It is the island that prompted Evliya Çelebi to say, “I’ve seen many places, but I’ve never come across a place like this.” It covers only 1,400 square kilometers and is home to 130,000. Our journey as tourists brought us to this beautiful island.
Our flight departed from İstanbul and flew south, in the direction of Dalaman. After a one-hour flight we traveled by land to Marmaris. With all our passports and paperwork in order, we boarded a catamaran. As we headed out to sea, the Marmaris coastline at our backs began to recede. We continued for Rhodes, leaving Marmaris at nine o’clock in the morning. After about an hour we were in Rhodes and full of energy. The catamaran, which holds 440 people, was almost full. In the winters the catamaran makes this trip twice a week, but in the summers if travels to Rhodes every day. This trip has been made since 1960. We spoke with the captain, Kadir, who said he has been in this line of work since 1975.
The opposite coast slowly began to come into focus and we were soon at Rhodes. The route Süleyman the Magnificent took to reach this island from Marmaris was exactly the same as the one we took today. Approaching the island, we came face to face with the remnants of our ancestors.
Rhodes, which now belongs to Greece, is the largest of its region’s islands. The island is about 80 kilometers long and 38 kilometers wide and is a major tourist destination. With a population of only 130,000, it nevertheless boasts close to 2.5 million tourists every year, which is understandable due to Rhodes’s 330 sunny days a year. People come by giant ships, planes, private yachts and catamarans.
Ataviros Mountain is the highest peak on the island. Close to the city of Rhodes, it is possible to see a bird’s-eye view of the city from atop the mountain. Because of Ataviros, this area experiences very violent winds, and the windmill is a symbol of the island.
The city of Rhodes has a population of around 60,000. One interesting aspect of the city is its historical remnants, including its Acropolis. These remnants are one way to show just how long the island has been inhabited. The deer statues at the entrance to the harbor are another symbol of Rhodes. The modern statues stand on the location believed to previously house a 32-meter-long statue of the Greek Titan Helios, the Colossus of Rhodes.
We walked along Knights’ Street. It would not be incorrect to say that this street is Rhodes’s most famous street. The stones need paving and there are many houses from the medieval period in the area. The Knights of St. John (Knights Hospitaller) ruled over this land. That is, until the Ottomans came. The Knights Hospitaller were given this name as knights of the chapel and remained on Rhodes for 213 years. Now one of the artifacts of that time is a street, Knights’ Street. The Palace of the Grand Master on Rhodes was built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 14th century.
Tourism is the most important source of income for the island. Particularly in the summer months, tourists flock here in great numbers. Hotels provide special programs and deals directed at tourists and try to introduce them to Greek culture. These programs are included at almost all of the major hotels.
Rhodes is very close to Turkey, so close that we could comfortably see Turkey’s mountains with the naked eye. Turkey’s coast is only 18 kilometers away from the island. Due to this closeness, the island benefits from a large number of Turkish tourists. In the line of boats and yachts approaching Rhodes many of them fly the Turkish flag. We could be counted among this number.
Bab-ı Mestur: The gate Süleyman the Magnificent entered Rhodes through
On Dec. 29, 1522, Rhodes was conquered by Süleyman the Magnificent. The Ottomans remained on the island for 390 years. Today there remain many imprints of the Ottoman period. The strong walls surrounding the city endured a six-month siege by the Ottoman forces. In the end the city could not fend off the attack and submitted to them. During the siege close to 30,000 Ottoman soldiers lost their lives. The strength of the city walls of Rhodes is famous. We see some areas of the wall that remain intact and looking over them we notice the giant moat. The Ottoman military covered this moat in order to enter the city.
Standing among the walls we look on the outer fortifications. Here we find the gate Süleyman entered through, the Gate of St. Athanasios. The gate’s name in Turkish is Bab-ı Mestur (Covered Gate). This is because Süleyman, after entering this gate and conquering the city, ordered that the gate be closed to prevent anyone else from taking control of Rhodes. Thus it was given the name the “Covered Gate.” It was kept closed until 1922, then opened upon the orders of the Italians. After it was opened people began to call the gate the “New Gate.”
In Rhodes there is a separation between the old and new cities. The old city is surrounded completely by walled fortifications. We traveled to the ancient Hippocrates Square -- Rhodes’s most famous. The old Turkish name is Şadırvan Meydanı (Fountain Square).
Many Ottoman foundations were established on the island. Inside the city many public services and charities were instituted. Inside the fortifications, historical mosques, medreses (schools), fountains, hamams (public baths), homes with pavilions, narrow roads and markets take visitors on a trip through history. On almost every corner our ancestors have left a mark. We wander the Ottoman antique market. The large clock tower there was commissioned by Ottoman Governor Fethi Paşa. The tower, open to tourists, offers a beautiful view of the city.
Not much longer ago than 1912 most of the homes and shops in the old marketplace belonged to Turks. Most of the property within the castle complex was also Turks’. While wandering around Rhodes we saw a number of Ottoman fountains. Immediately to the side of Ağa Camii there is an Ottoman fountain that is still operational as many of these fountains remain. We are drawing out our ancestors through their fountains. The water continues to flow and the Ottoman foundation’s water is potable. Ottoman public services continue to carry out their functions.
Valuable hand-written creations at the Hafız Ahmet Ağa Library
We didn’t want to travel to Rhodes without visiting the Hafız Ahmet Ağa Library. There are 2,500 finely wrought books here, 1,000 of which are hand-designed. Some of the books of the Ottoman period were stolen and later returned to the library. We see the 600-year-old, lovingly written copies of the Qur’an. It was designed with gold-leaf and its accompanying tefsir (interpretation/commentary) is also at the library. Hand-designed books on astronomy, the hadith (collections of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and medicine can also be found. Surely this library contains invaluable pieces of work.
In the Hafız Ahmet Ağa Library’s garden is another fountain bequeathed by a charity.
The Ottoman’s old Vali Konağı (Governor’s Mansion), which belonged to Hasan Paşa, is now being used as a post office. The Faralyalılar house is another remnant of Ottoman times.
Only one mosque open for worship
During Ottoman times there were 27 mosques, but today only seven are standing. Of those seven, the only one that is open for prayer is İbrahim Paşa Camii. The Rhodes of our ancestors boasted decorated mosque courtyards with trees. In the shade of these trees residents could perform their ablutions and ready themselves for prayer.
Language: Greek (official) 99 percent, other (including English and French) 1 percent
Government: parliamentary republic
Chief of state: President Karolos Papoulias
Head of government: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras
Area: 131,957 square kilometers
Population: 10,767,827 (July 2012 est.)
Gross domestic product (PPP): $298.1 billion (2011 est.)
Religions: Greek Orthodox (official) 98 percent, Muslim 1.3 percent, other 0.7 percent