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Turkey and Greece, 2000
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Plateia Martyron Evreon, Rhodes Copyright 2000, C. Schmelling and L. Holmes
The Greek Islands II: Paros and Rhodes

We caught a hydrofoil from Naxos to the third and final Cycladic island on our itinerary, Paros. Paros was the most isolated and idyllic place we visited on our trip. We came, however, not for the peace and quiet but for the Byzantine cathedral, Our Lady of the Hundred Gates. This structure dates back to early Byzantine times, and it actually felt more Paleo-Christian to us than anything else, with its basilican layout and its carved ancient columns.

After seeing the cathedral and walking around the quaint town of Paros the morning after our arrival, we boarded a ferry back to Santorini. We got there just in time to catch a flight to Rhodes, where we spent our last day and two nights in the Greek islands.

The island of Rhodes shares its name with its main city. We stayed in a pension right in the heart of the old quarter of that city, and we spent our whole day of sightseeing there, too.

The city of Rhodes does have a few ancient ruins lying about, but its medieval past is far more prominent. It contains the largest surviving walled medieval quarter in Europe. We could easily have spent half a week just rambling around the old cobblestone streets and squares.
Plateia Ippokratous, Rhodes Copyright 2000, C. Schmelling and L. Holmes
The older buildings in Rhodes look different than those elsewhere in the Greek islands. For the most part, they have a stark, fortress-like feeling. The main material, a light-brown colored stone, has a warm enough feeling to it, although it is not plastered over or painted, but left exposed. The facades of the buildings, however, are almost flat, with only very small and sparse details and ornaments. The architecture here is Gothic, but it is not the lacy, elaborate Gothic style of French cathedrals.

That is only fitting. After all, the men who designed and constructed these plain, strong buildings belonged to the Order of St. John, one of the great medieval orders of crusading knights. They came to the East to fight for Christianity, and helped make Rhodes itself into a great medieval fortress-city by building its formidable moats and walls.

The most important medieval buildings in Rhodes are gathered at the northern edge of the old city. The Palace of the Grand Masters takes pride of place here by virtue of its size and its prominent position on the highest point within the medieval walls. This was the palace of the ruler, or grand master, of the order.

View of the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes Copyright 2000, C. Schmelling and L. Holmes
The palace held a special interest for us, because its decorations include an extensive collection of pillaged Roman floor mosaics, mostly from Kos. We never miss the chance to see a collection of ancient mosaics, and these did not disappoint us. Though they date from the third century and later of the Christian era, their workmanship is still remarkably fine. We especially enjoyed the large, vividly detailed mosaics depicting all kinds of fish and birds.

The old city has other attractions as well. Just south of the crusader district lies a busy commercial district. Several market streets empty into two squares near the harbor, the bustling Plateia Ippokratous and the equally busy Plateia Martyron Evreon (Square of the Jewish Martyrs). Further south, beyond this hubbub, the old Turkish and Jewish quarter begins.

We spent many pleasant hours strolling the quiet streets of this district. In the shops and streets here local people outnumber tourists. Demolished old buildings haven't always been replaced with new construction, so at times the urban fabric has large, curious gaps with just the traces of old foundations. Many old mosques, abandoned since Ottoman times, still stand here, too.

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