Monday, September 5, 2011

Walking the Island


Walking the Rhodes Island, Greece…


Text, Besnik Aliaj & Eranda Janku
Photos, Eranda Janku

Departure from Albania …
we started from 5 a clock in the morning from Tirana via Elbasan city and Qafe-Thana pass way. Elbasan is an old roman-ottoman town 55 km far from Tirana. The city is known for its old castle which is still populated and worth to visit even that not maintained well. One can use the road from south Tirana via mountains of Qafe-Krraba pass way, which is shorter, more beautiful but also more dangerous. Or you can use the western-Tirana highway, towards Durres Greek-roman time ancient town and main port city of Albania. Than by going south to Rrogozhina town you must turn east towards the former ancient corridor Via Egnatia, once connecting Rome and Constatinopolis. By this way the length of road almost doubles but speed is higher. However in summer is more advisable for tourists to chose the first alternative road, enjoying the fresher air and amazing dominant view of region thanks to the mountains, avoiding  also heavy booming touristic region of coastal Durres. From Elbasan to Qafe the Valley of Shkumbin Rivers narrows, while several small towns and villages associate the interesting landscape of Albania. The railway c continues parallel to most of road but it is dilapidated and very poor quality and low speed. Not advisable for those rushing to Sothern islands of Greece… Than in Qafe thana you have the option to go left Macedonia or continue right along Ohrid Lake via Pogradec town, heading towards Korca, the main south-eastern urban center of Albania. Just before entering Korca we deviated left-east towards Devoll river region, ending up a 3-4 hours Albanian ride at Kapshtica Custom. Roads have improved lately a lot. The Albanian side goes smooth and without big bureaucracies. At greek side of custom we had to spend like 1 hour as it was said that police and custom personal changed shifts. Well the procedures were again generally friendly, but you can sense Greece is passing an economic crisis, as public servants are clearly not enthusiastic at all…

So, welcome to Greece…
We drive half an hour to a local rural road and then enter to a highway. After one hour drive we entered one of the newest EU highway transport corridors, the so called “the new via Egnatia” connecting nowadays: Igoumenitza (west) and Thessaloniki (east) port cities of Greece, up to Istanbul Turkey forther in east. We drive another one hour in this corridor up to the intersection with the 10th pan-European transport corridor that comes from northern Europe down Athens via Belgrade, Skopje and Thesaloniki. In around 7 hours non-stop ride we arrive at the brink of Athens. Impressive big city of at least 4-5 millions in habitants. The fisrt night of tour we sleep in Athens, at Glyfada neighbourgood.
Glyfada is a southern area of Athens, 20 minutes  away from the center, where most of the Olympic infrastructure is located, and is considered a relatively rich area. The neighborhood is developed clearly on a half ring radial system, where the center of the neighborhood is a local church. We had the chance to visite the church and adored the orthodox religious paintings. The coastal area in front of the church is rich of marina and local restaurants, where we had the chance to spend the diner evening.
After a late waking, we spent some time on the city center, and then drove to the Pireaus Port, where the BLUE STAR FERRIES ship departed to the Rhodes island. The sailing lasted about 15 hours, covering all the night, and stopings on the islands of Santorini and Kos. At almost 10.30am, we landed on the Rhodes’ port, and from there drew across the city to get to our beautiful summer house on the village of Salakos. The village was small, but rich on nice sorroundings and community, exploring the variety of climate, between the mountain and the sea. After some hours of rest, the diner was spent on a nice and beautiful local restaurant, “Filoxenia”, where the owner lady named Evangelia did only serve us an exelent local cuisine, but was also a perfect guide in pointing on our map, the most important sites and places to be visited: Rhodes down town, Ialysos, and Petaloudes (The Valley of Butterflies), Old Kamiros, Monolythos and Kritinia castles, Prasonisi surfing and beach area on the south, Ladiko and Anthony Quinn Bay beaches, the ancient Lindos, Water Park area at Faliraki and Kalitheas Bay, Mountain of Prophet Ilias ect.
We succeeded to visit all these places and much more within a period of 2 weeks, combining driving and sites visits, with days off and time on spent on  the beach.  By the way, the western part is more populated, but also more windy, while the eastern part has hotter climate but wonderful beaches and warmer and quieter sea waters. We enjoyed beaches at Kalavarda, Prasonisi, Lardos Bay, Afantou Bay and Kalithea Bay, but we also enjoyed the hilly and mountainous areas of Psynthos, Prophet Ilias, Agio Isidoros, and Kimarasi. Rhodes is definitely beautiful, a jewel of nature and history, where Rhodes city and its own Castello, are the top destinations to visit for an architect and an urban planner.
Rhodes island, has been a strategic point, throughout history. Nowadays is a meeting place for global tourism, but in the past it has been the border  for East and West, for Christian and muslim worlds, and beyond that. Rhodes is famous for its ancient roman and green settlements, added with layers of byzantine, medieval and ottoman ages. Rhodes has a special layer of the architecture and city planning of the Masonic orders of the christian Knights, from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, England ect. This fantastic urban and historical ‘cocktail’, is mixed up with the modern times style, Mussolini’s fascist Italian architecture, that dominated the island for more than 3 decades, to the nowadays contemporary architecture of greek  character.
The Castle of Rhodes, the touristic resorts are two best examples to show how global economy evolved from the medieval age, to the present times. Everything is there to be explored, the towers of churches, the minarets of mosques, the medieval narrow streets, the ottoman bazaar, the nowadays culinary and the rich marine and port area. Rhodes has a population of 100.000 people and 50% of them lives in more than 50 villages around the island. During summer time, the population doubles or triples, by heavy influx of 200 planes per day, and many ferries and ships aswell. Rhodes island and city, never sleeps. It’s vivid of colors, parties and local fairs.
Let’s start by walking in the city, te castle castle, and then driving further over the island…


















Destination 1:
IALYSOS - The Early Christian Baptistry; The Church of the Panayia; The Knights Monastery; Street of Golgotha (of the Martyrs)
On our second full day on the island, we went to visit the region of Ialysos. This region- the city-state of Ialysos- covers all the northern part of the island, and includes the peninsula on which the city of Rhodes was founded in 408 BC. The strategic position of Ialysos was appreciated by the Byzantines, who fortified the hill, called Philerimos in the 13th century- for military purposes. It was in the fortress that the Masonic order of the Knights of St.John first established themselves before they spread out over the whole island.
The highest point of the hill is dominated today by a church dedicated to the Virgin and the monastery to which it belongs, built by the Knights on the site of an older Byzantine church, beyond the narthex; there are two side chapels with vaulted ceilings. At the southern end of the building there are the ruins of an Early Christian cruciform baptistery.
Outside the archaeological site, towards the west, there is a road along which, in the first half of the 20th century, the Italians placed twelve statues corresponding to the Twelve Stations of the Cross in the Catholic religion. This Via Dolorosa (also known as Golgotha Road) ends at a plateau with a huge Cross, whence the visitors can have an impressive view out over this part of the island.
It was amazing to visit this site and the climbing inside the cross, toward its top, was also impressive. Can’t wait to do it again someday…





















Destination 2.
Temple of Pythian Apollo - The stadium - and the little Odeon, Rhodes city.
After visiting the previously mentioned sites, we decided to go and visit the Temple of Pythian Apollo, The Stadium and The Little Odeon.
At the top of the hill, there is the ancient acropolis, which dominates the whole of the settlement area. Built at the same time as the city, it was an inseparable part of it from the very beginning, surrounded by its walls. It was kept free of houses in order for public buildings and temples to be erected there. Aelius Aristides describes it as “filled with flat areas and groves”.
At the highest point there stands- partly restored today - the 3rd century BC Doric temple of the Pythian Apollo, built from local sandstone. To the north-east of the temple there was another building, which was believed to have been an Artemisia.
The stadium and a little Odeon with an audience capacity of 800 which was probably used by well known Rhodian orators, have been restored to the east of the temple of Apollo. The athletic tradition of the inhabitants of the island is well known also. It produced great figures and Rhodian athletes were repeatedly winners in the Pan-Hellenic Games, brining glory to their homeland and their families. Most prominent among them was one family, which not only its founder Diagoras was an Olympic champion, but also his three sons, Damagetos, Akousilaos and Dorieus. The family has given its name to the road which runs in front of the stadium (Diagoras Street).







Destination 3:
The Valley of Butterflies
As the locals suggested, we shouldn’t miss the Valley of Butterflies… The Valley of Butterflies, which lies between the villages of Epano Kalamonas and Psinthos, is a deep shady ravine which, intervention, has been turned into a unique and beautiful place.
The water in the ravine has been ‘tamed’ so as to form little pools and waterfalls, alongside which there are little wooden bridges and picturesque walk-ways. During some months of the year, from mid-June to mid-September, millions of butterflies inhabit the valley, presenting a truly unique spectacle. When they are resting, they cover the whole of the surface of the trunks and branches of the huge trees, but if they are disturbed by some noise, they all fly off together, creating an unbelievable, living orange colored cloud.
In the past, visitors were able to witness the impressive mass flight of the butterflies, but when it was shown that this upsets the insects’ reproduction cycle, it was strictly prohibited and the location is only accessible during some hours of the day. Nevertheless, even at the time of the year when there are no butterflies around, the beauty of the spot is more than a compensation for visitors, one of the most important sights on the island.
At the top of the hill, we reached the Monastery of Kalopetra, which was also breathtaking. So traditional and special, small but beautiful place to visit. After a long way along the Valley of Butterflies, this Monastery was the perfect place for a short rest, with some cool water, and perfect view from the terrace. Amazing view…



















Destination 4:
LADIKO beach; ANTHONY QUINN beach… and Lindos…
Between the two circular bays, there are two smaller but very picturesque beaches, Ladiko, and the other, Anthony Quinn beach. This amazing day, started with the fun hours on the sun and long swims on the amazing waters of the Ladiko Beach…
It is there that the film “The Guns of Navarone” was made. On the hill above the bays there are the remains of the fortress of Erimokastro. The acropolis was inhabited for many centuries as is evidenced by tombs dating from the Mycenaen to the Roman period. Even though the archeological remains do not merit an ascent to the top of the hill, the view from there will compensate lovers of nature.
Anthony Quinn - The well known film “The Guns of Navarone” was made in 1961, with such popular stars as Gregory Peck, Irene Papas and Anthony Quinn. With the film, the latter began a series of roles in which he portrayed a Greek character. The great worldwide success of the film helped to make Rhodes famous to the wider community and led to an increase in the number of visitors to it. Anthony Quinn himself was captivated by the beauty of the island and bought a large piece of land around the bay, which the proviso that it be exploited for tourism. It is the fact that this condition was not adhered to that the locality is still undeveloped and thus retains all of its natural beauty…
Latter on we went to visit Lindos ancient village, after the beach, on the same day, as they are located almost on the same place… Lindos is with no doubt, the top favorite region of the island. We truly felt like in Greece there, with all the small white and blue houses that come one above the other, with such narrow streets and full of shops and restaurants…
Situated at about the mid-point along the eastern shore of the island, Lindos owes its very existence to its characteristic rocky cliff which, tossed out (as it were) at the edge of the sea, forms a fortified acropolis and two safe - and at the same time very picturesque - harbors. Today it is the most important archeological site on the island with monuments from all periods - form antiquity down to the present day…
Among the first views of the locality which the visitor has on arrival, and the most impressive apart from the acropolis itself, is the village of Lindos. With its snow-white houses which embrace the rock it constitutes a brilliant spot among the colors of the landscape. Subsequently, in order to ascend to the acropolis, the village - a monument of more recent island architecture…
On the way up to the ancient acropolis, our gaze was arrested by the arrangement of the imposing medieval walls, built by the Knights of St.John. After the first entrance in the medieval walls and the first stairway, the visitor reaches a little level area where there are two ancient monuments hewn into the rock. The first is the relief of the prow of a ship, probably a trireme. On the left, in the latter part of the relief, there once stood the bronze statue of the individual whom the people of Lindos, for reasons unknown to us, wanted to immortalize around 180 BC. Then, climbing the wide and high stony stairs, we were lead to the Palace of the commander of the fortress; Byzantine Church; Ruins of Roman Temple; Hellenistic vaulted structures; Late Hellenistic Stairway; Hellenistic Stoa; Stairway of the Propylaea; Propylaea; Temple of Athena Lindia and the Roman Stoa, etc…
The day ended, with an awesome and very delicious dinner at “The Cesarious’s” roof garden. Super delicious food, on the cool breeze of the almost-night, enjoying the rising up of the strand moon, and drinking some tasty local white wine, and having pasta…
We were lucky enough, to be offered a table with such nice seats, and a sofa with white and soft pillows. The bluish pool was right behind us, as well as the terrace, covered with candle lights, that led our eyes to the amazing view from the top, of the beautiful Lindos. After the wine and pasta, the house offered some Bacardi rum mixed with white wine, together with lemon and strawberry juice. It was totally perfect… yummy… Then, the sweet “goodnight” led us to our cars, on our way back at our village house…






































Destination 5:
The two seas

One of the great days spent on the Rhodes,was also the one spent at the southern part of the island, where the windy sea meets the quiet one...fascinating place, and amazing sports were taking place aswell. Safari cars were there, touring around people coming from all over the world. Hundreds of people were there for windsurfing and waterskiing. Seemed like a place for sport people, and they were all so amazing, doing all kinds of styles on their tables. Mostly australian people were staying there with their tents or cars. It was their summer activity, and they were so good on it. 

But the southern beach was really windy, so we didn't stay much long, and left to the central part of the island, for some more historical visits. We visited two old settlements on the top of two hills. The castles were truly magnificent.
















Destination 6:
RHODES CASTLE
Indeed, we let by purpose the castle of the Rhodes city, to be our last “walkingthecity” destination…  As it is well known about its great fortification walls, we start telling you some historic facts about these famous walls, and then slowly unveil other surprises for you… The walls of Rhodes constitute work of military architecture which raised the interest of west and east over centuries up to day. It left an echo in the work of men of letters such as Racine, who stated: “Rhodes, that contentious obstacle to the Ottomans, became the coffin of all its defenders.”
… The walls were built during a period of transition when the discovery of artillery weapons brought a revolution in the art of war and the defensive means of the forts of the middle Ages had become useless; this was demonstrated by the fall of Constantinople. Now the walls had to be thicker and stronger in order to withstand cannon fire. Great height did not play an important role, since the defense of the fortress was no longer decided by hand-to-hand battles; attackers made their decisive onslaught when breaches in the wall that had been bombarded permitted entry with the smallest possible human losses. The towers were originally square and high. Around the 15th century, round towers of lesser height began to be built, because corners and tall sections could be more easily destroyed by cannonballs…
… The walls also, contain several gates, on which we can mention the d’Amboise Gate, on which we entered first time upon arrival. After passing this well-fortified gate, we arrived in front of an intricate defensive work. Having crossed the second ditch, in front of us there loomed the western side of the Masonic Palace of the Grand Master, which even today is still protected by another wall and third ditch. Walking along it, we came to the little Gate of Ayios Antonios with a ruined relief of the saint and the emblems of the Order and de Lastic. This gate opened onto the internal wall which separated the Kollakion - the administrative heart of the Knights’ Order, and the neighborhood in which their most important buildings were situated…
… Then we entered the ‘Castello’. Internally, the Castello had been equipped with all the comforts of modern living, lifts, toilets, central heating etc. The large halls on the upper floor contain Hellenistic, Roman and Early Christian mosaics, most of them from Kos island culture. The columns also belong to older times. The furniture is old, most of it from Spain, while some of the chandeliers are authentic Murano. The building is used today as a museum (which we visited), and its most important rooms are open to the public. As we visited the building and came across all these open-rooms, something special was being exhibited too, on the same time: the contemporary art exhibition of Nicos Floros, one of top actual artist of Greece, whom by reusing recyclable tin material reproduced replicas of Marias Callas opera costumes. Excellent inspiring work …
… We also visited one of most favorite hall, the Hall of Laocoon, in which the space is dominated by a replica of the famous Laocoon ancient sculpture, a work of the Rhodian sculptors Polydoros, Athanadoros and Agesander. The original work is now housed in the Vatican Museum. The last room, we visited, was the Room of the Throne of Vittorio Emmanuelle, former King of Italy at that time. An altar was placed on the dais on which the throne would have stood, and the floor contained a beautiful mosaic with the bust of the nine Muses enclosed within circles. A typical atmosphere of fascist architecture of Mussolini times, inspired by a combination of Roman and modern architecture... 
At the end, we passed through the Street of the Knights, 6 m wide and 200 long, which is still amazing for its medieval gothic style architecture, embellished by the facades of the most important buildings of the Knights, and 9 respective communities/languages as they are called… From this point, we ended up on the bazaar street, where a rich variety of shops and restaurants were unbelievably crowded by local traders and international tourists. So after further visit also in the rest areas of Rhodes castle, which is more housing oriented and less maintained, we ended up tired and above all hungry to resist local restaurants…. This was the end of the most beautiful “walkingthecity” touring Rhodes islands we had, visiting the historic city and around… Don’t miss it if you have a chance.

















































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