If you are looking for a destination that combines history, culture, nature and adventure, look no further than Rhodes, the largest and most diverse island of the Dodecanese group in the southeastern Aegean Sea. Rhodes has something for everyone, whether you are interested in ancient civilizations, medieval knights, Ottoman mosques, Byzantine churches, picturesque villages, sandy beaches, lush forests or rocky mountains. In this blog post, we will explore some of the cultural and geographical facts and trivia that you should know about Rhodes and its people before you visit this amazing island.
A Brief History of Rhodes
Rhodes has been inhabited since the Neolithic period (c. 4000 BCE) and has witnessed many civilizations and cultures throughout its long history. Some of the most notable historical events and landmarks of Rhodes are:
- The Bronze Age (c. 2000-1100 BCE), when Rhodes was influenced by the Minoan civilization of Crete and later by the Mycenaean civilization of mainland Greece. The island was divided into three city-states: Lindos, Ialysos and Kameiros, which formed the Dorian Hexapolis with three other cities in Asia Minor.
- The Classical period (c. 500-323 BCE), when Rhodes became a maritime power and a center of culture, commerce and art. The island was famous for its coinage, its maritime law and its colossal statue of Helios, the sun god, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Colossus of Rhodes was erected in 280 BCE to celebrate the victory of Rhodes over the Macedonian king Demetrius I Poliorcetes, who besieged the island in 305 BCE. The statue stood at the entrance of the harbor for 54 years until it collapsed due to an earthquake in 226 BCE.
- The Hellenistic period (323-30 BCE), when Rhodes reached its peak of prosperity and influence under the rule of the Ptolemies of Egypt and later under the Romans. The island was renowned for its schools of philosophy, rhetoric, astronomy and sculpture. Some of the famous personalities who visited or lived in Rhodes were Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
- The Medieval period (c. 1300-1522 CE), when Rhodes was conquered by the Crusader Knights of St. John (also known as the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of Rhodes), who built a formidable fortress around the city and defended it against several attacks by the Ottomans. The knights also established a hospital, a library and a mint in Rhodes. They ruled the island until 1522, when they surrendered to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent after a six-month siege.
- The Ottoman period (1522-1912 CE), when Rhodes became part of the Ottoman Empire and experienced a decline in population and economy. The Ottomans allowed the Greeks to keep their religion and culture, but imposed heavy taxes and restrictions on them. The Ottomans also built mosques, baths and bazaars in Rhodes.
- The Italian period (1912-1943 CE), when Rhodes was occupied by Italy after the Italo-Turkish War. The Italians modernized the infrastructure and administration of the island, but also tried to erase its Greek identity and heritage. They renamed the streets and buildings with Italian names, banned the use of Greek language and imposed fascist propaganda.
- The German period (1943-1945 CE), when Rhodes was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Germans used Rhodes as a military base and bombed several historical monuments. They also deported most of the Jewish population of Rhodes to Auschwitz.
- The Modern period (1948-present), when Rhodes became part of Greece after a referendum in 1947. The island recovered from the war damages and developed into a popular tourist destination. The city of Rhodes was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 for its well-preserved medieval town.
A Snapshot of Rhodes’ Culture
Rhodes has a rich and diverse culture that reflects its long and turbulent history. Some of the aspects of Rhodes’ culture that you should know are:
- The language: The official language of Rhodes is Greek, but you can also hear Turkish, Arabic, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and Italian spoken by some minorities or older generations. The Rhodian dialect is influenced by Doric Greek, Turkish and Italian words and expressions.
- The religion: The majority of Rhodians are Greek Orthodox Christians, but there are also Muslim, Jewish and Catholic communities on the island. The most important religious festivals of Rhodes are Easter, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (August 15) and the Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24).
- The cuisine: The cuisine of Rhodes is based on the Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on fresh fish, seafood, vegetables, fruits, olive oil, cheese and herbs. Some of the typical dishes of Rhodes are pitaroudia (chickpea fritters), giaprakia (stuffed vine leaves), melekouni (honey and sesame bars), souma (grape spirit) and mastiha (mastic liqueur).
- The music: The music of Rhodes is influenced by Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Italian styles. The most common instruments are the lyra (a three-stringed bowed instrument), the laouto (a long-necked lute), the tambourine and the clarinet. Some of the traditional dances of Rhodes are the sousta, the issos and the kalamatianos.
- The art: The art of Rhodes is characterized by its diversity and originality. The island has produced many famous artists in various fields, such as painting, sculpture, pottery, embroidery, jewelry and wood carving. Some of the notable artists of Rhodes are Chares of Lindos (the sculptor of the Colossus), Vasilis Fotopoulos (the painter of the Apocalypse frescoes in Patmos), Nikos Papas (the potter of Archangelos) and Nikos Xydakis (the contemporary painter and musician).
A Glimpse of Rhodes’ Geography
Rhodes has a varied and beautiful geography that offers many opportunities for exploration and adventure. Some of the features of Rhodes’ geography that you should know are:
- The climate: Rhodes has a Mediterranean climate, with hot and dry summers and mild and rainy winters. The average temperature in July is 28°C (82°F) and in January is 12°C (54°F). The island enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine per year and has a pleasant sea breeze that moderates the heat.
- The landscape: Rhodes has a diverse landscape, ranging from sandy beaches and rocky coves to green valleys and pine forests to barren hills and rugged mountains. The highest point of the island is Mount Attavyros, at 1,215 meters (3,986 feet) above sea level. The island also has several rivers, springs, lakes and wetlands that provide habitats for many plants and animals.
- The flora: Rhodes has a rich flora, with more than 1,200 species of plants, many of which are endemic or rare. The island is famous for its wildflowers, especially in spring, when they create a colorful carpet on the hillsides. Some of the characteristic plants of Rhodes are the rhododendron (the island’s namesake), the oleander, the hibiscus, the bougainvillea and the orchid.
- The fauna: Rhodes has a diverse fauna, with more than 400 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The island is home to many endangered or protected species, such as the Dalmatian pelican, the loggerhead turtle, the monk seal, the fallow deer and the Rhodian chameleon. The island also has some venomous snakes, such as the viper and the cat snake.
Rhodes is an island that offers a unique combination of culture and geography that will captivate any visitor. Whether you are interested in history, art, cuisine, music or nature, you will find something to suit your taste and curiosity in Rhodes. If you want to discover more about this fascinating island, book your trip now and get ready for an unforgettable experience.