A lifetime in the Old Town
Archaeologist Maria Kollia, president of the Association for the Preservation of Rhodes’ Architectural and Cultural Heritage, has lived in a beautiful house on the Street of the Knights for more than 45 years. She remembers when fellow residents used to festoon the street with their drying laundry (a custom that is prohibited today) and she recalls, too, the milkman bringing fresh milk to her doorstep every day.
“People envy me for living here,” she says, “but they can’t imagine some of the problems I have with the house. The limestone walls retain humidity like a sponge. It’s almost impossible to keep warm in the winter because the structure is nearly five meters high. But I wouldn’t for the world change the fact that I live in a place that is full of memories and history. This is more or less the spot where the Sanctuary of the Sun God was located, and the Head of Helios itself was found almost right beneath my house.”
The art of icons
“Children that grow up on tourism-oriented islands like Rhodes don’t believe that you can make a living from art. We’ve been trying to change this over the past few years by opening up our workshops, inviting international artists and organizing events in which the public can participate.”
Giorgos was taught the art of painting religious icons in the monastic community of Meteora in central Greece and then went to Italy to study the fresco method of mural painting. So far, he has done icon work for 30 churches across the island. Passionate about his art, he shows tourists who are interested in Byzantine churches around and then takes them back to his workshop where they get to make their own fresco paintings to take back home.
“The churches are one of the most authentic aspects of Rhodes. For centuries, they were the places where the neighborhood gathered, and today we want to make them places for people from around the world to come together.”
In spired craft
Lefteris practically grew up in his father’s goldsmith’s workshop. Today, he’s one of the propagators of the age-old craft of jewelry-making that flourished on the island until the mid-20th century, when there were still a number of jewelers working here, many involved in exporting as well. Their designs used motifs related to Rhodes, including the stag, the knight’s cross and the rose. Inspired by the fascinating medieval landscape in which he lives, Lefteris has moved beyond these older designs.
“I’ve lived in the Old Town for 20 years and I’m still in awe of it,” he says. “You can’t help but be moved by what you see in this well-preserved town: the battalions, the blond hue of the rocks, the arches. One of my most recent pieces is a pair of earrings shaped like the Old Town’s street lamps. For the older generations, Rhodian jewelry was like an ambassador for the island. By creating modern designs with historic references, I want to continue what they began and prompt younger generations to wear accessories that relate to Rhodes.”
Forty years of photography
His camera lens has immortalized both the important events and everyday life on the island since the ‘70s. There have been exhibitions of his work in Greece and abroad, and he has published several books of photography. In 1999, just before the turn of the millennium, he invited three renowned photographers from Magnum Photos to Rhodes. They documented the effects of the tourism boom, visited traditional houses and discovered the island’s unspoiled beauty.
Mr. Kasseris explains why he chose to show off Rhodes as it is in the winter: “When tourist activity ceases in the medieval town, the houses are so close to each other that you can hear the lives of others. It reminds me of the neighborhood feel that it had back in 1960, when I first arrived – and, of course, there’s also the goosebumps that you get when you’re walking within this imposing scenery of history and symbols. Sometimes you think you can even hear the clatter of horses’ hooves.”