We were 6,500 miles from our last blog and had far more air miles under our wings when we arrived in Greece for vacation.
Our friends and host/hostess for the next eleven days greeted us as we exited the airport in Rhodes. The taxi sped along the sea road and we passes resorts, and pebble beaches crowded with umbrellas and lounges. We arrived at Mandraki, an ancient harbor in the port city of Rhodes, where the taxi proceeded over the jetty and stopped. Malbec, John and Coralia’s forty foot catamaran, was tied to the seawall to our left and ahead, just a stone’s throw away, was the ancient stone Fort of St. Nicholas.
This architectural wonder was our first exposure to this ancient culture which continued to captivate us for the rest of our trip. John and Coralia’s expert knowledge would guide us on our journey through the Southeast Aegean, bouncing between the Greek islands and the ragged and beautiful Turkish coast twenty-five miles away.
The 15th century fort, which was just feet from Malbec, guards the same harbor as the famous Colossus of Rhodes once guarded. The bronze Colossus stood 31 meters high, and was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Built around 300 BC this tribute to the god Helios straddled the harbor’s entrance allowing ships to pass between his legs. In 266 BC it fell during an earthquake and the spot where its feet once stood are now columns, topped with a stag on one side of the harbor and a doe on the other side of the harbor.
Greece is all about mythology and they had a much better imagination when explaining the creation of the universe than Christians. What is more believable, Adam creating Eve from his rib or Zeus defeating the giants and becoming Lord of the world. And what is more fun to study, the Olympian and the fights among their gods or the apostles preaching what is right and wrong.
The myth of Rhodes is a simple one. When Zeus became master of the universe he wanted to celebrate by giving a Greek island to each of his gods. Helios, the sun god, was away doing god things at the time and they forgot to included him in. When he returned from his mission he complained to Zeus and asked if he could have the next island that emerged from the sea. Helios’s request was granted and immediately an island sprang forth from the depths. This land was given to Helios. Helios then fell in love with Rhodes, the daughter of Poseidon, god of the sea. He married her and named his island after her. He went on to name the cities of Kameiros, Lalyssos and Lindos after his grandchildren.
We know lords and bishops, in every country of Europe, gave land parcels as gifts to the knights, family members and friends who served him well. So Zeus did the same thing. The Greek islands are volcanic…they emerged from the sea, so this is a very reasonable story and good history too. Better than Adam’s rib being plucked to form Eve.
During our first afternoon we toured the city still bastioned with tall protecting walls and towers. The stone streets, like mosaics of smooth river rocks, massaged our feet as we shopped trinkets from stores housed in dwellings from ancient times.
On our first night, we dined near Alexandrias Square. Clear skies turned from dusk to evening through the trees that we sat under. Bugs chirped in the nearby park competing with the voices of patrons, waiters and the sounds of the kitchen across the walkway. The kitchen was inside and the seating was all outdoors. The whole time we were in Greece and Turkey we never ate indoors. It wasn’t an option. The ancient buildings don’t have enough room for anything other than the cooking and cleaning. Some restaurants use buildings that are on wider streets, possible the ones used for the passage of knights on horses. Most are built on the parks and squares where there is room for them to add tables and chairs outside. The shops and stores are on narrow streets, which work out well for hawking gifts, the tourist can’t get away, there is no place to hide.
When I looked beyond the passing tourist in the walkway toward the kitchen of the restaurant John chose for us, I noticed a twenty foot long chalkboard hung above the windows. When I squinted, I could make out their list of fresh metzes for the day. John explained that metzes are small plates of freshly made food, which I think of as tapas or appetizers. The Greeks use lots of yogurt, eggplants, grilled octopus or calamari, lamb and of course, olives in theirs. The wine we had was locally made and served in a tin cup with a spout. It was sweet and just what I needed. I was anxious to try the grilled octopus, so went with a full meal and saved the metzes for another day. Coralia’s selection looked great though and I knew I wanted to try them.
On our first morning, we sat at one of the restaurants that line the sidewalk outside the market and overlooks Mandraki Harbor. John suggested the Greek breakfast of sliced cheese, meet, cucumber, tomato and whole olives. Simple and just the right blend of tastes.
We learned the first day to plan well and be out of the sun in the afternoon, this is Helios’s island and he doesn’t want to be forgotten. The stone palace and museums were the perfect afternoon venue.
The Palace of the Grand Masters was built in the early fourteen hundreds on the ruins of the 7th century Acropolis of the Rhodians. The palace was destroyed in 1865 when the church next to it exploded. The Italians rebuilt the palace when they occupied Rhodes in the early nineteen hundreds. The current building is an exact replica but they used mosaic floors from the 5th center B.C. in some rooms.
Knights Street connects the Palace to the harbor. Along this road, the inns, or residences for the knights were established by language and thus their origins. The French Inn being the biggest. The buildings built in the fifteenth century now house mostly government offices.
When we walked along the city walls and through its arched doorways, we wondered how this great city could ever have been breached. But as history shows us, no society rules forever and while Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent captured Rhodes. The Knights of Rhodes 213-year reign ended and they were off to become The Knights of Malta.Fortunately, the Magnificent Sultan did not destroy the immense history that came before him and it’s still there to see, at least from the fifteenth century forward. The same stone buildings now homes, shops and restaurants. The same palaces and inns now museums, government offices and banks. The same castle walls now a reminder of our vulnerability.