At the beginning of this month, my wife and I went on a week-long holiday to Rhodes. You might say we picked the right time, because now would certainly not be that. The photo on this page I guess typifies what you might think a holiday on a Greek island should look like. The photo on the home page shows the current hellish situation for quite large parts of the island.
Taking matters chronologically, we begin with the good news – the holiday. Rhodes is famously the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue which, depending on what you prefer to believe, either stood at the entrance to the harbour in the old town of Rhodes or (rather more dramatically) stood astride it, ready to pour molten tar on to sailors in the ships below who might be trying to breach the island’s defences. (Well, it’s not for nothing that the most popular local brew is called Mythos.) The old town of Rhodes today boasts no such extravagant monument but its mosques, palaces and the medieval Street of the Knights are worthy of a visit by any tourist. Indeed the harbour itself is an attractive area in which to pass time over a coffee, a drink or lunch, even if there is no humongous ancient wonder to gaze at in awe.
Rhodes town stands on the northernmost tip of the island. We were staying about 50 kilometres to the south at Lindos, about halfway down the east coast. The resort was terrific and, this being Greece, the quality of the light was mostly spectacular. While we were treating this largely as a vacation of gentle recreation, Lindos is by no means devoid of culture. It even has its own acropolis, which dates from the 4th century BC and stands on a sheer precipice above the village; no need for a colossus when you have natural protection like that. It almost goes without saying that the food and wine were marvellous and it was a wonderful week’s break. Then we flew back north.
In the past fortnight or so, things have gone decidedly south for the island’s inhabitants. Wild fires began to take hold in several places in Greece around the middle of this month, with Rhodes being perhaps the most ruinously devastated location. Summer fires are by no means uncommon in this part of the world but their intensity this July has been the worst-ever since the country began satellite monitoring in 2003. Even away from the fires, the temperatures are distinctly uncomfortable: the thermometer has reached the mid-40s centigrade several days in succession. We had it in the high 20s, which was absolutely perfect. We were pleased it didn’t rain during our week there. Prolonged rainfall is perhaps exactly what Rhodes could do with right now.
There are always heartwarming stories to emerge from disasters such as this, like the one recounted in The Times on Saturday – a young woman from London and her boyfriend extended their holiday in order to help the locals fight the fires. More common were tales of people aborting their stays so as to escape the terrible situation. The natives of Rhodes don’t have that opportunity and some of them will have to live what in the short term at least will be amid the wreckage of their homes and their livelihoods.