When I told people that I am going to spend New Year’s holidays on Rhodos island, I got the same reaction from every single one: “what on earth are you going to do in Rhodos in wintertime?”
Well…. What on earth am I going to do in Rhodos in the middle of winter?
The first time I heard about Rhodos was in late 70s, when my sister went there for a week with her classmates as part of an organized school tour. What I very much remember is that she brought an umbrella for everyone as a gift (!!!) and for me an azure Lacoste polo shirt…which I think was a fake. There was a huge Lacoste fake market in the area those days.
Umbrellas as gifts? Yes... Umbrellas were the popular souvenirs everyone used to bring back from his holidays on Rhodos those days…a tax break I suppose(?)… I am not sure. They still sell umbrellas at souvenir shops on the island, and certainly the reason is not the frequent rainfall!
"Καλαφατας Umbrellas", a rhodian institution.
Rhodos Island. The Town of Rhodos is located at the very north tip of the island.
Therefore, from my sister I heard all about the “Island of the Knights”: the castle town, the beaches, the Italian style buildings, the valley with the butterflies…everything.
Everything? I believe castles were not really what she was interested to. You see, those were the 70s and it was her first long stay away from home. I can only imagine.😎
Detail of the easter facade of Palazzo del Governatore in Rhodos Town.
The next time Rhodos came into my life was some 10 years later, when I visited the island as a student. To tell you the truth, the things really stack in my mind from that trip around the Dodecanese islands has nothing to do with the touristic attractions at all: I remember a 22-hours boat journey from Pireaus to Rhodos, sleeping on the floor of the upper boat deck (next to the big buoy) and a long night sleep under the stars at the island port waiting for the boat back home (in a blue outside and red inside sleeping bag (*)).
Since then I have visited the island several times for long weekends and a couple of times on business trips. But never during winter!
(*) My friend Maria on that trip had exactly the same sleeping bag as mine, but that was red outside and blue inside... long live the boy-girl stereotypes! 😀
The Town of Rhodos.
Rhodos island (or Rhodes or Ρόδος) is a big island and there are lots to see and do.
Nevertheless, this long weekend and New Year’s Eve, I decided not to get far out of Rhodos Town at all.
The Town has a rather big population of about 60,000 inhabitants and a history that spans from the ancient times to modern days (from classical antiquity to Hellenistic ages and the Colossus, to the Byzantine period the crusaders and the Islamic rule, to the Italian rule and the union with mother Greece in 1947), so there are so many things to do and visit in the city itself.
Relaxing in winter time.
Certainly, the options you have are limited compared to the ones during the summer period: most of the restaurants are closed in winter, as well as most museums and places of interest. On the other hand, the restaurants which stay open, are the ones that cater for the locals, so you have better food for a better price. The most important, though, is that you can have long tranquil walks, something impossible to do during the hectic summer months, when you bump onto other tourists all the time, or compete with them to catch the last available restaurant table.
For the traveler's interest, Rhodes Town falls into three distinct areas:
❤Rhodos Old Town, still enclosed by its medieval walls,
❤Rhodos New Town, north and west of the Old Town, which includes the New Port (the Commercial Harbor), Mandraki (the yacht and ferry harbor) Elli Beach & the Casino, and
❤Acropolis of Rhodos, the ruins of the ancient city.
The three windmilles at Mandraki port.
Ladies and gentlemen this is one of the most fascinating places in the Mediterranean Sea, a history book of its own, one of the most beautiful islands.
This is Rhodos!
Arriving on the island
Fort of Saint Nicholas, at the entrance of Mandraki port.
“Diagoras” International Airport is the main gate to the island. Even during winter months, there are several flights connecting the island to Athens. The flight lasts only 45 minutes. Needless to say, that from March till October the island is served by many charter flights from all over Europe and the Middle East. There are also scheduled air connections with other Greek islands in the area: Kos, Kastellorizo, etc.
The airport is located 14 km south of Rhodos Town and there is a good bus and taxi connection to it. The bus to the city costs 2.6 euros and the ride lasts 30-40 min, depending on the traffic. The taxi costs 25 euros, which is a real rip off for a 20-30 minutes’ drive. Nevertheless, if you want to explore the whole island, you should hire a car which is much cheaper and more convenient than the taxi… unless you feel unconfortable to drive “the Greek way”.
We arrived on the island very early in the morning. We checked in to our room the moment we arrived, so we were free to explore the island.
The weather was not ideal for walking, but there were so many umbrellas to buy!🙂
I decided to include a lot of history and architecture information in the description of this adventure of mine. This may not be of much interest to every reader. So, this extra information is given in the following text in "italics" bracketed like this: ❤text💔.
In this way, it is easier for the reader to leave out "unwanted" information.
The New Town
The square in front of "Evangelismos" church, at Mandraki port.
The “New Town” is the part of the town spread outside the walls and covers the northern most tip of the island. Most of the bigger hotels are located there, as well as lots of restaurants, bars, cafes and commercial shops.
The town would be a typical modern Greek, colorless and chaotic city if the Italians throughout their occupation of the island did not elaborate it with beautiful, lavish, public buildings. Rhodes was “the crown” of the “Italian islands of the Aegean" ("Isole Italiane dell' Egeo”).
The Italians gave to the city a plan expounded with beautiful parks around the walls and public buildings. It was the Italian Governor Mario Lago (1924–36) who was responsible for the commissioning of a comprehensive new Master Plan for the expansion of the city of Rhodos outside the walls, which was entrusted to the architect Florestano di Fausto and approved in 1926.
The Master Plan envisioned the development of an area (already partially used by the Ottomans for administrative buildings and large residences) to the west of the port of Mandraki, between the Old City and the northern tip of the island. Against the theatrical background of the City of the Knights, with all its convenient associations of a Latin dominance, a new “Foro Italico” of commercial and administrative buildings was to be spaciously laid out along the shore.
Associated with this plan for the city was the wider project for the construction of new streets and roads and in the frame of this plan the Italians demolished the Ottoman period houses, that were built in and around the city walls, and “restored” the Medieval City to its pre-ottoman status.
The buildings at the Mandraki front are in use even today as city and prefecture public buildings. I have to admit, that nothing has been really done to the city after the Italians handed the islands to the Greeks, besides the construction of unimaginative buildings made of concrete.
I should not be misunderstood though, Rhodos town is a very pleasant medium size city with lots of cafes, restaurants, commercial shops and little green spots where usually a huge ficus tree dominates the place with its grandeur and thick shade.
Italian Colonial Architecture in the Dodecanese
❤The Italians sought to give a unifying architectural stamp to the Mediterranean and African territories which they occupied in late 19th and early 20th centuries.
They occupied the Dodecanese from 1912 to 1943. At first, they tried a new, pan-Mediterranean, "Rationalist" architecture which, by incorporating different elements of local traditions (Greek, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman, middle eastern & north African Islamic), was intended to give the visible impression of the extent and diversity of the new empire. This gave rise to the period’s greatest and most imaginative buildings. This period corresponds to the period Mario Lago (1924–36) was Governor of the Dodecanese. But it was to prove a short-lived architectural springtime.
After 1936, with the new political Governor, Cesare Maria de Vecchi, (who had formerly been Mussolini’s Minister for Education), and the declaration of the Fascist ‘Imperium’, architecture had to turn to more austere forms following the demands imposed by more authoritarian politics. Some of the earlier buildings were even purged of their decorative elements in a ‘purification’ of the colonial architecture. Such an example is the “Grande Albergo delle Rose”, which ‘purified’ of its decorative details and ‘arabesques’ to reveal a stern, more serious core in unadorned ‘poros’ limestone (the building took a form similar to that of the present day). Fortunately, many more of the early buildings have survived throughout the Dodecanese than the later ‘purified’ ones.💔
A walk of Italian architectural splendor
“Rhodos College for Hospitality Management”, opposite Therme Park.
Start your Italian architecture walk at the “Therme Park” (in Diakou str.), which was once part of the luxury "Thermae Hotel".
Today the hotel houses part of the “Rhodos College for Hospitality Management”, and its gardens have been converted into a park, the biggest part of which is occupied by a modern complex of restaurants and bars.
Leave the park behind you and walk in Sofokleous Venizelou str. for a couple of blocks till you reach “Akadimias Square” (Πλατεία Ακαδημίας). On the square there are two important buildings of the Italian colonial era: the Men's High School ("Scuola Maschile"), which today houses the «Teachers Training College of Higher Education», and just opposite of it, an eclectic building built in 1928 to house the “ItalianYouth Club” and which today accommodates the "Rhodos Scout Club".
A walk in New Town.
"Squola maschile" (top) and "Italian Youth Club" (bottom).
Italian architecure at "Gavriil Charitou Square".
Continue north till you reach the main entrance of the Casino.
Turn left on Kastelorizou street to reach the "Gavriil Charitou Square" (Πλατεία Γαβριήλ Χαρίτου). Around this elongated square, lined with palm trees, there are some excellent samples of “Italian colonial” architecture: namely, what is today a Bank as well the under renovation buildings next to it.
Stand on the long axis of the square and look north to see the "Enidryon" (Aquarium & Museum of Marine Life) framed by two huge modern hotels in the foreground.
The Rhodos Aquarium.
The Aquarium is an Art Deco building designed by the Italian architect Armando Bernabiti and it was constructed between 1934 and 1935.
❤When the Aquarium first started operations in 1937, it was named the "Reale Istituto di Ricerce Biologiche di Rodi" (Royal Biological Research Institute of Rhodos). Research included the hydrology, sponges, and fisheries of the Aegean.
When the island handed back to Greece, after the WWII, the facility was operated as part of the "Hellenic Hydrobiological Institute". Since 1963 it has been known as the "Hydrobiological Station of Rhodes", and is administered by the National Centre of Marine Research. An exhibition area was added to the north side of the building in 1971–72.💔
The Rhodos Aquarium in a grey winter day.
Elli beach in winter.
In front of the aquarium, there is a huge open space, the “Enidryo Square” (Πλατεία Ενυδρίου). At this point you have a 360 degrees view of the northern tip of the island.
The aquarium is surrounded by sandy beaches. The one on the east side is the famous “Elli beach” (Παραλία Ελλη) and the one on the west is the "Akti Miaouli Beach".
Continue your walk along the Elli beach southwards (towards the city).
The Rhodos Casino.
From Elli beach you can clearly see the Turkish coast of Asia Minor, while on your right hand you pass by the “Rhodos Casino”, a luxury hotel which opened its doors in 1927 as “Grande Albergo delle Rose”.
❤The hotel changed hands several times and eventually closed in the mid-70s. The building renovated and opened again in 2002 as a Casino and hotel.
Throughout the years royalty, statesmen and other prominent international figures have walked through the imposing front doors, including Greek prime ministers Eleftherios Venizelos, Konstantinos Karamanlis and Georgios Papandreou, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan.
Its lavish premises have housed events of great historic importance, most significantly the 1948 signing of the foundation of the State of Israel.💔
The “Grande Albergo delle Rose” in its original form.
The Mourat Reis Mosque.
Next to the Casino is the Rhodos Tennis Club, just behind which stands the “Mourat Reis Mosque” and its neglected garden and ottoman cemetery. The Murat Reis Mosque is one of the oldest mosques on the island, built less than a year after the Ottoman conquest in 1523.
❤The mosque was constructed on the site of the Aghios Antonios church next to the cemetery of the Knights. The exterior of the mosque boasts an ornate minaret from which the call to prayer has been heard down through the centuries. The mosque is named after Murat Reis, who is buried in the cemetery within the grounds. One of the Ottoman Empire’s most successful naval commanders, he was also considered by many to be one of the most important Barbary corsairs. For centuries sailors visited his tomb at the mosque seeking good luck at sea. He was later in life relieved of his post by the Ottoman Sultan presumably because of his sarcastic poetry.
It is pity that the surrounding grounds of such an important monument has been left in despair.
The entrance of the mosque and the gardens is on Kountourioti Square.💔
The Mourat Reis Mosque: Tekke Murat Reis ottoman complex entrance (top left), the Ottoman cemetery (bottom) and the minaret (left).
Villa Kleobolos where Lawrence Durrell lived for two years.
At the south-west corner of the Ottoman cemetery, behind the Tennis Club stands "Villa Kleobolos", a kiosk-like house, where lived the philhellene and friend of Rhodos poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell for two years (from 20/05/1945 to 10/04/1947) with his future wife Eve Cohen. So for his fans this is a "must visit" place.
Durrell held the post of Information Officer in the British Military Administration of the Dodecanese.
❤ In the spring of 1945, Durrell, ''speechless with gratitude'' upon taking his first swim in the blue Aegean, realized that ''space, light and solitude will have to be rediscovered again here, in all their ramifications.'' ''Reflections on a Marine Venus", Durrell's account of ''two lucky years'' spent on Rhodos, published in 1953, became the first book of postwar Mediterranean travel, and the begining of a series of books, popular songs, colorful movies and tempting travel images from which the Greek tourist boom of the 1960's would emerge.💔
"Reflections on a Marine Venus". This 1953 Edition depicts the Old Town of Rhodos on its cover page.
The "ELLI" structural complex in the foreground and the Yaghting Club in the background.
Continue south till you reach "Kountourioti Square" (Πλατεία Κουντουριώτη), which today is a big open car parking.
The Square (formerly known as the "Piazza 23 Marzo") is surrounded by important buildings.
The "ELLI" structural complex is situated at the Punta della Sabia (known as Kum Burnu under the Ottoman rule), which together with the building of the Rhodes Marine Club (Yaghting Club & swimming pool) and the restaurant next door, delimits the square’s northern boundaries.
Westwards the square is bordered by the Tekke Murat Reis ottoman complex, eastwards by the seafront and southwards by the building housing the administrative services of the Prefecture of the Dodecanese (Palazzo Governale).
ELLI (Έλλη) (originally known as “LaRonda”) was built over the period between 1936 and 1938 on a project believed to have been elaborated by the Italian Architect Armando Bernabiti.
Together with the concrete diving board (trampoline) off the beachfront, it was destined to house a bathing facility and a snack bar.
Τhe concrete diving board (trampoline) off the beachfront.
(top) Elli, Yaghting Club and the Fort St Nicholas seen from the north (Elli beach). The Rhodos Marine Club seen from Mandraki (middle). The Rhodes Marine Club (bottom).
❤The complex itself is a statement of eclectic style, typical of the time of its construction albeit featuring several details perfectly harmonized with the “oriental” style. Striking is its voluble design perfectly adjusted to the environing area and the complex’s overall allure, the predominant feature of which is the circular hall (hence the original name of “La Ronda”), endowed with spacious arched window doors under a vaulted roof dotted with a multitude of small, lozenge-form skylights.
ELLI has come down in history as the most impressive example of bathing facilities. The ground floor was meant to be used for storage of canoes, boats and relevant gear as well as hosting a kitchen and a cloth-press, the whole connected to the upper floor through an internal staircase; the premises on both the ground floor and the upper floor of the northern wing harbored the lockers.💔
Old pictures of Elli and the Kountourioti Square.
The Rhodos Marine Club.
❤Upon the Dodecanese’s annexation to Greece, the main building was converted to an officer’s club for the crew of USS “COURIER” aboard of which “Voice of America (VOA)” used to broadcast. That was how for the first time the upper floor was cut off the ground floor premises. Later on, the upper floor hosted various night clubs, dancing venues, bars etc.
In 1987, the complex was formally classified as a protected heritage monument by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.💔
Today, Elli houses a restaurant, a bar, a beach snack bar and a disco Club. The building next to Elli houses a fish tavern, and the Yaghting Club buliding accomodates a Beach lounge cafe and restaurant.
Kountourioti Square seen from Eleftherias Square.
“Eleftherias Square” and the Town Hall in Christmas.
To the south of Kountourioti Square you see the short side of a long building housing the administrative services of the Prefecture of the Dodecanese. The entrance of the building is on the “Eleftherias Square” (former "Piazza dell' Impero" and "Piazza Balbo"), which is surrounded by three important buildings of the fascist period designed by architect Armando Bernabiti: namely,
a) National Theater,
b) City Hall, and
c) Police Headquarters.
❤With Armando Bernabiti, there is a transition to a new generation of buildings in the late 1930s: purer, undecorated, and in every way more minimal and more consonant with the politics of the repressive Governorship of Cesare Maria de Vecchi.
The simplicity is recognizable already in his early (1934) Aquarium building; but his later creations (the Puccini Theatre, the Town Hall, and the church of San Francisco) tend ineluctably toward the military in spirit. It was in this later period that a number of di Fausto’s earlier buildings "renovated" to a new austere form.💔
The “National Theater”.
a) The National Theater.
The building on the north side of the square is the “National Theater”, originally the “Teatro Puccini”, built in 1937.
The massive theater had its big moments of glory hosting even performances of Italian opera. After the war and the integration of Rhodos to Greece, it continued to function as a theater and cinema in the city.
❤The National Theatre impresses with its unique architecture, combining the "International style" and the "Italian (fascist) style" architecture. This is expressed by the cubist mood, simplicity and symmetry, lack of any ornamentation, horizontal openings and much more. For this reason, it is one of the most famous examples of the art of “Finta pietra” with glass blocks in Greece.
The main facade of the theater imitates the great Porta Marina (Marine Gate) of the medieval town. The main hall is impressive with great depth and height and can accommodate up to 1,200 guests. It also features a stunning foyer, luxury boxes and a very large balcony.
Today, the National Theater is under major renovations, after years of neglect.💔
The City Hall decorated for Christmas.
b.The City Hall.
The City Hall dominates Eleftherias Square. This edifice was built between 1936 and 1939 under the De Vecchi government, as the “Casa del Fascio" (Fascist Administration Building).
The building in local stone follows the academic schemes of the fascist architecture. In 1939 three statues of Roman emperors, donated by Mussolini, placed in front of the building. These statues are now exposed in the gardens of the Palace of the Grand Master in the medieval town of Rhodos.
Before the construction of the buildings the Piazza dell' Impero was a racecourse.