The Aquarium

The esplanade of the Rhodes Aquarium at the northern most tip of the island looks out as if from the prow of a ship towards the steep mountains of Turkey which line the horizon across the water: ahead, to the right, is the sea-route to Cyprus, Egypt and the Levant; to the left is the main route north through the islands up to Byzan tium and the Black Sea. This stretch of water was the turning-point on one of the most important commercial trading routes of Antiquity: hence the decision to found the city of Rhodes here. Looking back towards the south, the long, flat table-top hill of the acropolis of Ialysos, with the central mountains of the island behind, can be seen. In the foreground is Mount Smith, the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes —also flat-topped—with its steep slope to the western seaward side. Towards the southeast is a pleasing assemblage of Italian buildings of different forms which extend in the direction of Mandraki harbour: this is the monumental heart of what is referred to as the ‘New Town’.

The *Aquarium itself is one of the most pure and memorable buildings of the later period of the Italian Ocupation. Its deliberately rounded corners and low, circular lantern underscore its position as the island’s ‘full stop’ or ‘point of departure’. The simple, plain façade is relieved only by the blue and white reliefs of sea-creatures around the doorway, just as in the buildings raised by the Knights an often plain façade is relieved only by a highly ornate door-frame. The paving of the approach is lined with inset, ceramic medallions figuring the symbols of the various islands of the Dodecanese. The building was designed by Armando Bernabiti (see box below) and put up in 1934; both its proportions and the unity of its de sign are pleasing. It houses the city’s interesting Marine Aquarium and Hydrobiological Institute (open daily 1 Apr–31 Oct 9– 8.30; 1 Nov–31 March 9–4.30).

The collection, which is mostly laid out below sea-level underneath the building, consists of an artificial, labyrinthine grotto of sea-water tanks containing a wide variety of local marine life, fish, crustaceans and reptiles (turtles), where it is possible to admire the variety of their forms and the extraordinary grace and sensitivity of their movements. The upper floor has a number of unusual preserved specimens, and some interesting marine exhibits visible through microscopes. The remarkable display of an *ancient monk-seal burial, dating from the 1st century bc, is unique in what it tells us of ancient attitudes to animals: the seal’s remains, together with small grave gifts, and the remains of humans and of a dog (also given funerary honours), were found ritually buried in a family inhumation which came to light during excavations in the area of the Commercial Harbour in 1999.

Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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