The Lonely Planet observed that despite Rhodes' proximity to Turkey it seemed almost untouched by any influence from its larger neighbour but was totally Greek in its character. And yet, one glance up the main street of the old town, with its impressive Crusader architecture and its Ottoman mosques would suggest something otherwise. It was yet another of the Lonely Planet's obscure and perplexing observations that make you wonder, "did the writer actually come here, or were they reading from some brochure?"
The Island of Rhodes is shaped like a spear pointed at the belly of Turkey. It was a view of Rhodes shared by both the Crusaders and the Ottomans, both for different reasons of course. In 1309 the Knights of St John, recently driven out of Palestine, arrived in Rhodes and set about turning it into a fortress from where they plotted their reconquest of the Holy Land. Rhodes Town is still dominated by the massive double city walls the Knights' built. A pleasant walk around the walls offers great views of the harbour, the old city, and its mosques and churches.
Walking north along the Avenue of the Knights you arrive at the massive Palace of the Grand Masters, almost a fortress within a fortress. The current Palace is a 19th centurt reconstruction - the original had been accidentally blown up. It now houses a small but impressive museum. The upper floors feature reconstructed Roman mosaics from a range of archaeological sites across Rhodes and Ios.
The Ottomans sent several armies against the Knights, but the fortifications proved too strong in 1455 and 1480. They were back again in 1522 and after several months of seige both sides were totally exhausted by the effort, neither realising how desperate things were for the other side - the Knights were down to a few hundred defenders and the Ottomans had almost exhausted their supplies and needed to extricate their army before the sailing season ended. Both sides agreed to a negotiated surrender and the Knights were allowed to evacuate the remains of their army. Despite the viciousness of the seige, Sultan Sulieman observed with regret that it was a terrible thing to force such brave men to leave their home. He would later regret his clemency. The Knights relocated to Malta, fortifying the island and continuing their endless war against the infidel.
Away from the Knighs Quarter, the old town takes on a completely different aspect. Ottoman mosques, complete with minarets, dominate the skyline of the old market district. It gives the town an exotic feel unlike other places in Greece.
They owe their survival to Italy's frustrated colonial ambitions at the turn of the 20th century. In 1911 Italian troops invaded the Ottoman province of Libya. They quickly defeating the Ottoman garrison and demanded the Ottomans officially cede Libya to them, but the Ottomans simply refused to negotiate. Frustrated by their failure, the Italians upped the ante by seizing Rhodes and Ios. It didn't really achieve anything though. Italy got to keep it's ill-gotten gains after the First World War. Unlike the Greeks, they made no attempt to ethnically cleanse the islands, allowing them to keep their distinctively mixed culture. Greece recieved the islands as compensation from Italy after the Second World War, but the time was no longer ripe for wholesale cultural destruction and ethnic cleansing. The mosques were of course all closed and allowed to fall into ruin. They have now been restored by UNESCO funding but most remain closed.
Crusader, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture are the most visible relics of Rhodes' past, but sadly there is no trace of Rhodes' most famous monument - the Colossus of Rhodes. It's always shown as a huge statue straddling Rhodes harbour, but that was just artistic fantasy. It was probably a standing figure like the Statue of Liberty. It was built around 300BC to commemorate the defeat of an invading army, but it only stood for 65 years before it was toppled in an earthquake. Apparently it was just as impressive as a ruin, lying beside the harbour until it was finally sold for scrap in the 7th century AD. There isn't really anything much to see in the harbour these days, oddly there is a bronze statue of a stag on one of the harbour piers and a couple of derelict windmills (which look like they're being restored like on Mykonos. When we were there there were three huge cruise liners in port, towering over the medieval port.
As Rhodes is a regular stop for Mediterranean cruises there are always plenty of day trippers in town. Nevertheless, Rhodes is has a very pleasant and laid back ambiance. We enjoyed walking around the markets, eating out and generally chilling. But after two days it was time to move on. Although it was the end of the season daily ferrys to Turkey were still running. We took the high speed ferry to Marmaris.
Marmaris is a popular seaside resort city and is totally unlike Turkey so we weren't staying long. The city is somewhat non-descript wit lots of hotels, bars, and shopping malls. It was the end of the season so things were pretty quiet, but we did get an excellent deal on accommodation. Our hotel room was large enough to play a game of cricket in and the television had some 3000 channels, and no, I'm not joking! There honestly were some 3000 channels covering just about every single country in the world.
With nothing much to see in the way of sights we hit the streets looking for something to eat and to arrange transport for tomorrow. We hadn't quite planned our trip through Turkey. The first thing that struck us was the number of English pubs - all showing football, and prices in pounds. And the prices were steep! A spruker at a restaurant tried to convince us that 8 pounds for a kebab was a good deal. We'd certainly eaten enough kebabs in Germany to know that was expensive, and for Turkey, it was positively extraordinary! The other thing that struck us was mingas, everywhere - men and women. You don't expect much cultural sensitivity in a seaside resort, but really should be some limits. Say, if you are 55 years old and immensely fat, you should NOT walk around the streets in a bikini or budgie smugglers. Please, we beg of you!! Keep that for the beach if you must. If you wouldn't walk around like that at home, why would you think you should do it elsewhere? And no, that new tattoo does not make you look young and hip. There was also a fair share of aggressive young men (English and Russians mainly) wandering drunk around the beachfront which gave it a threatening aire.
So we did not stay. Turkey has a well serviced bus network and at the first tourist office we asked for directions to the bus station. The guy behind the desk, who really wanted to sell us tickets to a booze cruise, asked us where we wanted to go. "Maybe Konya, or Trabzon.", I said. He looked a little dumbfounded. "Konya? Why would you go to Konya?" "It's a famous city, the old Seljuk capital,", I replied. "It is not like here,", he said. "I don't think many tourists go from here to Konya." As we thanked him and headed towards the bus station he called out, "Maybe you're wanting to see the Mevlana?" At the bus station later our decision was made for us - the bus to Trabzon was 20 hours. Konya was 12 hours.