Rhodes – Greece Travel

Coming on deck the next morning at the fresh hour of sunrise, I found we were at Rhodes. We lay just off the semicircular harbor, which is clasped by walls—partly shaken down by earthquakes—which have noble, round towers at each embracing end. Rhodes is, from the sea, one of the most picturesque cities in the Mediterranean, altho it has little remains of that ancient splendor which caused Strabo to prefer it to Rome or Alexandria. The harbor wall, which is flanked on each side by stout and round stone windmills, extends up the bill, and becoming double, surrounds the old town; these massive fortifications of the Knights of St. John have withstood the onsets of enemies and the tremors of the earth, and, with the ancient moat, excite the curiosity of this so-called peaceful age of iron-clads and monster cannon. The city ascends the slope of the hill and passes beyond the wall. Outside and on the right toward the sea are a picturesque group of a couple of dozen stone windmills, and some minarets and a church-tower or two. Higher up the hill is sprinkled a little foliage, a few mulberry trees, and an isolated palm or two; and, beyond, the island is only a mass of broken, bold, rocky mountains. Of its forty-five miles of length, running southwesterly from the little point on which the city stands, we can see but little.

Whether or not Rhodes emerged from the sea at the command of Apollo, the Greeks exprest by this tradition of its origin their appreciation of its gracious climate, fertile soil, and exquisite scenery. From remote antiquity it had fame as a seat of arts and letters, and of a vigorous maritime power, and the romance of its early centuries was equaled if not surpassed when it became the resi dence of the Knights of St. John. I believe that the first impress of its civilization was given by the Phoenicians; it was the home of the Dorian race before the time of the Trojan War, and its three cities were members of the Dorian Hexapolis; it was, in fact, a flourishing maritime confederacy strong enough to send colonies to the distant Italian coast, and Sybaris and Parthenope (modern Naples) perpetuated the luxurious refinement of their founders. The city of Rhodes itself was founded about four hundred years before Christ, and the splendor of its palaces, its statues and paintings gave it a pre-eminence among the most magnificent cities of the ancient world. If the earth of this island could be made to yield its buried treasures as Cyprus has, we should doubtless have new proofs of the influence of Asiatic civilization upon the Greeks, and be able to trace in the early Doric arts and customs the superior civilization of the Phoenicians, and of the masters of the latter in science and art, the Egyptians.

Naturally, every traveler who enters the harbor of Rhodes hopes to see the site of one of the seven wonders of the world, the Colossus. He is free to place it on either mole at the entrance of the harbor, but he comprehends at once that a statue which was only one hundred and five feet high could never have extended its legs across the port. The fame of this colossal bronze statue of the sun is disproportioned to the period of its existence ; it stood only fifty-six years after its erection, being shaken down by an earthquake in the year 224 B.C., and encumbering the ground with its fragments till the advent of the Moslem conquerors.

Passing from the quay through a highly ornamented Gothic gateway, we ascended the famous historic street, still called the Street of the Knights, the massive houses of which have with-stood the shocks of earthquakes and the devastation of Saracenic and Turkish occupation. This street, of whose palaces we have heard so much, is not imposing; it is not wide, its solid stone houses are only two stories high, and their fronts are now disfigured by cheap Arab balconies; but the facades are gray with age. All along are remains of carved windows. Gothic sculptured doorways and shields and coats of arms, crosses and armorial legends, are set in the walls, partially defaced by time and the respect of Suleiman for the Knights, have spared the mementos of their faith and prowess. I saw no inscriptions that are intact, but made out upon one shield the words “voluntas mei est.” The carving is all beautiful.

We went through the silent streets, waking only echoes of the past, out to the ruins of the once elegant church of St. John, which was shaken down by a powder-explosion some thirty years ago, and utterly flattened by an earthquake some years afterward. Outside the ramparts we met, and saluted, with the freedom of travelers, a gorgeous Turk who was taking the morning air, and whom our guide in bated breath said was the governor. In this part of the town is the Mosque of Suleiman; in the portal are two lovely marble columns, rich with age; the lintels are exquisitely carved with flowers, arms, casques, musical instruments, the crossed sword and the torch, and the mandolin, perhaps the emblem of some troubadour knight. Wherever we went we found bits of old, carving, remains of columns, sections of battlemented roofs. The town is saturated with the old. Knights. Near the mosque is a foundation of charity, a public kitchen, at which the poor were fed or were free to come and cook their food; it is in decay now, and the rooks were sailing about its old, round-topped chimneys.

There are no Hellenic remains in the city, and the only remembrance of that past which we searched for was the antique coin, which has upon one side the head of Medusa and upon the other the rose (rhoda) which gave the town its name. The town was quiet; but in pursuit of this coin in the Jews’ quarter we started up swarms of traders, were sent from Isaac to Jacob, and invaded dark shops and private houses where Jewish women and children were just beginning to complain of the morning light. Our guide was a jolly Greek, who was willing to awaken the whole town in search of a silver coin. The traders, when we had routed them out, had little to show in the way of antiquities. Perhaps the best representative of the modern manufactures of Rhodes is the wooden shoe, which is in form like the Damascus clog, but is inlaid with more taste. The people whom we encountered in our morning walk were Greeks or Jews. The morning atmosphere was delicious, and we could well believe that the climate of Rhodes is the finest in the Mediterranean, and also that it is the least exciting of cities.