the colossus of rhodes

where the colossus never stood: the entrance to the rhodes harbor.
where the colossus never stood: the entrance to the rhodes harbor.

it’s a romantic notion, but despite what we’ve read in history books or in george r.r. martin’s a feast for crows, there was never a colossus of rhodes that straddled the entrance to the harbor of rhodes. instead, the colossus – a bronze statue of helios, the sun god, which reportedly stood 98 feet tall – probably stood alongside the harbor. construction begun in 292 bc, and the colossus stood until the earthquake of 226 bc, when it collapsed, and the pieces were stolen or sold off.

the statues at the mouth of the harbor are, instead, a stag (a symbol of rhodes) and a deer. originally, the pairing was of a stag and a wolf, the symbol of rome, but when the greeks took possession of rhodes from the italians, they replaced it with a deer. when we took our harbor cruise, however, the guide on the boat told us all about the colossus of rhodes straddling the harbor mouth. the tour operator also told us that if we were even “one percent” dissatisfied with the cruise, we could have double our money back. and while it was a nice enough cruise around the harbor, we didn’t go as far out as promised, and the underwater show of their diver feeding the fish (which we could see through the glass panels in the hull) went on a little long – but when we expressed our one percent to the tour operator, he howled about how everyone else was happy, what was our problem? in other words, it was the colossal b.s. of rhodes.

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the real colossus of rhodes – these ships are enormous; and a tugboat, because i like tugboats.

back where i left off …

the next day, we went to lindos, a town on rhodes. the town had been controlled at one point or another by greeks, romans, byzantines, the knights of st. john, and the ottomans, as well as the italians and then the greeks again in modern times. the acropolis of lindos contains both the temple of artemis lindia – which has been rebuilt using modern construction materials(!) – as well as the fortress that the knights of st. john built to defend against the ottomans.


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the view below, and the view above.
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portico columns, 200 bc, and the view to the harbor.
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the temple of artemis lindia, dating back to 300 bc, and i have no idea what this says.

one of the notable sights on the way up is a relief of a rhodian trireme warship carved into the rock, which served as the base of a statue honoring hagesandros, who won a great naval battle for lindos, which was carved by the famous sculptor pythokritos … our guide explained the statue and its history in detail, but i was fiddling with my camera, so i have nothing more than that.

next: the colossus of rhodes.

live at the apollo (part 2)

outside the main city, on the acropolis, stands the temple of apollo. “acropolis” means “edge of the city,” so there are other acropoli (acropoleese?) than just the one in athens. this temple dates back to the 5th-3rd century b.c. and was excavated from 1912-1945.

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below the temple are the stadium and the odeon. according to our guide, the stadium is 600 feet long because hercules paced out the length with 600 steps. the stadium was where the young men, after training since childhood, displayed their athletic and battle prowess. eventually, however, the ancient rhodians decided that men had to be able to defend themselves mentally as well as physically, so they built the odeon to hold debates and speeches.

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next: out to lindos.

back into rhodes

so, back into rhodes. let’s do the history, in brief:

 turkey is that close. this matters for history.
turkey is that close. this matters for history.
  • the island was settled in prehistoric times but didn’t start to develop major cities until after the trojan war1.
  • it became part of the roman empire and then, after the division of the empire, part of byzantium.
  • in a.d. 620, it was captured by the persians, but then the arabs invaded 33 years later.  the byzantines didn’t reassert control until a.d. 718.
  • the crusaders moved in and took control in the 13th century2 and then turned the island over to the knights of the order of st. john in the 14th century (the knights hospitaller of jerusalem3).
  • the knights built rhodes into the medieval town one sees today, and ruled until 1522, when the ottomans completed a six-month siege of the city (after having failed to take the city in 1480). the knights were allowed to leave, and they went to malta.
  • the ottomans kept possession of the island until 1912, when it passed to the italians after world war i.  finally, the greeks took over in 1948.4

the old town was surrounded by concentric walls, so there is a deep ditch around the city, and the ground is littered with these enormous stone balls. according to our guide, these were the missiles that the ottomans fired using a primitive form of crossbow-cannon: tubes were fitted at the end with a band woven from a combination of horsehair and women’s hair, in which the attackers could load one of these balls, pull the “string” back, aim the cannon, and then let it go. our guide further explained that after the ottomans had gone through their supply of cannon balls, they asked to buy them back so they could continue their siege. the knights refused.5 another website attributes the stone balls to the siege machine of the persians, while wikipedia simply makes reference to 260 kilogram cannon balls shot with an actual cannon.

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now we go on to the knights’ castle. very imposing from the outside:


and some detail from the inside:

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many rooms had mosaics, some of which were taken from ancient homes. the architects would put down some kind of resin on the tiles and cover it with a cloth; they then peeled the entire mosaic up from the floor, rolled them up like a carpet, and rolled them back out in the new settings. the upstairs rooms, we were told, had magnificent painted tile floors, but during world war ii, the castle was used as troop headquarters first by the italians and then by the british, and their boots caused a lot of damage, so this part of the castle was off limits.6

going back into town, i began wandering the back alleys to enjoy the light and shapes.

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the afternoon light in the mediterranean is amazing; i’ll probably do a blog posting just dedicated to the light that hits from 3-6 pm.

finally, we climbed the clock tower to enjoy the view:

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next: live at the apollo (part 2)

once again, with apologies to will cuppy:
1. according to i guess that before the trojan war, it was too early.
2. isn’t that just like them?
3. some of the people in the city even may be descended from the knights hospitaller; nonetheless, three of the people in our party never got their entrées at dinner friday night.
4. the bus system is great, but avoid the casino.
5. surprise.
6. whereas our dog bypasses the tile floors to throw up on our expensive turkish carpets, but he still has run of the house. some people are just too sensitive.

all roams lead to rhodes

this probably will be the most objectionable pun i put on this blog.

this past weekend, a group of us went to rhodes. some initial impressions first; tomorrow, i’ll provide the details.

we enter the medieval old town, a unesco world heritage site. while the city has a history stretching back 2500 years, parts of the old town date back more than 700 years.
looking up at the ramparts of the castle of the knights of the order of st. john, who came to the island in 1307 a.d. – just imagine the battles these walls have seen!
through the walls into the old town, into the bazaar of the old ottoman quarter.
the bazaar today.
maybe better just to keep looking up. the clock tower, built 1852.
let’s look for romance instead.   through dimly-lit alleys that are nearly
  unchanged from 500 years ago …
… and back to more tourist tat.
a quick meal after sight-seeing.
more tomorrow!