After graduating with a degree in English Literature, wanting to earn a living from writing, Richard Clark embarked on a career as a journalist. Following several years as a jobbing writer he felt the need for change and, in 1982, answered a newspaper advertisement for a job as a teacher of English in Greece. It was to be a life-changing decision as, much to his surprise, he got the job and some weeks later he set out for Crete. He was travelling to a country he had never visited, to do a job he had never done before, where he knew nobody and could not speak one word of the language. From this unpromising start, began his love affair with the Greek Islands which he returns to several times a year and which are the subject of his popular books which he describes as ‘snapshots of the islands I have grown to love’. His books are less travel guides and more travelling companions, which he hopes inspire people to go off the beaten track and discover new things and places for themselves.
Upon leaving Greece Richard returned to the UK and taking up his career in journalism where he left off. He is currently the Editor of two major mass-market magazines and has worked on an array of national newspapers and publications in the UK. He is married with two grown-up children and lives in Kent in England.
‘Trying to describe Richard Clark’s style of writing is like trying to describe dew on a spider’s web, or the line between sky and sea, his use of words is so beautiful, subtle and soft it pulls wholeheartedly into his world. Right from the intro, his laid back, gentle monologue just keeps the pages turning. There is poetry in his words and through his eyes. I recommend anyone missing Greece, visiting Greece or just wishing they could go to Greece to take a look!’Sara Alexi, bestselling author of the Greek Village series of books
‘Clark is particularly good on the colours, flavours and scents of Greece. He has got under the skin of the place in a way few outsiders have been able to.’Multi award-winning writer Mark Hudson, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and Samuel Johnson Prize, author of Our Grandmothers’ Drums, Coming Back Brockens, The Music in My Head and Titian, the Last Days
‘This is a beautifully written book, not just a travel companion but a journey in itself through Greek History, its culture and the countryside. Reading this book is an education in itself and I found myself so much the richer for having read it.’E.J. Russell, bestselling author of Return to the Aegean and Aegean Abduction
Rhodes – A Notebook is the third book Richard Clark has written about Greece. It follows his two, bestselling travel books The Greek Islands – A Notebook published in 2011 followed by Crete – A Notebook a year later. All his books are available from Amazon either in paperback or in eBook versions.
Little more than a stone’s throw from the Turkish coast, Rhodes was the final piece in the jigsaw of what is modern Greece. The island has changed its clothes so many times throughout history that it can be difficult to pin down what best reflects its character, and herein lies the Island’s charm. The variety of its architecture and the wealth of myth and legend combined with an ever-changing landscape makes for a destination which can hold the interest for a lifetime.
For many it is the Crusader Knights who prevail, for others the lost wonder of the fallen Colossus or the Doric columns of the temple celebrating the Ancient Greek cult of Athena Lindia which presides over the maritime gem of Lindos. Whatever memories it leaves us with, it is an island full of surprises.
from Rhodes – A Notebook
Heavy bare-wood doors, dressed in uncompromising black ironmongery, stand open to reveal the mosaic chochlakia floors of a thousand courtyards. These intricately laid black and white beach pebbles set in symmetrical shapes which allude to Lindos’ maritime past or even just to the aesthetic whim of a master craftsman are said to massage the bare-footed stroller in much the same way as pressure points in acupuncture or chiropody. Whether this is true or not, they provide a striking location for families to eat, drink and siesta as cats doze in the shade of potted pink, purple, red and yellow hibiscus, barely opening one eye to the swallows busying themselves building nests in the gnarled old beams above.
Had I not glimpsed these delights for myself some years earlier, I would have been unaware of what awaited me, as a twelve hour delay in our flight from the UK had left us struggling to find our accommodation at three o’clock in the morning, with little idea where we were going. A little apartment hiding in the old town, away from the bustle of the centre but within easy reach of its attractions is to be highly recommended, if you can find it in the first place. With the streets deserted and some rather inexact directions this turned into something of a mission. After toying with us for long enough for us to consider returning to the car and awaiting sunrise, the gods of the maze revealed our accommodation. We stumbled over the threshold, across the courtyard sweeping aside fronds of potted palms that brushed our faces before we tumbled into bed.
I was awoken by the clamour of bells, that had scant regard for the sleep of exhausted travellers, the wavelength of which stirred the old walls of our flat like a burgeoning earthquake. Flinging open the shutters, the sound came flooding in on the coat tails of the brilliant light that seeped into every nook and cranny, dispelling any annoyance at the untimely reveille. Flattered by its invitation, the delicious sun drew me outside in search of the makings of a simple breakfast; coffee, bread, yoghurt and honey. Foolishly the lessons of the following night had not been learned. Tracking down a shop selling the required provisions was easy but retracing my steps was not so simple. By the time I got back to our rooms, I was more than ready to enjoy the not-so-recently acquired fruits of my labour.
Lindos is built on a spot of supreme natural beauty, and over the years its inhabitants have, for the most part, been in tune with their surroundings, leaving a sympathetic legacy that satisfies on so many different levels. Split into two distinct areas, the lower town is the commercial and residential sector, whereas the upper town, which encompasses the older settlement, is the acropolis built on top of a rock that towers some 400 feet over two natural harbours to the north and south.
It is easy to see how settlers favoured such a location as early as the 12th Century BC, when the Dorian King Tlepolemus decided to put down roots there. Its natural attributes and geographic location far to the east in the Mediterranean made it a natural stopping place where Greeks and Phoenicians could do trade, and it became the most important of the three ancient Dorian cities on the island. Until 408 BC these three great centres of Ialyssos, Kamiros and Lindos, competed for trade until the elders took the unusually pragmatic approach to combine their resources, revoke their independence and build a new city – that of Rhodes Town. This unification was called the synoecism, but although government moved to the new city of Rhodes, Lindos remained an important religious focal point and important seaport with her own colonies as far away as Asia Minor and Sicily.
As the temple celebrating the cult of Athena Lindia, built as long ago as the 10th Century BC, attests, this site has been one of profound religious significance since the earliest of times. The original Doric temple was probably erected in celebration of the local ancient cult of the goddess of Lindos sharing devotions with the Dorian goddess Athena, which settlers brought with them from overseas and assimilated with the existing local beliefs. What can be seen today, however, was built in the 4th Century BC around a new temple constructed there following the destruction of the original building by fire in 392 BC.
Just as they have been for the past 30 centuries, people are still drawn to the summit of this sheer promontory. The ascent is not for the faint hearted as the stairs rise steeply enough to catch the breath; although an alternative of taking a donkey ride to the summit is a possibility. As a rule I shy away from such things as I have been to some places in Greece where I have been concerned for the animals’ welfare. Having said this the ‘Lindos taxis’, as these working donkeys are affectionately known, do seem to be well cared for. Their ancestors no doubt have plied this route hauling goods, building materials and travellers for a succession of Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Knights of St John, Turks and Italians, all of which have left their mark on the plateau at the summit of this outcrop.
Legend has it that the founder of this blessed place was the eponymous Lindos, a grandson of the sun god Helios. Others hold that Danaus, the first leader of all the Hellenic peoples, was first to step foot here en route from Egypt to Ancient Greece, naming Lindos after one of his three daughters, before going on to found Ialyssos and Kamiros, named after the other two girls – all three of his offspring were worshipped as goddesses. The Greek poet and chronicler Homer talks of these three cities being founded by the Dorians and of how Lindos under King Tleptolemos was a major contributor of ships to the fleet in the Trojan wars of which the king took personal command.
After climbing the medieval steps that ascend from the entrance to the archaeological site, it is worth stopping at the first level where the magnificent carving of a Rhodian warship bears witness to the island’s maritime heritage. Although more recent than the Trojan wars, dated around 180 BC, this relief of the stern of a trireme is believed to be the work of the sculptor Pythokritos and formed part of the base to a statue, which an inscription on the ship’s side tells us was of Admiral Agesander, son of Mikion.
Staring at the graceful swanlike neck of the aft quarters of this galley it is easy to be transported back to the Peloponnesian War of the 5th Century BC where, as members of the Delian Confederation, Rhodes supplied ships for the Athenian fleet, before swapping allegiances to the victorious Spartans not long before their victory. Three tiers of oarsmen numbering some 160 could propel such ships over 60 miles a day. They were used for ramming the enemy or transporting troops and supplies for land battle. In the true spirit of Athenian democracy of the time, they were not crewed by slaves, but by an assortment of free men either fulfilling their military service or paid hands. The ships would only travel by day and were of light enough construction to be beached by the crew overnight.
Lindos continued this seagoing tradition and its dependency on trade led it to establish shipping laws. These developed through the period of the Roman Empire and became Rhodian Sea Law around 600 BC. During the Byzantine period these became the naval laws that in turn became the basis for modern maritime law dealing with shipping regulations and the responsibilities and liabilities for cargo.
I am standing beside the three underground cisterns which were used since the Hellenistic period for the essential storage of water, reminding me it would be wise to take a drink myself as the early morning heat is already winding itself up to fever pitch. Even at this height, the view out to sea is breathtaking. Some of the boats below announce themselves with the bass tones of their engines singing through the still air while others sail silently, leaving behind a ribbon of white as the only evidence of their passing. I could sit here for hours, but am aware that the tourist traffic up the medieval stairs is already increasing and I am determined to enjoy the acropolis in relative solitute.
Dragging my gaze from the sea I focus on making footfall up the steep and uneven staircase that leads to the Governor’s Palace, which is identified by the coat of arms of the ubiquitous Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson high up on the wall. The leader of the island’s ruling Knights of St John was also responsible for the building of the magnificent hospital in Rhodes Town, among other architectural gems, between 1407 and his death in 1503 AD. This building augmented the fortifications and the settlements already established by the Knights, overlaying much of the Hellenistic and Roman remains that had fallen into disrepair prior to their settlement of the island in 1309 AD. Built with its outfacing walls rising from the precipitous cliff side, this naturally impregnable building has been restored and now houses the offices of the archaeological teams dedicated to the ongoing restoration work of the acropolis.
Unlike most of Greece and its islands, it is the Gothic architectural style brought here by the Knights Hospitaller for which Rhodes is perhaps most remembered. It is the inclusion of such architecture into the ecumenical mix of historical buildings that contributes greatly to the island’s fascination as a destination. And, as I continue uphill, nowhere is this more in evidence than on the acropolis at Lindos. From the 15th-century medieval archway, the domain of the knights gives way to the remains of a Byzantine church dedicated to St John some two centuries earlier.
Turning right up a stairway I pass what is signed as a storage area from around the 1st Century BC, before entering the stoa. Built in the 2nd Century BC this area was once a large covered walkway, which provided respite from the pounding midday sun. It also provided a dramatic approach to the grandiose great stairway, built on the original ascent, dedicated to the pre-Socratic philosopher king, Cleobolus, who ruled the settlement in the 6th Century BC and was responsible for discovering the underwater springs which provided the water to sustain it. His tomb is on the hillside to the north of Lindos. Cleobolus was one of the Seven Sages of Greek thinkers feted by Plato to whom the words ‘meden agan’ (nothing in excess) inscribed in the Temple of Phoebus Apollo at Delphi are attributed.
Today, less than half of the original 42 Doric columns remain, but their surprising resilience is more than enough to paint a picture of the magnificence of the stoa, which pre-empted the ascent to the Temple of Lindia Athena which crowns the plateau at the summit of the hill. The impact of the temple, set to the left of the plateau poised upon a dramatic sheer drop to the sea beneath, belies its relatively small size which, at some 72 feet in length and 26 feet wide, is considerably smaller than that of the stoa below. Built in the 4th Century BC, what can be seen today replaced a previous older place of worship, which was destroyed by fire in 392BC.
The honey-coloured, limestone Doric columns appear almost to grow from the dust, allowing them to blend in with this solemn place of contemplation. The columns that stand here now are mostly the result of restoration work originally done during the Italian occupation in the first half of the 20th Century.
That the Italians were often more concerned about making the grand gesture rather than strict authenticity has led to criticism of them by modern archaeologists, and the scaffolding, which is frequently a feature of the acropolis, alludes to a more thorough and wholesale restoration under the aegis of the Greek Ministry of Culture, which is a perpetual work in progress.
The original excavation of the site was carried out by Danish archaeologists under the direction of Christian Blinkenberg and Karl Frederik Kinch between 1900 and the beginning of the First World War. Looking over the southern precipice of the promontory, gazing down at the cobalt blue waters of St Paul’s Bay, I couldn’t help thinking that for those archaeologists from the Carlsberg Institute, going to work on a Monday morning could not have been too daunting. This natural shallow harbour has the smallest of entrances in its north-east corner making it an ideal anchorage and, legend has it, one which was taken advantage of by St Paul when he landed here to fulfil his mission to preach Christianity to the islanders. Turning around looking north across the Grand Harbour you can see for miles along the coast in the direction of Rhodes Town.
Back in the lower town I headed out from the centre wherever my weary legs would take me. This happened to be an unassuming courtyard restaurant just opening for lunch which served me bakaliaros skordalia. These small chunks of salted cod are soaked in water then dried, floured and seasoned with pepper before frying in olive oil until golden and then doused in a thick sauce made of pureed potatoes, olive oil, almond and copious bulbs of crushed garlic. I followed this with an avgolemono soup, dipping the chunks of bread from the basket in a bowl of zesty lemon chicken broth taking the salty edge off the ice cold Amstel I had ordered.
Wandering down the path to an almost deserted St Paul’s Bay we found a shady spot to siesta away an afternoon in the shadow of the acropolis before an early evening swim as the lights illuminating the columns and ramparts above against a star-studded sky signalled time for dinner on a rooftop terrace.
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