The Star Clipper wind-jammed past the southern Cyclades Islands like an ancient Greek trireme and with the power and benevolence of the west winds of the god Zephyrus.
Homer mentioned the island of Rhodes in the Iliad as the staging ground for the Greek armada’s D-day assault on the towers of Troy, in Anatolia, now Turkey, which was within a day’s sailing if the winds were favorable. It was a blissful day and a half at sea from Athens to Rhodes on the world’s largest passenger tall ship — The Star Clipper. All passengers lined the rail as the harbor master boat came out to greet us and lead us into the inner harbor of the fortified city.
The ancient harbor of Rhodes.
During the Trojan Wars there was no city or island named Rhodes, nor a port, just a cove. Later eras added a jetty to surround the small cove which today is used by private yachts and fishing boats, with a much larger harbor farther south for cruise ships and mega-yachts, the large harbor seemed to swallow the ancient cove like a large fish gulping a minnow.
The medieval walls from the Aegean Sea are noticeable and immense, with about 3,000 residents living behind the crenulated protective walls and an additional 60,000 housed outside the gates. Rhodos in Greek means rose; mellifluous flowers of lemon and orange trees filled the spring air.
The Knights built medieval towers.
Rhodes city is located on the north-eastern terminus of the island. The port is a center for agricultural products, and manufactured goods, including carpets, brandy, cigarettes, and soap. The southern harbor is near the old walled city, which was built in the early 14th century by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Notable buildings in the old section include the Grand Hospital of the Knights and the Palace of the Grand Master. The modern section near the smaller northern harbor contains government buildings, hotels, and a national theater (The Rhodes Casino is outside the walls.). Rhodes is the administrative capital of the Dodecanese Islands, a group of 12 large and 150 smaller Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, of which 26 are inhabited. These islands define the eastern reach of Greece.
Archaeological discoveries indicate that Rhodes figured prominently in the Aegean civilization of ancient time. In the 2nd millennium B.C. when the island first appears in recorded history, it was inhabited by the Dorians, and its chief towns were Camirus, Lindus, and Ialysus. These towns were flourishing commercial centers with colonies scattered throughout the Aegean basin. For many centuries the history of the island was obscure, but the three cities were recorded as members of the 5th century B.C. Delion League, a confederacy of Greek states under the leadership of Athens. The three towns broke with Athens in 412 B.C. In 408 B.C. the city of Rhodes was constructed according to designs by the Greek architect Hippodamus of Miletus. Throughout most of the following century the island was involved in the internecine wars of Greece. In 332 B.C. Rhodes submitted to the sovereignty of Alexander the Great. On the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. the cities united and expelled the Macedonians.
Inner walls protected the Knights.
The island has a maximum length from north-east of about 72 km (45 miles); its maximum width is about 35 km (22miles) giving it an area of about 1,400 sq. kms (540 sq. miles).
A Greek Orthodox church in the Old City.
A longitudinal mountain range traverses the central portion of the island. Ataviros, the highest peak, is about 1,220 meters or 4,000 feet above sea level. In the region between the sea and the central range the terrain is hilly, with numerous gently sloping valleys. Rhodes has a beautiful climate and is noted for its fertile soil.
It has the most sunshine of anywhere in Greece. Among the leading crops produced on the island are cotton, fruit, grain, sponges, and tobacco.
Rhodes’ prosperity and political power attained great heights during the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. The city became a renowned cultural center, particularly noted for its plaster pictoral art. Exceptional ancient expressionist paintings were created by Protogenes in the 4th century B.C.; Chares in the 3rd century B.C. sculpted the celebrated brass Colossus of Rhodes in 280 B.C., one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. After the statue collapsed due to an earthquake it was melted down and carted off. In the first century B.C. Rhodes sculptors executed the famous statue of Laocoon. The progeny of these ancient craftsmen now create the silk screen T-shirts and tourist trinkets, ceramics, and statues in tourist gift shops lining the narrow cobblestone streets.
An ancient cobblestone street in the Old City of Rhodes.
The Rhodians were staunch allies of Rome during its colonial heyday. In 48 B.C. Rhodes aided Julius Caesar in his struggle against the Roman general and statesman Pompey the Great and the Roman Senate. Another Roman general, Gaius Cassius Parmensis (one of Caesar's assassins), invaded Rhodes in 42 B.C. He massacred the friends of Caesar, seized the public wealth, and rifled the temples. The attack broke the power of Rhodes, but it continued as a seat of learning. Under the Roman Empire Rhodes enjoyed independence.
A gate protects this drawbridge.
In 395 A.D., on the division of the Roman Empire, Rhodes was attached to the Byzantine Empire until 1309, when it was occupied by the Knights of St. John Of Jerusalem. In 1522, after a bloody Turkish siege led by Suleiman I, the Knights were forced to evacuate the island. Turkish sovereignty gripped Rhodes until the Turko-Italian War in 1912 when it was taken by Italy. The island was ceded to Greece in 1947.
Hand hewn stone work of the crenulated archer towers.
What remains today of Rhodes is the magnificent castle walls and towers constructed by the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta; historically the Knights were the protectors of the hospital built in Jerusalem before the first crusade. After 1309 the Order moved its headquarters to Rhodes and the territorial state navy kept the eastern Mediterranean Sea free of Muslim influence. The properties of the Knights Templar were given to the order in 1312. The Knight of Rhodes, as they came to be called, formed national units of the Order elsewhere, called Tongues (French — Longues). In 1522 Suleiman I, ruler of the Ottoman Turks, invaded Rhodes, forcing the Knights off the island; they eventually found a new home on Malta in 1530. It seem apropos to arrive to the island on a clipper ship registered under the Maltese flag.
The Knights left their mark on Rhodes.
I signed the excursion book in the Star Clipper’s library for a motorcoach and walking tour of the island and city. Our Swedish recreation crewman, Alkin, herded us onto the bus where we met our Greek guide for a beautiful drive along the east coast past picturesque little villages; past orange and lemon trees, olive groves and vineyards. We made a photo stop at the Acropolis of Lindos with its 4th century B.C. Doric temple — Athenia Lindia. Below its lip the old stadium, which dates to 200 B.C., still seats over 7,000 for modern events and concerts — one municipal project that still pays dividends.
Doric Acropolis of Lindos — Athenia Lindia.
Leaving the site the motorcoach climbed to the summit of Mount Smith. It was a splendid view of the olive trees marching in symmetrical rows like soldiers in the hilly surrounding valleys. Here I admired the double-winged portico of the Byzantine Church of the Lady built by the Knights in the 15th century, which became their acropolis. Alabaster windows allowed a weak oblique light to filter into the Church alcoves. Many wall paintings hark back to the 14th and 15th century. Nearby were old fortifications of the Knights and the remains of the Governor’s quarters.
I inhaled the flower scented breeze from the Acropolis which was once the home of the ancient city of Ialyssos. Below, towards Rhodes, was St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle is said to have landed in 51 A.D.
The Church of The Lady.
Once back in the old walled city it was a guided fast-paced walking tour that was most informative. The interior fortifications included false walls, courtyards piled up with cannon balls, and iron gates that closed off bridges across moats. If one section of the castle was stormed, the enemy had to peel away the onion layers of additional obstacles. I was later happy to have time on my own to explore the side alleys and streets of the magnificent city, and of course stop in for a Mythos beer or two at one of al fresco restaurants.
I must admit I did buy a silk-screened T-shirt from an ancestor, no doubt, of Protogenes.
The life blood of the town is the cruise ship traffic which makes the UNESO Heritage Site a regular port stop. I would like to return to Rhodes and explore the other 40 villages on the island. Many tourist hotels are on the western coast which is the windier, cooler side of the island, noted for its fabulous sun-tanning beaches.
The Rhodes fortifications are a maze of amazement.
I am certain that Achilles sailed into this port on a trireme and left for the Trojan War commanding over 50 ships and 2,500 men; I sailed into Rhodes on first class luxury with the grace of Zephyrus on a windjammer and left along the same initial sea route as Achilles’ flotilla, with my windjammer Bodrum bound. Set sail for adventure with any of the three tall ships from the fleet of Star Clippers at www.starclippers.com.
Read more Jetsetters Magazine features about The Star Clipper; also read about Achilles’ Agony — The Trojan War.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.