Despite the entire point of my trip to Rhodes being to relax and take it easy by the pool, my love of ancient history could not let me pass up the opportunity to see the site of one of the worlds ancient wonders.
Even if no one knew where it was any more.
The Colossus of Rhodes was – before its destruction by an earthquake in 226 BCE – one of the most impressive structures in the ancient world and was considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. The massive statue of the Greek Titan God Helios was erected to commemorate Rhodes’ victory over Cyprus when Antonius Monopthalmus failed to lay siege to the city.
I couldn’t miss this opportunity to see the site myself firsthand.
The problem is because there is literally no trace of the ancient statue left, historians still can’t agree on where its exact location was! That makes it really difficult for someone like myself to find the location where it once stood.
Arriving in Rhodes old town by public bus from the resort where I was staying, I took the long, hard and what turned out to be quite sweaty walk up to the Acropolis of Rhodes, itself an awe inspiring and significant historical monument. This is the location that many historians are now arguing was the true location. I’ll be honest, I was never fully convinced by these arguments and now that I was stood here I saw nor felt any reason to change my mind on that.
The theory that states the statue stood on top of a hill where a temple devoted to Apollo stands was right on a few accounts. The temple does indeed look over the bay and it does have a significant stone foundation for example, but those facts are not in and of themselves reason to dismiss the notion that this was a temple devoted to Apollo and say that it was a Helios temple instead.
As nice as the Acropolis of Rhodes was, I just didn’t believe it was the site of the ancient wonder, so I decided to head to the waterfront instead, the site where the Colossus was traditionally said to stand guard over the port.
The sun was beginning to reach its peak at this point and the heat was getting more than a little oppressive. Wearing my long cargo pants and T shirt, I already looked vastly out of place among the shorts and bikini clad tourists milling around the docks, but never being to concerned over my appearance I wrapped my old shemagh around my head and neck for further protection. My pasty English skin never does well in the sun!
Now all I had to do was find the part of the waterfront that is said to have once held the famous monument, and that was easier said than done.
Rhodes extensive waterfront was a lot longer than I had anticipated, and was not easy to determine one spot from another, and surprisingly for an island that is so used to and to an extent dependent on mass tourism, there is no real mention of the Colossus of Rhodes anywhere. Beyond the cheap and tacky souvenirs and postcards that display the monument like Egypt proudly uses the image of the Pyramids, they seem to wholly and specifically ignore it.
There was no plaques, no commemorative statues, no signs that proudly declared one of the ancient wonders of the world once stood here somewhere.
I used the floating cities known as cruise ships at the end of the tourist port to get my bearings, then slowly made my way down the length of the waterfront. The monstrous, modern behemoths dwarfing the locally owned fishing vessels and luxury yachts. Wandering down the crowded dockside, I struggled to find any indication of where the right harbour was.
The whole area was just too packed with boats and tourists.
The Colossus of Rhodes is said to have stood over the twin outcrops of what is now Mandraki harbour; straddling the harbour itself and protecting Rhodes from any seaborne threat. Yet there was – to me at least – no indication of which harbour was which, no sign if I was in the right place or even if I was anywhere near. I found the quintessential brown tourism road signs pointing me in the direction of the old town and the Grandmasters Palace, but none at all to what should be a proud relic of the past.
After hitting a number of dead ends and ruined fortifications that led nowhere, and even dealing with a few tenacious touts, I eventually spotted one of the twin set of deer that now stand at the entrance to Mandraki harbour in the distance and made a beeline for them.
I knew that these twin statues of a male and female deer (known as Elafos and Elafina, the twin symbols of Rhodes) are meant to stand at the entrance to the harbour in the spot that the Colossus was said to have straddled it, each statue in the place where the monuments feet were said to be planted.
I was finally here. I was standing at the site of the ancient Colossus of Rhodes.
There could be no mistake, the dual outcrops of the Mandraki harbour, the twin deer statues, this is the place were the Colossus once stood. Whether you take the traditional artistic representation of the statue straddling the harbour or a more realistic, academic view that it stood off to one side of the entrance, this was it! It had to be.
But there was no fanfare, no pageantry or recognition of that fact!
Like the ignoble end to the Colossus itself, the whole area was a huge anticlimax.
The modern harbour is filled with a mixture of personal pleasure boats, floating cafes and tourist filled boat tours entering and exiting the bay blaring out bad pop music through loudspeakers. A new, large aquarium dominates the skyline, ready to accommodate even more tourists, and even the deer statues were simply used for convenient rest stops for people who probably had no idea of the significance of the place they were sat on as they chatted on their phones and ate their snacks.
I waited a long time to have a moment to myself at the deer statue and reflect on the view that the Colossus would have looked out upon all those centuries ago, and I thought it was a dire shame that such a significant part of history could be almost completely whitewashed from the landscape. It was as unthinkable to me as the idea that the statue of liberty being wiped out without trace would be to New Yorkers.
It is a shame that the memory of the Colossus is being forgotten here, it’s legacy as ignominious as it’s end, when Arab invaders stole the fallen copper and sold it for scrap in Syria.
As another tourist party boat sails past the harbour with Michael Jackson’s Beat It straining through loudspeakers on their way to see the sights of the Rhodian coast, I wonder if they know if they are missing one of the biggest ones of all.
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