There are many legends behind the island of Rhodes. One of my favorites is a beautiful Greek myth that attributes the beginnings of Rhodes to the love of Helios for the nymph Rhodes, the daughter of the god of the sea, Poseidon. It is believed that when Helios saw Rhodes he was so taken by her ravishing beauty that he made her his wife. Whatever the real story is, the truth is if you haven’t been to Rhodes yet, you should put this romantic island on your wishlist, for your future holidays.
A few days ago I got an email from a friend in Brazil who’s planning a 45 days trip to Europe for the end of the year, and luckily Rhodes will be among the places she has planned to stop by. As I have been there, she wanted me to recommend her the must-sees of the island and this is how I decided to write this post and share with you a few tips regarding the attractions Rhodes Island has to offer.
First of all, I should say if you plan to visit Rhodes you’d better chose a different time of the year, as this is not a winter destination. Rhodes is best known for its beautiful beaches and it’s among the most popular islands chosen by the European tourists to spend their summer holiday. For December it won’t be extremely cold, but temperatures will drop to 10 degrees (or even bellow) and the maximum you can get is around 16-17 degrees. So, forget about sunbathing! There won’t be anything left from the summer frenzy and many establishments will be probably hibernating, awaiting for the new summer season.
However, its emblematic sites will still be there and this might be the point where you can turn your holiday into a cultural one. Rhodes in winter will definitely have a different look, different colors to seduce you with and a lot more patience for your curiosity and your questions.
Located in the eastern Aegean Sea, Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population (over 110 000 inhabitants) and also the island group’s historical capital. Historically, the island was famous worldwide for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nowadays, the Medieval Old Town of the City of Rhodes is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Old City of Rhodes & the Acropolis
Once you reached the island, the first thing to explore is the Old City of Rhodes, the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe. There are many gates to enter the city, but one of the most famous is Eleftheria (Liberty) Gate, that will immediately lead you to Plateia Simi (Simi Square), containing ruins of the Temple of Venus, which may date from the 3rd century B.C. Driving is forbidden in the Old Town, so you may take a whole afternoon to stroll through its more than 200 hundred stony narrow streets. It’s very likely that you will lose yourself in this great Hellenistic labyrinth, but take this as an opportunity to travel back in time. The Street of the Knights (Ippoton) is one of the best preserved and was constructed over an ancient pathway that connected the Acropolis of Rhodes with the port.
The Palace of Grand Master
You will find the palace at the end of the Street of the Knights in the Old Town of Rhodes. It was built in the 14th century by the Knights of Saint John on the foundation of the Temple of Sun God (Helios), whose cult was very spread in the island in the antiquity.
Much of this huge construction has been destroyed in 1856 by explosives that were hidden in the basement of Saint John’s church. From its 158 rooms only 24 are open to visitors, among which the most impressive are the Grand Reception Hall, the Waiting Room and the Ballroom and the magnificent Music Room. The Italians (who occupied the Dodecanese Islands) were the ones to restore it at the beginning of 20th century and famous Italian figures used the palace as a holiday residence (among them the King Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini).
The ancient town of Lindos lies 45 km south of Rhodes Town and is a must see while in the island. It was founded by the Dorians in the 10th century B.C and due to its strategic position between Greece and the Middle East, it developed as a major trading center. Its decline started in the 5th century, when the city of Rhodes was founded. Among the monuments inside you should not miss is the temple devoted to Athena Lindia, where people used to do sacrifices worshiping the patron goddess, the Roman temple dedicated to the emperor Diocletian and the Hellenistic Wall that surrounds the Acropolis. All these ancient sites are protected by a Medieval Castle, built in the early 14th century by the Knights of St John.
With only 700 inhabitants, the medieval town of Lindos is by far one of the most picturesque sites of the whole island. The town has many historic houses (known as “Captains” houses) dating from 16th, 17th or 18th century. A network of cobbled streets will take you through this local treasure that will charm you with its small traditional whitewashed buildings. No car is allowed inside the medieval town, but you can always rent a donkey or a moped. A legend tells us that it was set up by one of the divine sons of Zeus, but historical proofs show that Lindos was established by the Dorians around 1000BC. It is also a great place to buy local souvenirs.
Built on a top of a hill with spectacular view to the sea, the Monastery of Panagia Tsambika is located about 25 km south of Rhodes Town, between Kolymbia and Archangelos. Though it’s still uncertain when the monastery was founded, it is sure that in 1770 was reconstructed by a monk. The name of the monastery comes from the word tsamba, which means spark in the local dialect. The tradition says that a local shepherd found an icon of Virgin Mary on top of the cliff and there is where the monastery was later on built, following a vigil light. It is believed that the icon of Panagia Tsambika is miraculous, particularly for the women who visit the church, praying to become mothers.
The Venetian Castle of Monolithos
Almost 70 km away from the city of Rhodes you will find the ruins of one of the most imposing castles ever built in the island: the Venetian Castle of Monolithos. Built on the foundations of another, older castle, the castle of Monolithos lies about 236m high on an amazingly difficult natural terrain which made its construction even more challenging. Due to its strategic location, the castle served as a watchtower over the Mediterranean, protecting the island against its numerous enemies, including the Ottomans. While climbing towards its fortifications you will come across two whitewashed churches, both dating from 15th century: the Chapel of St. Panteleimon and the Chapel of St. George. You will also fall in love with the views: the Mountain of Akramytis, the village of Monolithos, the Halki Island and the sparkling turquoise Aegean Sea.
Anthony Quinn Bay
It is one of the most beautiful beaches of Rhodes and the Hollywood actor fell in love with it while filming here “The Guns of Navarone” and bought this piece of beach. The pine trees that surround the rocky beach reflect in the crystal clear waters and make the sea sparkle with deep emerald shades. Though you won’t be able to swim here in December, I would still recommend visitors to pass by and catch a glimpse.