Home from the 14th century to the Knights Hospitaller who ruled Rhodes. The knights were divided into seven ‘tongues’, or languages, according to their birthplace – England, France, Germany, Italy, Aragon, Auvergne and Provence – each responsible for a specific section of the fortifications. As wall displays explain, the street holds an ‘inn’, or palace, for each tongue.
Thursday 6 October 2022
Postcards from Rhodes - Back to the Old Town
After eleven idyllic nights in Stegna, George drove us up to Archangelos where we exchanged fond farewells before boarding the 9am bus to Rodos alighting some forty minutes later. Now familiar with the maze-like streets of the Old Town, we made our way to Minos Pension, our home for the final night of our stay, where we were warmly welcomed by its gregarious owner, Minos (not to be confused with the legendary King Minos of Knossos, whose abode we visited back in May).
Over a frappe in the rooftop garden we had to agree with the sign hanging outside Minos Pension, "The best view of Rhodes Town...guaranteed".
We dropped our bag off in our room, all named after characters in Greek mythology, ours being Hḗphaistos, the god of fire, and ventured back into town.
We were delighted to discover that we were only around the corner from our favourite bar, it usually takes us ages to find it!
Then it was time to revisit The Street of the Knights, the most perfectly preserved Medieval street in all of Europe.
Several of the palaces are now open as galleries and museums. Last year we visited a ceramics museum inside the Provence Inn and this time it was the turn of the Auvergne, now home to the fascinating Rhodes Museum of Underwater Antiquities.
It was Sunday, the day the cruise ships arrive in port. Look at that monstrosity looming over the Street of the Knights like Godzilla in a 1950s B Movie.
It took us ages to walk down the 200m stretch of cobblestones, there were a billion cats to distract us.
We'd seen a poster advertising a one-off exhibition of ancient pots before we left Rodos for Stegna and, by good fortune, it just so happened to be held on our last day.
These pithos, or storage jars, date back to the 5th Century BC and stand at around five to six feet in height. They'd have been used to store olive oil or wine.
It is widely believed that when the scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, translated the works of the Greek poet Hesiod (700BC) in 1508, he got storage jars (pithos) mixed up with boxes (pyxis) and so, for centuries afterwards, Pandora opened a box instead of the jar of the original myth.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's gloriously lovely Pandora (1871) vs Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's more historically accurate Pandora (1881).
Luck was definitely on our side. Last year our visit to the town's archaeological museum had coincided with World Heritage Day and admission had been free and by happy coincidence, once again it fell on the day of our visit although it's such an amazing place I'd have been happy to pay.
Remember the site of the Temple of Aphrodite which I'd shared in my first Rhodes travelogue (HERE)? Well, here's the Greek goddess of love herself, who had originally taken centre stage in Rodos's 3rd Century BC temple. Fished out of the Mandriki harbour in 1929 , she was immortalised in Lawrence Durrell's masterpiece, Reflections on a Marine Venus (Venus being the Roman name for Aphrodite), widely believed to be one of the greatest works of travel literature ever written.
In 1945 Durrell and his friends witnessed at first hand the rediscovery of the Marine Venus from the crypt where she had been hidden for protection during the war. I can still the faces of my friends as they surrounded the dark trap door out of which she rose so gravely into the sunlight. Hoyle and Gideon sitting astride a plank; Ego Huber, who had helped to bury her, smiling with pleasure to see her undamaged; while Mills and Sergeant Croker and a collection of barefoot urchins grunted and groaned on the ropes which were raising her.
Her beauty is somewhat overshadowed by that of the Rhodian Venus, a small statue of Aphrodite bathing. Also dating to the 3rd century BC, her creation attributed to the sculptor Doidalses. Little sculptures such as this adorned the interiors of wealthy residences, as well as Nymphaia (subterranean temples dedicated to nymphs), private and public gardens. Jon says she reminds him of me plaiting my hair in the morning ( I always do it stark naked, too!)
Leaving Jon on a bench in the sunshine, I revisited some of the huge collection of ancient pottery on display - he claims to get potted out after the first hundred or so. We left when the hoards of cruise shippers descended upon the museum, moaning about the lack of air conditioning in the magnificent former Knight's Hospital, built in 1440.
There was a huge queue for the Grand Master's Palace so we gave that a miss (we'd visited last year) and instead took a walk around the old moat, circumnavigating the palace beneath the shade of the imposing Mediaeval walls.
After snapping up some very cool sunglasses from one of the tourist shops on Socrates Street (Jon's modelling his), we ate Greek salads washed down with pints of ice-cold Alpha in a shady, tree-lined town square.
Sunday is family day throughout Greece and the tavernas were buzzing. After lunch we walked through the Old Town to the harbour.
We revisited the iconic windmills at Mandraki harbour. Constructed by Genoese prisoners before the port was fortified, by Grand Master Diedoné de Gozon in the 14th Century. The first written reference to the windmills of Rhodes is by the traveler Priester aus Frankfurt, who visited the island between 1350-1370.
We looked at one another in utter disbelief when one of the cruise shippers pointed at the bronze deer marking the spot where The Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once straddled the harbour and remarked, What's the deal with those little fellas?
Although the harbour seemed quiet, Elli Beach certainly wasn't. Check out that heaving mass of humanity surrounding The Hydrobiological Station (better known as the Marine Aquarium of Rhodes) built in the Fascist-era Deco style by the Italian occupying forces between 1934 - 1936.
Before frappes at the Yacht Club we stood and watched the crazy fools throwing themselves off the Paralia Elli, the 8m (26 feet) tall fascist era diving platform.
After showering and a quick change we ordered a beer, took a front row seat at Minos's rooftop garden and watched spellbound as the sun gradually set over the Aegean.
Lawrence Durrell puts it so much better than I ever could, One of those fantastic Rhodian sunsets which have, since Medieval times, made the island so justly famed according to the accounts of Aegean travellers. The whole Street of the Knights was on fire. The houses had begun to curl up at the edges, like burning paper, and with each sink of the sun upon the dark hill above us, the tones of pink and yellow curdled and ran from corner to corner, from gable to gable, until for a moment the darkening minarets of the mosques glowed into blue ignition, like the light glancing along a sheet of carbon paper.
Gideon was holding a glass of some rosy wine up to the red light of the sky, as if he were trying to imprison the last rays of the sunset within it. "Where by association" he said "would Homer get an adjective like rosy-fingered from - unless he had experienced a Rhodian sunset? Look! And indeed, in that weird light his fingers, seen through the wine, trembled pink as coral against the lambient sky. "I no longer doubt that Rhodes was Homer's birthplace", he added gravely. For one moment now the whole street trembled with the unearthly light of a stage fiction, and then the darkness slid down the hill. "A Stained-glass window shattered by a grenade."
I can honestly say that the sunsets on Rhodes are the most beautiful I've ever seen.
We headed off towards our favourite bar and, with it being our last night, I bought myself something from the loveliest shop on the island, directly opposite.
We ate late after chatting to John and Theresa, a fascinating couple from St Helens, who'd recently retired and were spending a month island hopping around the Dodecanese.
We were up just after sunrise the following morning and after repacking our bag walked through a near-deserted town to the bus station.
We almost had the Street of the Knights to ourselves.
Our bus to the airport took fifty minutes and, because we were early, we were able to spend a final hour basking in 34°C sunshine enjoying bougatsa and frappes in the open-air cafe outside departures. What a shock to the system to arrive back in Birmingham four hours later to 12°C.
It's been an amazing Summer!
Thanks for reading and see you soon.