Known for its idyllic Cycladic and Dodecanese island groups, the South Aegean is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Delos Island, the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Medieval City of Rhodes. These sites offer striking reminders not just of Greek history but the story of all humankind.
They are well worth visiting as part of a larger trip to the South Aegean or even exclusively as getaways with an historic theme.
If you’re visiting Mykonos, Delos is just a 30-minute boat ride away either with an organized group or private excursion. Although a small island (1.32 square miles), Delos was Ancient Greece’s most sacred pilgrimage site in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The island was believed to be the birthplace of twin gods Apollo and Artemis and was also the center of eastern Mediterranean trade. Delos thus developed into a thriving, cosmopolitan city filled with art and beautiful homes. Attacks and raids in 88 and 69 BC launched Delos into a rapid decline which led to its eventual abandonment.
Further settlements were never built over the archeological site, and the island has remained uninhabited since 7 AD. Today, the entire island is protected and visitors can walk through the extensive ruins which include the sanctuary and the Hellenistic town and are filled with remnants of mansions, public buildings, and other structures commissioned by the island’s wealthy residents. It’s an awe-inspiring reminder of the area’s influence and cultural richness.
Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on Patmos
Exiled to Patmos in 95 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian, Saint John the Theologian is believed to have written the Book of Revelations and his portion of the Gospel on the island. In 1088, a fortified monastery was constructed there in his honor and has been a center for pilgrimage and of Greek Orthodox education ever since. The monastery, its surrounding town (Chora) and the cave where Saint John dictated his Gospel and 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 early Christianity. On Patmos, you’ll also find a good selection of quality and luxury hotels situated near the site and on the island’s beautiful beaches.
Medieval City of Rhodes
A stunning example of Gothic architecture in the Mediterranean, the fortified Medieval City of Rhodes has impressed visitors and invaders since its construction by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, a Hospitaller order of knights who occupied the island from 1309-1523.
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 Suleyman II. The new Turkish occupiers maintained the knights’ fortifications and most of the architecture and added their own noteworthy contributions such as mosques, public buildings and baths until 1912. Since its founding, the medieval city has never been abandoned and is a remarkable, living example of one of history’s cultural crossroads.
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