Monday, 24 March 2008


The best way to better appreciate the island where you live is to go to another island. Last week we went to Rhodes. Again I fell in love with the Old Town, but I was glad to come home today and rediscover the mountains, the flowers and the trees of Lesvos.

Rhodes is a magnificent town. Especially its Old Town, which in the 14th century was rebuilt by the crusaders on an even older city and which later was restored by the Italians, who ruled the island from 1912 until 1943. Since 1988 the Old Town of Rhodes has been on the UNESCO list of protected world heritage sites.

March is a very good month to visit the city of Rhodes. Most of the day the medieval streets are empty, so you can fully enjoy the narrow streets where people still live, beautiful arches that span the streets, colourful doors and pretty inner courtyards with mosaic floors, surprising squares and grave streets where the knights used to have their quarters, partially restored mosques and stout towers at the entrances in the city walls and the Palace of the Grand Mason.

You will meet the city walls everywhere you go, towering high above the houses. There are even two walls surrounding the city, except for on the coast. Between these city walls a lush green park now stretches, from where the impressive view of this medieval city shows how big it is. Also a walk on a jetty of the harbour can offer you a splendid view over the long walls where palm trees try to grow as high as the old watchtowers and the minarets. The Old Town doesn't look like a Greek city, more like a Moorish city, where the narrow streets promise cool shades, where the minarets point to God and where the leaves of the palm trees whisper in the warm wind.

These days the tranquility is only disrupted when a cruise ship sails into the harbour. Then the Old Town shakes itself awake, because they have to open shops, bars and restaurants for the lightly dressed tourists that invade the little streets. This makes the streets more lively and colourful in March nnd maybe also still in April. But I can imagine that visiting the Old Town of Rhodes on a high summer day will be a crime, because thousands of visitors will surely take away the magic of this beautifully restored city.

Rhodes is one of the oldest Greek tourist islands. As long as 25 years ago many huge hotels were there to accommodate the tourists. The increasing numbers of bars and restaurants in the Old Town prove that still more and more tourists come to Rhodes. This is even more apparent from the crazy pace of building new hotels, holiday villages and villa parks elsewhere on the island.

It was 25 years ago that I last visited Rhodes. I knew that it had changed in the intervening years, but I was really shocked by how much it had changed: all of the coast, where the famous city of Lindos is, has been fully built up. Small charming villages like Kouskinou have disappeared into new villa complexes; Faliraki, once such a lovely family beach village, has now been transformed into a huge amusement park like holiday village without any Walt Disney creatures.

Even the Baths at Kalithea are restored into such a glossy building that it's difficult to imagine that this famous spa was built in 1928 by the famous Italian architect Pietro Lombardi.

Lindos didn't seem to have changed. But when you know Molyvos, even Lindos loses some of its charm. Lindos maybe famous, but seeing the whitewashed village on the mountain under the medieval castle where some columns of an old Greek temple tower to the sky, I was not that enchanted anymore. Maybe because I was already a little sick of seeing all those tourist developments on the way to Lindos, I wondered is this Rhodes second biggest attraction?

I grumble about the new buildings here around Molyvos. But when I now compare this to Rhodes, you may even think that there is nothing new built in Molyvos. Now that I have seen how you can sell your island to the tourists or to investment companies that only go for the money, my love for Lesvos gets bigger and bigger. Here tourism still integrates into Greek life, on Rhodes it's the other way round.

When I told a Greek on Rhodes that I lived on Lesvos he said: 'Yeah, the island where life is 50 years behind'. However I heard that Rhodes has similar problems as Lesvos like with the rubbish and the increasing power demands. Driving through the mountains of Rhodes, you will see rubbish everywhere and just as on Lesvos, Rhodes also has big disputes about the site for a new electricity plant.

Today while we drove home from the airport, the landscape seemed so much richer. A green countryside with lots of different trees, beautiful traditional stone houses, sheep cots, steep mountain slopes and a coast full of secret bays. It may seem that life on Lesvos hasn't modernised, but time didn't stop here. It's just that here modern times don't make the people crazy. And they build here with more respect for the landscape. Even though Lesvos doesn't have such an impressive Old Town, nor such sweet white washed houses, nor such a beautiful aquamarine coloured sea, Lesvos still has its traditional villages, its unspoilt coast and so many quiet beaches, even in high season. The whole of the island still feels Greek and life isn't dominated by tourism. You may wonder why the whole island of Lesvos isn't yet on the UNESCO world heritage list. This would give the island more power to fight against such money makers as Savvaides (Rhodes) or that crazy English company that plan to ruin 2600 ha on Crete for a holiday resort with 5 holiday villages, 3 huge hotels and 2 golf courses. For sure you will be happy when you live on such an island!

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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