Mediaeval woodcut Engraving of the Citadel of Rhodes
Rhodes could not be furthest away from Athens and yet retains the same strategic and economic importance it has possessed for millennia. Indeed, few places in the world have such historical cultural and sociological significance as Rhodes can boast. Some will say it has mostly sold-out to modern day commercial tourism interests, as if that was itself a betrayal of its greater past. Yet this would be a de facto failure to acknowledge the simple fact that Rhodes has remained a major tourist destination for over two and a half thousand years. It would also be wrong not to acknowledge that Rhodes is very much a self-sufficient, fertile, fruitful and economically viable place to do business. Of that it is merely continuing the successful business of Rhodes that started way back in the mists of antiquity.
The cultural centre of the Dodecanese island collection, it boasts to this day the single largest fortified group of buildings in Europe and one of the world's supreme heritage sites - and officially designated as just that. The history of this great island, which in its heyday was second only to Athens in importance, was made greater by its powerfully significant religious sanctuaries at Lindos and elsewhere, with Lindos in particular being of equal importance, arguably, to the great religious centres of Delos and Delphi. It's now ruinous temple of Athena Lindia was celebrated in ancient times as one of the great wonders of architecture, with plenty of historical references to confirm this potent centre of worship as a place of great mythical power and magical resonance.
The island of Rhodes was first inhabited in the Neolithic period, although little remains of this cultural phenomenon. In the 16th century BC, the Minoans descended on Rhodess, then later Greek mythology spoke of a Rhodian race called the Telchines, and associated the island of Rhodes with Danaus. For some time it was nicknamed Telchinis.
In the 15th century BC, the fierce Mycenaean Greeks finally invaded. In the 8th century BC, the island's settlements started to form, with the coming of the Dorians, who built the three important cities of Lindos, Ialyssos and Kameiros, which together with Kos, Cnidus and Halicarnassus (on the mainland) made up the so-called Dorian Hexapolis (Greek for six cities).
Ancient Kameiros ruins
In Pindar's ancient ode, the island was said to be born of the union of Helios the sun god and the nymph Rhode, and the cities were named for their three sons. The rhoda is a pink hibiscus native to the island. Diodorus Siculus added that Actis, one of the sons of Helios and Rhode, travelled to Egypt. He went on to build the city of Heliopolis and taught the Egyptians the science of astrology.
In the second half of the 8th century, the sanctuary of Athena received votive gifts that are markers for cultural contacts: small ivories from the Near East and bronze objects from Syria. At Kameiros on the northwest coast, a former Bronze Age site, where the temple was founded in the 8th century, there is another notable contemporaneous sequence of carved ivory figurines. Phoenician presence on the island at Ialysos is attested in traditions recorded much later by Rhodian historians.
The Persians invaded and overran the island, but were in turn defeated by forces from Athens in 478 BC. The cities joined the Athenian League. When the Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BC, Rhodes remained largely neutral, although it remained a member of the League. The war lasted until 404 BC, but by this time Rhodes had withdrawn entirely from the conflict and decided to go her own way.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights Templars
In 408 BC, the cities united to form one territory. They built the city of Rhodes, a new capital on the northern end of the island. Its regular plan was superintended by the Athenian architect Hippodamus. The Peloponnesian War had so weakened the entire Greek culture that it lay open to invasion. In 357 BC, the island was conquered by the king Mausolus of Caria, then it fell to the Persians in 340 BC. Their rule was also short. To the great relief of its citizens, Rhodes became a part of the growing empire of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, after he defeated the Persians.
Following the death of Alexander, his generals vied for control of the kingdom. Three: Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus, succeeded in dividing the kingdom among themselves. Rhodes formed strong commercial and cultural ties with the Ptolemies in Alexandria, and together formed the Rhodo-Egyptian alliance that controlled trade throughout the Aegean inthe 3rd century BC.
The city developed into a maritime, commercial and cultural center; its coins circulated nearly everywhere in the Mediterranean. Its famous schools of philosophy, science, literature and rhetoric shared masters with Alexandria: the Athenian rhetorician Aeschines, who formed a school at Rhodes; Apollonius of Rhodes; the observations and works of the astronomers Hipparchus and Geminus, the rhetorician Dionysios Trax. Its school of sculptors developed a rich, dramatic style that can be characterized as "Hellenistic Baroque".
In 305 BC, Antigonus directed his son, Demetrius, to besiege Rhodes in an attempt to break its alliance with Egypt. Demetrius created huge siege engines, including a 180 ft (55 m) battering ram and a siege tower named Helepolis that weighed 360,000 pounds (163,293 kg). Despite this engagement, in 304 BC after only one year, he relented and signed a peace agreement, leaving behind a huge store of military equipment. The Rhodians sold the equipment and used the money to erect a statue of their sun god, Helios, the statue since called the Colossus of Rhodes.
In 164 BC, Rhodes signed a treaty with Rome. It became an educational center for Roman noble families, and was especially noted for its teachers of rhetoric, such as Hermagoras and the unknown author of Rhetorica ad Herennium. At first, the state was an important ally of Rome and enjoyed numerous privileges, but these were later lost in various machinations of Roman politics. Cassius eventually invaded the island and sacked the city.
In the 1st century AD, the Emperor Tiberius spent a brief term of exile on Rhodes. Saint Paul brought Christianity to people on the island. Rhodes reached her zenith in the 3rd century. In 395, the long Byzantine Empire-period began for Rhodes, when the eastern half of the Roman empire became gradually more Greek.
The acropolis of Lindos↑
Beginning after 600 AD, its influence in maritime issues was manifested in the collection of maritime law known as "Rhodian Sea Law" (Nomos Rhodion Nautikos), accepted throgout the Mediterranean and in use up to Byzantine times (and influencing the development of admiralty law up to the present).
Rhodes was occupied by the Muslim forces of Muawiyah I in 672. In circa 1090, it was occupied by the Muslim forces of the Seljuk Turks, not long after the Battle of Manzikert. Rhodes was recaptured by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus during the First Crusade.
In 1309, the Byzantine era came to an end when the island was occupied by forces of the Knights Hospitaller. Under the rule of the newly named "Knights of Rhodes", the city was rebuilt into a model of the European medieval ideal. Many of the city's famous monuments, including the Palace of the Grand Master, were built during this period.
The strong walls which the Knights had built withstood the attacks of the Sultan of Egypt in 1444, and of Mehmed II in 1480. Ultimately, however, Rhodes fell to the large army of Suleiman the Magnificent in December 1522, long after the rest of the Byzantine empire had been lost. The few surviving Knights were permitted to retire to the Kingdom of Sicily. The Knights would later move their base of operations to Malta. The island was thereafter a possession of the Ottoman Empire for nearly four centuries.
Diagoras being carried by his two sons
The island was populated by ethnic groups from the surrounding nations, including Jews. Under the Ottoman Empire rule, they generally did fairly well, but discrimination and bigotry occasionally arose. In February 1840, the Jews of Rhodes were falsely accused of ritually murdering a Christian boy. This became known as the Rhodes blood libel.
In 1912, Italy seized Rhodes from the Turks. The island's population thus bypassed many of the events associated with the "exchange of the minorities" between Greece and Turkey. Due to the Treaty of Lausanne, the island, together with the Dodecanese, was officially assigned to Italy. It became the core of their possession of the Isole Italiane dell'Egeo.
Following the Italian Armistice of 8 September 1943, the British attempted to get the Italian garrison on Rhodes to change sides. This was anticipated by the German Army, which succeeded in occupying the island. In great measure, the German occupation caused the British failure in the subsequent Dodecanese Campaign.
On 19 July 1944, the Gestapo rounded up the island's nearly 2,000 Jewish inhabitants to send them to extermination camps. About 160 of the island's more than 600 Greek Jews survived. The Turkish Consul Selahattin Ülkümen succeeded, at considerable risk to himself and his family, in saving 42 Jewish families, about 200 persons in total, who had Turkish citizenship or were family members of Turkish citizens.
In 1947, together with the other islands of the Dodecanese, Rhodes was united with Greece.
In 1949, Rhodes was the venue for negotiations between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, concluding with the 1949 Armistice Agreements.
Ruins of Apollo Temple at the Acropolis of Rhodes
In ancient times, Rhodes was home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World—the Colossus of Rhodes. This giant bronze statue was documented as once standing at the harbour. It was completed in 280 BC but was destroyed in an earthquake in 224 BC. No trace of the statue remains today.
Historical sites on the island of Rhodes include the Acropolis of Lindos, the Acropolis of Rhodes, the Temple of Apollo, ancient Ialysos, ancient Kamiros, the Governor's Palace, Rhodes Old Town (walled medieval city), the Palace of the Grand Masters, Kahal Shalom Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, the Archeological Museum, the ruins of the castle of Monolithos, the castle of Kritinia, St. Catherine Hospice and Rhodes Footbridge.
The predominant religion is Greek Orthodox. There is a significant Roman Catholic minority on the island, many of whom are descendants of Italians who remained after the end of the Italian occupation. Rhodes has a Muslim minority, a remnant from Ottoman Turkish times.
The Jewish community of Rhodes goes back to the 1st century AD. In 1480, the Jews actively defended the walled city against the Turks. Kahal Shalom, established in 1557, is the oldest synagogue in Greece and still stands in the Jewish quarter of the Old Town of Rhodes.
At its peak in the 1920s, the Jewish community was one-third of the total population. In the 1940s, there were about 2000 Jews of various ethnic backgrounds. The Germans deported and killed most of the community during the Holocaust. Kahal Shalom has been renovated with the help of foreign donors but few Jews live year-round in Rhodes today, so services are not held on a regular basis.
Other notable sites include:
The castle of Monolithos; Panorama of Lindos; Church in Kremasti; Palace of the (Prince) Grand Master—Rhodes; Modern bronze deer statues in Mandraki harbor, where the Colossus of Rhodes may have stood, although recent excavations may have found a location elsewhere.
Sources include Wikipedia and other reference resources