Touring The Castle Ruins of Rhodes In A Day
I am just going to say it; The Greek island of Rhodes is one of the most amazing tourist destinations in the world.
Rhodes is the largest member of the Dodecanese island group and is nestled under Turkey so closely that on a clear day you can easily see her shores from the capital of the island, Rhodes town – One of the most utterly enchanting, and possibly best preserved, medieval walled cities still inhabited today. However because of its raw splendour (believe me, if its medieval splendour you want – Rhodes Town has it in spades), cheap prices and long beaches of sparkling, sapphire blue water; it attracts quite the crowd. Particularly large groups of drunken Scandinavian and German tourists can be found stumbling about in the late hours. So many so, that there are entire streets with bars and restaurants dedicated to selling Scandinavian, German and British stuff. Eww.
Fear not though, for the price of a very cheap car rental – There is an entire island awaiting you.
A short 40km drive out of Rhodes town along the stunning northwestern shoreline will take you to the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Kamiros. Not really a castle, but we are headed in this direction anyhow and anyone knowingly skipping it should be tried at the Hague.
Kamiros is one one of the three cities (together with Lindos and Ialysos) mentioned by Homer and is perhaps one of the most well-preserved examples of cities from the Hellenistic period. Built in three distinct levels on a hill overlooking the shore, it originally had a large acropolis at the top of the hill with a temple of Athena.
What remains today is more or less an empty shell, but with the layout of the infrastructure remarkably intact. The streets are well defined, as are houses, courtyards & squares. You can even see the incredibly intricate 3500-year-old plumbing systems that included water pipes! With a small amount of imagination, you could very easily put the roofs back on these buildings and envision a bustling ancient Greek town with a giant statue of Athena atop the hill.
Various stone tablets are also strewn about, but most of the valuable artwork has long since been shipped off to other places. Some of them even reside in the Vatican.
We wandered around for an hour or so. There was only a small handful of other people here and the ruins were totally unsupervised, so you were free to just go about your business. Be warned that there is no shade whatsoever and my pale skin took serious offence to the burning sun. Bring sunscreen and water.
After this brief respite, we jumped in the car and drove around the corner another 10 minutes or so until we came to the first actual castle on our circular route – Kririna Fortress.
Rather out of the way and not appearing on many of the mainstream tourist maps, this mighty Venetian castle was built in 1472 by the Knights Hospitaller (The same chaps who are responsible for fortifying most of Rhodes) to ward off the Ottomans and is well worth the stop. It stands atop a hill set against a steep cliff that drops down into the waves below. Kritinia is utterly abandoned and in a state of total disrepair. About half of the castle seems to have fallen off the cliff, which leaves you with roughly half of the remaining castle shell to explore. It is sadly neglected and overgrown with trees and bushes. No other people other than our little gang were in sight the entire time we came up here. I don’t think I need to warn you to be careful up here, as it would be very easy to share the same fate as most of the castle.
Easily the most appealing aspect of this castle is the stunning 360-degree view of the Aegean Sea it affords you.
Back down the dirt road and onward to our next destination – The small town of Monolithos.
Monolithos is a quaint little Greek village with a population of about 150 people. Perched up on a mountain, the town overlooks a huge inland valley on one side, and on the other side, looks out to sea. The village here exists because of the namesake of the town; “Monolithos Fortress”. One of the most impressive fortresses – Nay, sights in general, that I have ever seen. The village grew up as an extension of the fortress itself, as is often the case, and despite the castle long since having fallen to ruin, the town remains today. There isn’t a great deal to see or do here, but we did stop for lunch at a cute little cafe on the hill. I liked their marketing slogan.
The slogan did not lie.
After a sharing a tasty meal, we drove the 3 or so kilometres out of town for the main article. The road winds along the mountaintop and there is one point at a large bend where the view opens up, and the fortress itself is laid out before you. I swore aloud in astonishment at what I was looking at.
Monolithos is yet another fortress of the Knights Hospitalier, built in 1480 it is perched at the summit of a 230 meter tall, craggy rock, dominating the landscape.
My only real question is “How”?
You drive to the base of the rock and must climb up a narrow staircase cut into the rock face. These steps are very slippery and there is a very long and direct shortcut to the ground available to you, while you climb to the summit, so again take the utmost caution.
We wandered around up here for a while. The climb is a little tiring but so worth it – Man what a view! Mountains on one side, the Aegean on the other. Wow.
The castle is in very bad condition, with loose stones & crumbled fortifications everywhere. Trust no surface you stand on, but do have fun exploring. Among the ruins are the two 15th century chapels of St. Panteleimon and St. George. Whitewashed and in surprisingly good condition compared to the rest of the place, they are worth peeking your head into to see the frescoes. When we were in the fortress there was yet again, not another person in sight, however, we noticed the candles in the chapels were burning, so someone at least comes up here to check every now and again, which is good news.
Enough talk: Pictures.
We reluctantly made our way down from the summit and jumped back in our rental car. Time was getting on, so we decided to cut across the middle of the island to our final destination; the town of Lindos on the eastern coast of the island. They say first impressions count, and Lindos opens with one hell of a one-liner…
Lindos is the second most popular attraction on the island after Rhodes town, but still not so popular that it ever feels crowded. Hundreds of beautiful white stone houses nestled along the beach, and on the foot of the hill that sports the castle sharing its name. Thin alleyways, cobbled streets, cloths covering the walkways, market stalls and cats running about. Lindos is a lovely place to wander the streets.
I was feeling quite worn out from all the climbing and driving that we had done today, and was not particularly looking forward to climbing my way to the top of yet another large hill. But it was as if Zeus himself was watching out for me – For I rounded the corner and saw my way to the top.
Carry me forth unto the citadel, mighty steed!
For the price of 5 measly euros, i was escorted up the hill to the foot of the castle in style. There is still a bit of climbing to do, but unfortunately, i had to leave the donkeys behind.
Lindos castle is unique. Formerly the governor’s palace for those very busy Knights Hospitalier, it is actually built around the ruins of the ancient acropolis of Lindos, built some time in the 9th century BC. This results in your typical Moorish style castle form the crusader era, fused with classical Greek pillars and other elements of ancient Greek architecture. Weird, but awesome.
The castle still has its original walls which follow the natural terrain and are about 500 meters long. It has been renovated and added onto over and over again over the last 3000 years, creating a weird mishmash of construction styles. It’s most recent being the work done by the Turks in the 17th century to protect the fort from cannons. There is also the beautiful remains of a Greek amphitheatre carved out into the slope.
There is quite a lot to see here, including some frescos, intricate reliefs cut into the rock faces including one of an ancient Greek trireme, numerous coat of arms and of course – the view…
After all that we drove back to Rhodes town in time for dinner and a well-earned rest – And that was that. Make sure that if you ever end up in Rhodes you consider giving the rest of the island beyond Rhodes town a try. They are a little harder to get to, but seriously worth it, and you can skip the crowds to boot!
A great excursion and great memories.