Heracles was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus he was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity, the ancestor of a royal dynasty and a champion of the Olympian order against its challengers and enemies. Along with Alexander the Great and Helen of Troy he is also listed among those who visited one of the most sacred sites in Ancient Greece – the Acropolis at Lindos on the island of Rhodes.
Although our visit will not be recorded alongside that of the greats we went there in 2010 and explored the village where the tourist shops and bars petered out to be replaced with narrow streets of local houses where the smell of fresh moussaka and tide washing powder seeped out from behind the windows and doors. At the far end of the village there was an ancient amphitheatre, almost two thousand five-hundred years old and so adjacent to the modern buildings that it is certain there are more hidden treasures concealed below them which must have archaeologists drooling with anticipation.
Here history stretches back over three thousand years because in the Middle Ages Lindos grew to prosperity under the Knights of St. John who built their impregnable fortress on the site of the ancient Acropolis. So much of the medieval village has survived that it has been declared a national landmark.
It was a real delight to walk around the narrow streets with their traditional, distinctive, white and black chochlaki pebbled surface because no vehicles other than the odd delivery van are allowed inside. The village feels authentic because little or no changes can be made to the buildings, many of which have survived since the fifteenth century, and the architectural style of the village is a mixture of Gothic, Byzantine Greek and middle Eastern influence.
While we were there we had to visit the Acropolis. We had waited until Sunday because sometimes museums and archaeological sites are free on the Sabbath so we thought it was worth the wait until the last day in Lindos. When the time came to tackle the steps I was disappointed to find that you do have to pay on a Sunday after all. The walk and the climb to the entrance to the site actually turned out to be the easy bit because once inside there was an energy sapping ascent up a steep stone staircase with a sheer drop on each side to the entrance to the medieval fortress which was built by the Knights of Saint John in the fourteenth century to defend the island against the Ottoman Turks.
All of this medieval history is here on Rhodes because in 1309 the Island was occupied by forces of the Knights Hospitaller and 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 citadel of Rhodes, built by the Hospitalliers, is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, which in 1988 was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There were some good views from the top as I walked first through the foundations and the towers of the castle and the Byzantine church and then to the very top and the ancient Acropolis itself, the Doric Temple of Athena Lindia, the Propylaea of the Sanctuary, a huge staircase and a Hellenistic Stoa and finally the remains of a Roman Temple. Although hundreds of people visit this place every day four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon turned out to be a very good time to go indeed because there were no more than a dozen or so people here right now so it was easy to walk around and admire the ruins undisturbed.
They are ruins of course but some of the buildings and columns have been restored and in the twentieth century there was a lot of archaeological and restoration work carried out by the Italians when they were in control here between the two world wars. Unfortunately some of the work they carried out wasn’t that good and as well as incorrectly reinterpreting some of the construction they also used poor quality materials and a lot of the reinforced concrete they used has begun to fail leading to even worse damage than they tried to rectify and most of this work is having to be done again at great cost under the supervision of the Greek Ministry of Culture.
I have said before that for me there are two types of visitor attractions, one where you go to see things (paintings, mosaics, sculptures etc.) and one where you go just to experience having been there. Lindos is one of the latter so after I had walked in the footsteps of Heracles and experienced the mystical rush of classical Greece washing over me I left the Acropolis and walked back down the slippery path to the village below and stopped for a very modern day pizza and a beer!