Another Siege of Rhodes

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Europe » Greece » South Aegean » Rhodes
September 15th 2007
Published: February 4th 2010
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What had been great morning was turning into a beautiful day. The wind was whipping through my long hair and the salt spray was in my face. From my vantage point on the small, portside balcony near the front of the hydrofoil, a stunning seascape stretched out in front of me. The deep blue of the Aegean Sea merged with the cobalt sky at a crisp horizon, broken only by the rugged, brown island of Rhodes, which was directly in front of us in the distance. As the island got closer, the boat’s crew started getting ready for arrival. They got the ropes ready and then they hoisted both the Turkish and Greek flags on the mast in a peaceful gesture that I had first seen when I sailed on the bark Europa. I moved to the deserted starboard side balcony so I could get a better view of the island. First came the crowded beaches and big hotels on the northeast point of the island. Then we passed the famous statues of the stag and doe that sit atop high columns at the historic harbor entrance. We pulled into the larger harbor just beyond the statues and a lovely old
The Ramparts at NightThe Ramparts at NightThe Ramparts at Night

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
fort that sat on the spit of land that separated the two. I had no guidebook for the island and I hadn’t done much reading about the place, so I was caught completely off guard when I saw the fortifications of ‘Old Town’ rising up in front of me right at the water’s edge.

I had come to Rhodes to visit with my Norwegian family who was vacationing there. From their descriptions of the island I had suspected that there would be a few nice things to see there. I had heard other people talk about the nice castle there, as well, and I knew that there was a good hostel in old town, but that was as far as my knowledge of the island went. I have seen many fortified cities during my travels. Generally what were left of the fortifications were only remnant sections of the walls that had been preserved to help you visualize what the city once looked like. The city of Rhodes was different in a big way. Its heavily fortified walls were intact, completely encircling old town. I had been worried that Rhodes was going to be a bit too touristy for my liking, but the giant stone walls repelled those worries and I was excited to start exploring. I quickly passed through the passport check and then I walked towards the massive seawalls that ran along the harbor.

The ramparts towered above me in an impenetrable barrier of stone. I walked along the turquoise waters of the bay, stopping to admire a lovely dolphin statue. Eventually I came to a large arched tunnel that passed through the wall. The tunnel was not original, but it had been built in the original style to preserve the feel of the fortifications while allowing the city to function in the modern world of the automobile. The place I was hoping to stay was inside Old Town - that much I knew - so I headed through the tunnel into the medieval part of Rhodes. All around me were old stone buildings and narrow alleys. Most of the structures were in good shape, but the old feel had been maintained throughout. I had my heavy backpack on my back, so my first priority was to find the hostel and get rid of my things. I walked down the main thoroughfare, which was where most of
The Fortifications of RhodesThe Fortifications of RhodesThe Fortifications of Rhodes

Note the lovely dolphin statue.
the tourist shops and restaurants were located. Most of the signs I came across were written in Greek, so I had to struggle to read them. I never imagined that my engineering education, which used the Greek alphabet in most of the calculations, would also prepare me for a visit to Rhodes, but, alas, I could read most of the signs just fine! I found a narrow opening between the buildings that looked promising, so I turned and headed into the labyrinthine alleys, not sure if I would be able to find my way out again. I found a shop with a helpful lady in it. I didn’t know a single word in Greek, so I tried in a garble of English and hand signals to ask if she knew where the hostel was. She smiled in apparent understanding and pointed down another alley that led off in another direction. After asking two more people for directions I found the place I was looking for on a lovely little plaza. I asked the lady at the desk if there were any beds available and she frowned and said, “No, I am sorry.” I asked if she knew of another hostel
The Greeting PartyThe Greeting PartyThe Greeting Party

This bird was waiting for us when we got off of the hydrofoil.
and she gave me detailed directions to another one that was close. Eventually I found the second place with the help of another shop owner that led me down another alley to its front door. I went inside and found a nice bed in a large, empty dorm. The price was right and the place was comfortable enough. I dropped my bags on the bed and headed off to explore the city.

I was not due to arrive in Rhodes until the following day, but the ferry schedule from Bodrum had forced me to come early. I decided to use my extra day to explore some of the sites around town. My first priority was to fill the empty void in my belly. I found a lovely café on the tourist thoroughfare and I took a seat beneath several large, shady trees. I excitedly ordered gyros and some juice and then I sat back and worked on getting my journal in order. I spent the next half hour or so in culinary heaven - My simple plate of gyros was delicious!

While I didn’t know much about modern Rhodes, or even medieval Rhodes, I did know a lot
The Stag and the DoeThe Stag and the DoeThe Stag and the Doe

These are the statues at the entrance of the ancient harbor.
about Rhodes’s biggest claim to fame. In ancient times a list of the known world’s seven greatest ‘wonders’ included the Colossus of Rhodes. The colossus was a giant bronze and iron statue of Helios, Rhodes’s patron god, which was said to stand thirty meters tall (the Statue of Liberty is of similar proportions standing thirty four meters high from her heel to the top of her head). It was completed in 280 B.C. as a commemoration of their defeat of King Demetrius’s siege forces. Much of the bronze used in the statue was forged from the weapons left behind when the invaders retreated. Some accounts have the statue straddling the harbor entrance with space for ships to sail between its legs, but those descriptions are generally accepted as not likely - The engineering difficulties to build such a large statue would have made a harbor-straddling colossus unlikely. Instead, it is believed that the colossus stood near the harbor on land. The magnificent statue came crashing down to the ground in 226 B.C., just 56 years after its completion, as a result of a massive earthquake. Apparently, even in ruin, the statue was considered a magnificent sight to see and drew
The StagThe StagThe Stag

Looking across from the stag statue to the Fort of St. Nicholas.
travelers from all over the world to see it - One famous traveler named Pliny the Elder said that the fallen thumb was too big for most men to wrap their arms around and that each finger was larger than most statues. The ruins of the colossus were left where they had fallen for more than eight hundred years before they were sold as scrap to a Turkish trader. If any parts of the statue remain today they will be found in the deserts of Syria where it is said they were sent. I was fairly excited to be at the location of the Colossus, despite there being nothing left of it.

I walked through the narrow alleys of Old Town taking in the grand views. Eventually I passed back through the fortress’s walls, stopping to admire the double mote and beautiful stonework. On the other side of the walls the noise and traffic of modern Rhodes was a bit overwhelming at first - I definitely preferred the peaceful alleys within the fortress. I made my way to the beach and then I followed it until I reached the waterfront area next to the bay. I walked out to
Exploring Old TownExploring Old TownExploring Old Town

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
the column that supported the stag statue, which sat on a paved stone jetty at the entrance to Mandraki Harbor. I looked across the turquoise water to the statue of the doe that sat on a similar column on an identical jetty. The two jetties were separated by a narrow gap of turquoise water. It would have been this gap of water that the colossus stood over, if it actually straddled the harbor entrance. Of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ I had seen where three of them had been in less than two weeks. As I stood there standing over the harbor entrance near where the colossus had been I decided to see all of the wonders I could on my journey. I had less than three months left before I had to be in Amman, Jordan to catch my flight home, which would be plenty of time to see three more of them - The seventh would have to wait until Babylon was back on the map.

I spent the afternoon in one of the lovely cafés that lined the sea sipping some coffee and eating baklava. It was pleasantly warm with a slight breeze on the
Grand Arches and VaultsGrand Arches and VaultsGrand Arches and Vaults

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
air, so I sat there for quite a while watching the people go by and scribbling in my journal. Later I was out exploring Old Town again. The Amboise Gate, which I had passed through earlier in the day on the way to the sea, had been spectacular, so I decided to go back there. I walked past the Grand Master’s Palace and then turned down a lovely avenue of trees. The gate crossed over the duel motes between the fortification walls via a few long bridges. Sections of the bridge were made of wood and, during sieges, served as drawbridges - The hardware was still in place to raise them, though the current bridges are permanent. When I reached the outermost edge of the large, outer mote I stopped in my tracks - A familiar face had just come around the corner in front of me. She recognized me immediately and quickly walked towards me - It was Mona, part of my Norwegian family that I was meeting on the island. She was surprised to see me, being that I was a day early, so I told her all about the strange ferry schedules. She told me that Cato,
Narrow Alleys Narrow Alleys Narrow Alleys

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
my mom’s second cousin, was about to come around the corner with a large group of friends from their beer club back home. She wanted to see his reaction when he saw me, so we stood there and waited for him. A moment later he came around the corner explaining the intricacies of the walls to his friends. He stopped in mid sentence when he saw me - Clearly happy that I had arrived early.

Cato introduced me to all of his friends - ‘A bunch of Crazy Norwegians’ were the words he repeatedly used to describe them, if I remember correctly. He then invited me to come along with them on a tour of Old Town. As we walked Cato explained how the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John, had established their base on Rhodes in 1307, after being pushed out of Palestine. He then told us how the knights had built the fortress to defend against sieges from the expanding Ottoman Empire. He explained how the knights had successfully repelled the forces of Sultan Mehmet in 1480 and the subsequent rebuilding of the city’s defenses into the most formidable fortress in the Christian
The Grand Master's PalaceThe Grand Master's PalaceThe Grand Master's Palace

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
world. He pointed out the huge piles of large, granite balls that littered the motes and explained how both the Knights and Ottoman forces had used them as short-range projectiles during the siege of 1522, when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent led the Ottoman forces to Rhodes a second time.

The Second Siege of Rhodes was an epic battle. The Grand Master of the order of Knights, Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, his requests for help from Europe having been ignored, led 7500 men, including seven hundred knights and five hundred archers. The Ottoman forces, led by Mustafa Pasha and Sultan Suleiman himself, were 100,000 strong, including a huge contingent of the Sultan’s much-feared, gun-wielding Janissaries, with a navy of four hundred ships and limitless resources to back them up. Even with the huge advantage of the fortress the knights were badly outnumbered. The city walls had several bastions in them, each defended by a different Langue, or geographic-cultural sub-group, of knights - Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England, Castile and Germany were the different Langues during the second siege.

As Cato told us all about the staggering loss of life that the Ottoman forces suffered in the motes my
Stone Windows Stone Windows Stone Windows

Inside the palace.
mind wandered back to the early sixteenth century. I could see the Ottoman forces roaring across the motes on their daily assaults of the fortress. I could feel the constant concussions from the bombard-mortars as both sides sent their massive granite balls flying through the air. I could hear the screams as the giant projectiles bowled through the lines sending razor-sharp shards of granite flying in every direction like bullets. I watched as two massive explosions erupted beneath the English bastion in tunnels dug by the Ottoman siege engineers. When the dust settled I could see the massive breach in the walls and the rubble filled mote and Ottoman forces flowing into the fortress. The clang of metal reverberated through the air as swords met scimitars in fierce hand-to-hand combat. The heavily armored knights fought valiantly and managed to repulse the attack and reclaim the fortress. On another day there was ferocious fighting at the Spanish bastion as the Janissaries and the Spanish knights repeatedly captured and lost control of the bastion. Eventually it was the Spanish bastion that fell paving the way for the Ottoman forces to flow into the city. At that point the siege had been going
The Grand Staircase The Grand Staircase The Grand Staircase

I loved that there were no handrails on this staircase - I suppose they used to expect people to think for themselves.
on for nearly six months. The knights were reaching the end of their ability to protect the city and the people living within its walls were growing weary of the constant battle. Suleiman the Magnificent was also growing tired of the battle and the heavy losses his forces were sustaining - Nobody knows for sure, but the number of Ottoman casualties has been estimated at between twenty thousand and fifty thousand! In a gesture of good will the Sultan gave an ultimatum to the residents and the knights. Surrender and there would be no reprisals. They would be spared their lives and they would be given food and peace. If they didn’t surrender and the Ottoman forces took the city by force their fate would be slavery and death. The residents accepted the Sultan’s generous terms on December 22, 1522. They were allowed to continue living on the island in peace with their wealth and food. They were free to practice any religion they chose - None of their churches would be desecrated or converted into mosques. In honor of their valiant defense of the city, the knights were allowed to leave the island with their wealth and weapons and
Carved WoodCarved WoodCarved Wood

Inside the palace.
any religious relics they could carry. On January 1st, 1523 the remaining knights marched out of the city with pomp and circumstance, boarded the boats that had been provided to them and set sail for Crete - The Knights of Rhodes were no more!

We were staring up at the beautiful Grand Master’s Palace when Cato finished telling us about the fortress. I asked him how he knew so much about Rhodes and the knights and he told me that he had lived on the island for a year and a half as a tour guide many years before - The island was like a second home to him! It was too late in the day to go into the palace, so we just walked past and headed to the main tourist thoroughfare. We spent the rest of the evening exploring the shops and cafés in Old Town. I suppose it goes without saying that an evening spent with a bunch of ‘crazy Norwegian’ beer club members would be far from dull and they did not disappoint! We were sticking our heads into every shop that looked interesting. Some shops were selling suits of armor and medieval weaponry and
A Faceless Warrior A Faceless Warrior A Faceless Warrior

Inside the palace.
others were selling art or tasty treats, but the vast majority of them were selling cheap tourist trinkets and t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Rhodes’. It was one of the latter shops that set us off into a laughing frenzy that continued late into the night. The shop had a rack with several ‘Rhodes’ hats with fake long hair attached in the back. We each tried on the hats while the rest of the group tried to decide which hair color looked best on each of us - As it turned out, I looked my best with flowing, bleach-blonde hair! Just as the laughter was waning from the hair-hats a man walked up and with a humorous look on his face and began to whistle at us like a bird. It turned out that he was selling little ‘bird whistles’, which were essentially small pieces of plastic that you conceal in your mouth and blow on. He had picked the right group for his display, selling us about half a dozen of them! Mona was the most enthusiastic whistler in the group and she kept us laughing as she walked up to shop owners and random people on the street and whistled at them. At one point she had the entire sidewalk seating area of one of the cafés we stopped at rolling with laughter as she whistled away. We ate dinner at one of Cato’s favorite restaurants in Old Town and the laughter continued there, accompanied by delicious Greek foods. Eventually we drifted into the modern part of the city where we stopped at one last bar near their hotel. In a big surprise, Cato handed me his phone - My mom and step dad were on the line and it had been a while since I had talked to them, which was great! When the evening’s festivities were done I walked back through the city and along the quiet, cobbled streets of the fortress and then headed back home.

My original plans were to stay in Rhodes for two nights and then head back to Turkey to see a few more ancient sites. As often happens with plans when you travel without an itinerary, I decided to change them - Cato had mentioned that they were all going on an island road trip to the town of Lindos on the southern side of the island and he invited me
Replacement CandlesReplacement CandlesReplacement Candles

Inside the palace.
along, also, Rhodes was just too cool to leave after only two nights. I checked the ferry schedules to see how long I could stay and still see the things in Turkey I wanted to see and I found a boat to a different town in Turkey that would allow me to stay four nights on Rhodes, so that is what I decided to do.

We were going to Lindos on the last of my four days, so I had two days to explore Old Town and the beaches. I spent a lot of time at the beach swimming in the turquoise water and reading and I explored the Grandmaster’s Palace and the fort of St. Nicholas, which was the last place to fall to the Turks, and I walked through the lovely, park-like motes. I also spent a lot of time with all of my crazy new friends. I was a little surprised by how many Scandinavian bars and restaurants were in town - Cato explained that the Greek Isles were a popular escape from the long dark winter up north, which made a lot of sense. In addition to the delicious Greek food, I was introduced to
A Fight to the DeathA Fight to the DeathA Fight to the Death

I was told that many of the mosaics inside the palace were moved from ancient structures in the area.
Scandinavian specialties like pickled herring, which was raw pieces of herring served in several different sauces - I liked it a lot, but it was a little strange at first. I spent one evening doing a nighttime photo shoot in the alleys and streets of Old Town. That night I ate a delicious dinner in a lovely Indian restaurant I found on one of the alleys and then I spent the rest of the evening in the hostel talking with the other travelers there. The following night Cato led us into the alleys again to try and find one of his old friends. We walked past my hostel and came to a stop at the first hostel that I had tried staying at. The owner’s children immediately recognized Cato and Mona and excitedly ran up to them. Cato’s friend was at a restaurant that he had recently opened, so we got directions and headed that way for yet another delicious meal.

The following morning started with a buffet breakfast at Cato and Mona’s hotel. Then we went and picked up a small, rented convertible Fiat and we headed south out of the city. We drove along the rugged, southern
A Lovely Tapestry A Lovely Tapestry A Lovely Tapestry

Inside the palace.
coast of Rhodes for about a half hour before we came to our first stop of the day at Kallithea Springs. The springs had been a popular retreat since ancient times. During the Italian occupation of Rhodes the springs were developed into an exclusive, seaside spa - The famous movie, ‘The Guns of Navarone’ was filmed in the area and a few of the scenes took place at the spa. We were there at a good time, because the spa had recently reopened after an extensive restoration and everything was gleaming white and beautiful. We spent about an hour at the springs taking in the stunning views of the Mediterranean through the lovely whitewashed arches of the spa and exploring the lovely river-rock mosaic floors in each room - It was the kind of place that would be amazing to spend a day relaxing, but our day’s adventure was just starting and we had to move on. As we continued south, the rugged, brown mountains in the island’s interior got bigger and the coastal road got windier. After what seemed like another hour of driving Cato pulled off to the side of the road and pointed across an expansive coastal plain to a whitewashed city built on the slopes of a large, fortress-crowned bluff at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The morning sun set the city and the surrounding sea aglow and Cato said, “Welcome to Lindos.”

It took another ten minutes to drive into the city and park. We decided to explore the town and the fortress independently, since Cato and Mona had been to the top before and didn’t plan on climbing up the steep path to the fortress. We planned on meeting for lunch in the town two hours later and we went our own ways. Lindos was a very cool town. Similar to Rhodes Old Town, most of the alley-streets were for foot traffic only and it was a pleasure to walk around in. I spent about twenty minutes weaving my way through the narrow labyrinth of alleys looking for one that would lead up to the fortress. Eventually I ended up on a stone path that gradually went up in a series of switchbacks - I found out later that it was the donkey path, but it got me where I needed to be. I climbed up out of the lovely whitewashed buildings onto the shady hillside. The views of the sea were amazing, the sun was warm and a strong, salty breeze kept me cool - It was perfect conditions for climbing a mountain. Renting a donkey to ride up to the top has become a popular way for tourists to get to the fortress. Being on the donkey path I got to see a lot of these donkeys and I couldn’t help but feel bad for them. A donkey is generally not supposed to carry more than seventy pounds, but I saw many of then laboring under two to three hundred pound tourists. I ran into a bit of a traffic jamb when one of those donkeys collapsed under a woman in a turn and had to be helped up - Luckily nobody was hurt, but poor donkey! I joined the main tourist trail near the ramparts of the fortress and I walked up the remaining stairs and passed through a lovely arched entry near a large carving of a stone boat in the rock - The carving was said to have been done by one of the masters of ancient carving, but I didn’t know who. I knew that there were some ancient ruins inside the fortress, but I had no idea how amazing they would be. Imagine walking to the summit of a bluff, passing through the walls of an ancient fortress and finding a well-restored temple complex at the edge of the sheer cliffs high above the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I was blown away - It was definitely touristy and the crowds were huge, but I still loved it. I took a seat on a little wall at the edge of the cliff and I tried to sketch the ancient stones, but the wind was too strong to do anything nice. Instead I just sat there and took in the scene and watched all of the people go by. When the time came to head back down I went a different way and explored more of the ruins, including a lovely staircase, and then I followed the masses down the regular path into the town. I spent the next half hour exploring the town’s shops and looking for Cato and Mona.
We had a very windy lunch on the rooftop balcony of one of the towns many restaurants and then we grabbed some ice cream and headed back to the car. On the way back to Rhodes we stopped at another small seaside town for some refreshments - The castle on top of the hill over that town was lovely, but seemingly forgotten.

We made it back to Rhodes in time for a lovely dinner and then we went to a Norwegian bar where we spent our last night together among friends. Laughter and joking and even an exploding plastic chair made the night a memorable one. Before I headed back to the hostel Cato invited me up to Norway for a visit and then we said our farewells. This trip was only the second time I had seen Cato and Mona, but it seems like we have been life long friends already. It was a little sad leaving my Norwegian family and the lovely island of Rhodes, but it was time to move on. Early the following morning I retraced my steps through the deserted streets of Old Town with my backpack on my back. I purchased my ticket for the ferry and then I boarded the King Sauran catamaran. I watched as the massive gray walls of Rhodes shrank and then disappeared
Exploring the MotesExploring the MotesExploring the Motes

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
behind the fantail. I said farewell to Rhodes, knowing that I would be back someday, and then I set my sights on figuring out where my next destination was going to be. Next stop: Somewhere in Turkey…

Additional photos below
Photos: 58, Displayed: 40


Giant Granite ProjectilesGiant Granite Projectiles
Giant Granite Projectiles

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
A Path in the MoteA Path in the Mote
A Path in the Mote

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
A Walk in the MotesA Walk in the Motes
A Walk in the Motes

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
In the MotesIn the Motes
In the Motes

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
Restoration WorkRestoration Work
Restoration Work

One of the many lovely sights around the walled city of Rhodes.
The Fortress of St. NicholasThe Fortress of St. Nicholas
The Fortress of St. Nicholas

Standing ready for battle.
At My Favorite GateAt My Favorite Gate
At My Favorite Gate

It took forever for me to get a clear shot of this gate, but I still liked this picture the most.
At the DrawbridgeAt the Drawbridge
At the Drawbridge

Some people actually drive small cars over this bridge.
Getting Close to My HostleGetting Close to My Hostle
Getting Close to My Hostle

This was one of my favorite alleys in Old Town.
At Kallithea SpringsAt Kallithea Springs
At Kallithea Springs

Cato leads us into the amazing spa.
The Spring Under the DomeThe Spring Under the Dome
The Spring Under the Dome

At Kallithea Springs.
Pebble Mosaics Pebble Mosaics
Pebble Mosaics

Most of the floors at the spa were decorated like this.

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