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July 01, 2010

Rhodes {text by Andrew}

Thursday July 1 - Rhodes

Today, we arrived in Rhodes, about which we had heard good things: castles, knights, and ruins.  Rhodes is a Greek island far to the South, off the coast of Turkey, around 200km around.  It was settled by the Greeks, where several cities lived in relative harmony for many years, welcoming peaceful visitors and working together to repulse pirates and such. 

Unfortunately, the island has slowly been tilting, so the bustling harbor of the Greek settlement we visited is now far under water.  The current port, where we landed, lies around 40km away.  This port is where popular history sites the Colossus of Rhodes, another of the seven wonders of the ancient world -- for those following along at home, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was the other wonder-site we've visited on this trip.  The Colossus was a monument to Helios, god of the Sun, patron of Rhodes, and an aspect of Apollo.  It is believed to have been about 110 feet high, and despite the prevalence of the popular story, did not straddle the harbor.  Instead, it was built inland around 300 BC, survived for two generations, and was then destroyed by earthquake along with the entire city.  The residents sent to Delphi to inquire at the Oracle whether it should be rebuilt, and were given a resounding 'no.'  The pieces of the statue were left standing until the island was taken over by Christians, who carted the pieces away.

The island changed hands more often than an unduplicated toy in Gwen and Maddy's bedroom.  Anyone who was anyone in the Med at one point owned Rhodes: Greeks, Italians, Turks, Byzantines, Egyptians, Crusaders, you name it. 

In 1309, the Knights of St John (aka Knights of Rhodes, Knights Hospitaller, and a good half-dozen other names, not counting the ones popularized in Monty Python) occupied the island, ending the Byzantine era, and contributing most of the architecture that makes up current-day Rhodes.  The Hospital was a charity arm that would provide lodging, food, drink, and healing for those in dire straits.  The old city runs from the Hospital to the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John, the two most important structures.  After a couple of hundred years, the island was taken over again by Suleiman, and a few remaining Knights were allowed to leave for Sicily before regrouping in Malta under the new moniker the Knights who say Malta (quickly shortened to simply the Knights of Malta).

We began with a visit to the ruins at Kameiros, which was one of three large Dorian settlements in Rhodes -- these three plus another three cities on the mainland made up the key six cities of the Dorian Hexapolis.  After visiting and taking some pictures, we headed back to the city for a short tour.  We saw the sequenced moats, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Mosque (now secular), and the Hospital, and also spent a fair bit of time wandering through the numerous shops in the city, shopping for clothes for the girls, and letting Gwen discover the best places to buy swords.

When we first saw this little girl, our heart strings were tugged and all of our tour mates were digging into their pockets for change.  What a sad sight.  A few minutes later we turned several corners and found ourselves in the large plaza area and noticed that there seemed to be a theme of little girls begging on the streets with accordions and puppies.  And all of the children were playing the same song over and over again.  It's as if someone decided that it wasn't precious enough to have a small child begging on the street so they decided to give her an accordion and teach her one song.  Then they upped the precious quotient by tossing in a little puppy.  I had to wonder if they rotated out the dogs as they got older so there would always be a puppy for each child.  Oddly interesting but still sad.


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