagogue. In July 1944 almost 1,600 Jews who had not had the possibility or fore sight to flee before were rounded up, shipped from Rhodes to Athens, and thence ultimately to Ausch witz. Only 30 men and perhaps 120 women survived; but the unbroken, millennial community of Jews on Rhodes was finished.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.
By air: With a total of 6–7 daily flights from Athens to Rhodes operated by both Olympic Air and Aegean Airways, Rhodes is easily accessible at all times of year. Its airport is also the hub for local flights within the area to Kastellorizo, Karpathos and Kasos (almost daily), and to Kos, Leros and Astypalaia (three times weekly). There are also daily connections direct to Thessaloniki and to Heraklion (Crete). The airport is 15km southwest of the centre of Rhodes town (€15 by taxi).
By boat: The port of Rhodes is also the principal hub for the Dodecanese Islands, with daily connections to all the principal islands, though the frequency of connections to the lesser islands varies considerably according to season (see entries for individual islands). There are year-round, direct connections by car-ferry to Piraeus (c. 16 hours) every day; and connections to eastern Crete twice weekly. In the holiday season, there are also daily connections (by private carriers) to Marmaris in Turkey. Since the port is large and has several harbours, it is important to ascertain from which part of it a ferry will leave.
The neighbouring island of Chalki is served twice weekly from Rhodes town, but there is a daily service from Kameiros Skala (2 hours). The GNTO office in the New Town (corner of Makariou and Papagou Streets, T. 22410 44335) provides helpful sheets with weekly boat departures, museum opening times, a price-list for taxis and schedules of bus times and fares for the whole island. Its web-site is: www.ando.gr/eot
Rhodes Travel Guide
Rhodes offers some of the best and most varied eating possibilities in the Aegean— although in the city itself, the visitor will need to explore outside the Old Town to sample the best Greek food. Within the walls of the Old Town, unimaginative and often overpriced tourist-fare prevails; we would suggest only: the -Marco Polo (see lodging, above); Dinoris Restaurant (upper medium price) in a tiny alley across from the entrance to the Archaeological Museum— an elegant and traditional taverna of long standing, one of the few in the Old Town regularly frequented by locals; Photis Restaurant (expensive; open all year) in Menekléous Street—also an elegant and well-established fish restaurant, where the undoubted high quality and presentation of its dishes compensates for the hauteur of the reception and service. At lunchtime, -Indigo (medium price), inside the Nea Agorá market building (at no.105/6) beside Mandraki harbour, offers delicious, finely prepared dishes from the cuisine of Greek Asia Minor. Further afield (but without question worth the short taxi-ride) in Zephyros, southeast of the city centre, is the -Paragadi fish restaurant (medium expensive; corner of Klaude Pepper & Australias Streets: reservation recommended, T. 22410 37775) with an exceptional quality of service and of seafood and fish dishes, prepared in the best and simplest manner. This is one of the best fish restaurants in the Dodecanese. Nearby, open all year, and usually packed with locals, is To Steki tou Cheila (inexpensive) at the southern end of Kodringtonou St., on the corner of Hadjiangelou and Dendrinou Sts: the symiakó (tiny shrimps) and the wine are both fresh and delicious.
Around the island: Mavrikos in Lindos (expensive; reservations, T. 22440 31232) is a fine and justly famous restaurant with pleasing setting, serving many homemade products. The excellent and panoramic -To Limeri tou Listí ("The robber"s den") in Prophilía (T. 22440 61578) in the central south of the island, certainly merits the long journey and represents one of the best places to eat on the island: it has imaginatively and care fully prepared traditional dishes of the highest standard, e.g. a light and unforgettable imam bayaldı. Nearby, Petrino in the picturesque plateia of Váti, is a good country taverna with fresh and unaffected cuisine.
Rhodes Travel Guide
Cecil Torr, Rhodes in Ancient Times and Rhodes in Modern Times (first published by CUP in 1885, both now re-issued by Archaeopress ‘3rd guides’, Oxford); Lawrence Durrell, Reflections on a Marine Venus (Faber & Faber, London, 1953); H.J.A Sire, The Knights of Malta (Yale, London & New Haven, 1994); Vassilis Colonas, Italian Architecture in the Dodecanese Islands, 1912–1943 (Olkos Press, Athens, 2002); Elias Kollias, The Mediaeval City of Rhodes etc.,(Ministry of Culture, Athens, 1998).
Rhodes Travel Guide
Rhodes Travel Guide
851 00-09 Rhodes : area 1,401sq. km; perimeter 220km; resident population 115,334; max. altitude 1,216m. Port Authority: 22410 22220, 28888, 28666. Travel and information: www.travel-Rhodes .com
Rhodes Travel Guide