Known for its idyllic island groups in the Cyclades and Dodecanese, the southern Aegean is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the island of Delos, the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the medieval town of Rhodes . These sites offer vivid reminders not only of Greek history but of the history of all humanity.
They are worth visiting as part of a larger trip to the South Aegean or even exclusively as historically themed getaways.
Island of Delos
If you are visiting Mykonos, Delos is just 30 minutes away by boat, whether with an organized group or a private excursion. Although a small island (1.32 square miles), Delos was the most sacred place of pilgrimage in ancient Greece in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The island was thought to be the birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis and was also the center of eastern Mediterranean trade. Delos thus developed into a cosmopolitan and prosperous city, filled with art and beautiful residences. The attacks and raids of 88 and 69 BC launched Delos into a rapid decline that ultimately led to its abandonment.
Other settlements were never built on the archaeological site and the island has remained uninhabited since 7 AD. Today, the entire island is protected and visitors can wander through the vast ruins that include the sanctuary and the Hellenistic city and which are full of remains of mansions, public buildings and other structures commissioned by the wealthy inhabitants from the island. It is an impressive reminder of the influence and cultural richness of the region.
Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Patmos
Exiled to Patmos in 95 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian, Saint John the Theologian is said to have written the Book of Revelation and its portion of the Gospel on the island. In 1088, a fortified monastery was built there in his honor and has been a center of pilgrimage and Greek Orthodox education ever since. The monastery, its surrounding town (Chora) and the cave where Saint John dictated his Gospel and his Apocalypse are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The monastery and Chora have been in continuous use since the 12th century and have been protected by the Greek state since 1948. The result is a monastery and surrounding town of exceptional architectural and historical interest which practices religious ceremonies dating from the early Christianity. On Patmos you will also find a good selection of quality and luxury hotels located close to the site and on the island’s beautiful beaches.
Medieval town of Rhodes
A superb example of Gothic architecture in the Mediterranean, the medieval walled city of Rhodes has impressed visitors and invaders since its construction by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, a hospitable order that occupied the island from 1309 to 1523.
The knights aimed to strengthen the island against sieges and their fortifications withstood several attacks. However, Rhodes finally fell in 1522, after a 6-month siege led by Suleiman II. The new Turkish occupants retained the knightly fortifications and most of the architecture and added their own notable contributions such as mosques, public buildings and baths until 1912. Since its founding, the medieval city has It has never been abandoned and constitutes a remarkable and living example of one of the cultural crossroads of history.
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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: Valerie Casali