10/8 Roamin’ the Mediterranean Day Four: Medieval Rhodes

This morning the ship docked in Marmaris, Turkey, so this was my first time setting foot on Turkish soil (actually it was Turkish concrete). I would not be in Turkey for long though, because I then immediately boarded a ferry and took an hour-long ride to the Greek Isle of Rhodes.

There were 415 people on this large ferry. Once we were all on the boat, one of the cruise directors began to call out each name and had people running all over the ferry to distribute the passes to people raising their hands for us to get back on the return trip. This took the entire hour-long ride to accomplish, and it was hilarious watching the guy having to try and pronounce some very strange names from other countries. This was one of the least productive systems I could see imaginable for doing this, but they have to do it like that for some reason. Good ol’ Willie Banger was on the ferry, and when the director called out his name everyone began cheering and clapping.

As we approached Rhodes’ massive harbor, you could see the place where the ancient Colossus of Rhodes supposedly once stood. This was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but was destroyed after an earthquake, and the ancients used the stone for building on the island. The famous image of the Colossus of Rhodes is the statue of the Greek god Helios standing with each leg on each side of the port where boats would pass underneath. This is debatable though, because it is believed that though the Colossus of Rhodes did in fact exist, the actual place it stood is not clear, and many believe this image to be a fanciful invention.

We then split off and boarded separate coaches to explore the city. My tour guide was a very knowledgeable Austrian from Vienna, who had lived on Rhodes for 15 years. He had kind of a sinister, weasely look to him, with the kind of voice and mannerisms that would fit the role of a perfect villain in a movie, but was a really cool guy.

He explained the history of the isle, which reached far back to ancient times. The Isle of Rhodes is one of the central locations in the Mediterranean, so it has always been under siege for control. Rhodes has been under the control of the Greeks, Romans, Italians, and Turks, and all of these influences are still evident as the isle as a mishmash of cultural influences.

Back during the reign of Mussolini, the Italians had control of the isle and it was used to promote fascism.  Much of this is still evident today, as Mussolini constructed an entire main street devoted to glorify his fascist regime. We drove down this street as we passed through the New Rhodes Town and looked at the richly constructed buildings. On down the street we passed a huge casino and several white, sandy beaches along the shoreline. Some of these beaches are “clothing optional.” Massive hotels donned the beachfronts, but up a little ways from the beaches were droves of cheaply built uniform buildings, which the tour guide said was a new phenomenon of very recent years plaguing the isle.

We then went up a huge hill, which provided a great view of the city, once you looked past the cheap, mass-produced buildings. The historical medieval Rhodes Old Town could be seen, and on the top of the hill was a giant ancient Greek amphitheatre. We then descended the hill and got out of the bus to further explore the historical Old Town.

The Old Town of Rhodes is a highly fortified city. It is said to be the best-preserved fortified city in the world, as these massive walls have been the bane of invaders for centuries. Just to get to the town we passed through three gates in the walls and over two moats, and the walls are extremely thick. It was interesting to imagine the kind of pain it would be to try to lay siege to this city back in medieval times.

The only cars allowed in the Old Town are residents, so there is virtually no traffic. There is a lot of foot traffic however, as this area has become a major tourist attraction. In fact, the Old Town combined with the massive sandy beaches and resorts of the New Town, and other parts of the isle, have generated so much tourism that it has become the backbone of the entire Rhodes economy. The tour guide said Rhodes’ economy is 100% tourism.

After going through the multiple gates and over two moats, rising high atop the Old Town is the Palace of Knights, also known as Palace of the Grand Masters. This was a huge palace used by a group of crusader knights called the Knights of Rhodes, and then during Mussolini’s era he used the palace for himself and redecorated much of it.

The palace was very elegant and lavishly decorated with various items from both the history of Rhodes and items from other countries. The palace has a huge staircase made entirely of marble and rich mosaics. It is very big and imposing, and well protected for any kind of siege on the Old Town.

Down from the palace is a long medieval road called the Knights Road, which is lined with medieval hostels the crusader knights used during their time there. This road is well preserved, and is said to look almost exactly like it did in the Middle Ages. There are several gardens running down the alleys off the road. From the top of the road you can see a mosque from the days of Turkish occupation, which adds an interesting atmosphere of a mixture of cultures.

Down at the bottom of the Knights Road leads to a main road of the bazaar. There are numerous shops lined down this road and all the roads running off it. There is a huge fountain down at the main square with a bird statue sitting atop it. There were also several live birds that sat atop it as well, as in this busy area people would constantly feed them.

Next to the fountain are several Greek restaurants with multiple balconies overlooking the bazaar. We stopped at one of these and had some Greek food and just relaxed for awhile looking down at the busy bazaar below, and the medieval walls and structures of the Old Town. My mom and I then went around and looked at some other bazaar areas and then headed back to the ferry. We got kind of lost though, and almost missed the boat, but fortunately we got there just in time.

By the time we made it back to Marmaris, the ship was about to leave, so I didn’t have time to explore the Turkish port town. I would still have two days in Turkey though, so there would be more time to explore the country.

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