I love travelling. There is a little bit of wanderlust in me that has been (in the recent past at least) restricted by my finances. It’s five years since I had my last foreign holiday and this year, I returned – for the first time in six years – to an island that is very dear to my heart. That island is Rhodes, or Rodos (or I can be really clever and write it in Greek as Ρόδος).
Studying landscape archaeology as an MA has made me look at landscapes in a whole new way. It’s a habit and a training that cannot easily be un-learnt. Sure, I can look at beautiful landscapes and admire them for what they are, but sometimes I can’t help but think about the geological and anthropogenic elements that create these inspiring and interesting landscapes. I no longer see England’s green and pleasant land, I see land boundaries. I see Anglo-Saxon fields superimposed over Roman fields and medieval boundaries doing their best to work inside the existing historic and natural rural landscape.
Rhodes East Coast
Anyway, back to Rhodes. This is my favourite photo from the trip.
The photo above is of Lindos Bay, looking down from the walk up to the ancient Lindos Acropolis which I will come to in a moment. As you can see from the landscape, it’s dry and barren. I love rugged landscapes and the searing heat was pretty intense. The reason for this barrenness is the hot, dry winds from North Africa. Rhodes can get rather windy in high season, and gets very wet out of season, although you probably can’t imagine that here.
Rhodes is shaped (I feel) a bit like a porpoise (see left) and runs from southwest to northeast. A range of mountains running along the centre act as a wind break creating what is a surprisingly different landscape on the west coast, but I will come to that later in the post.
Although there are plenty of tropical plants lining the east coast, there is certainly a dryness in the air. You get these amazing barren, rocky cliffs as you drive along the coast. The view from heights is spectacular. One of my favourite views is heading north out of Lindos, across Vlycha Beach and towards Kalathos. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of this as there is nowhere to stop and buses don’t stop until you reach the next town.
You can get a better sense of the the landscape from the other side of Lindos Bay towards the Acropolis. I took these photo one evening during a sunset. That’s one of the benefits of getting a hire car 🙂
I will post photos from places other than Lindos, I promise. I just wanted to show a typical view of the eastern coast of Rhodes. It’s hot and dry. If you like rugged landscapes, then the southern section of the east coast, specifically driving along the coast road, is a great place to see some magnificent coastal terrain. Another great view looking north is below. It’s a view from the Acropolis
Again, you can see the rough, rugged landscape as we look to the north. Also, we see the human impact. I’m standing on a platform before the propylaea (the gateway of any Greek temple), looking out of the gateway towards the route down the hillside. To the left is an early medieval Byzantine church.
No human landscape exists in isolation. No matter where you go, you will see buildings seemingly completely out of time. When one tradition replaces another, you won’t always see uniform replacement. That’s pretty ubiquitous wherever you go. It’s particularly noteworthy in England’s historic towns and cities. It’s something I feel we take for granted, especially when describing cityscapes. It’s easy to assume uniformity, but most towns and cities, unless they were planned and built in one go and in one architectural style, rarely are.
Rhodes Inland and West Coast
As I said above, the Rhodian west coast is a very different matter. Turn inland anywhere along the eastern coast road and you will notice just how quickly the topography changes. Barren rock and tropical plants give way to pine trees, woodland and cold, grey mountains. I can only assume that two things happen here.
- Firstly, that the mountain range along the central spine of Rhodes protects the west from the worst of the hot winds from the south
- Secondly, the soil retains more moisture, allowing for a much lusher landscape
As you head southwest, you’d be forgiven if you thought you’d slipped through a wormhole and ended up in the southern Scottish highlands or in a warmer part of the American Rockies. Take a look at this image for example.
Yes, this is the same island! The farther south you head, the green and lusher it gets. Just a few miles south of here when you reach the mountain you can see in the background of this photo, the rock is very different too. I love this drive. I won’t go anywhere near the island’s capital (Rhodes Town) in the north, but I could spend all day exploring these long, vast, nearly empty rural roads in the south. Here’s another.
Sadly, I don’t have any photographs of the terrific landscape around the island’s largest mountains. The west coast road clings to the mountains, snaking around towards the southern tip, and by this point you really cannot believe this is the same island as that barren landscape seen around the peninsula on which Lindos is located.
As you travel farther south and towards Prasonissi beach (the subject of a later post), the land changes again. This part of the island is so unpopulated that once we got past Monolithos, I don’t remember any homes, farmsteads or settlements until we reached Kattavia. This landscape was low rolling hills and was largely scrub land, looking rather like Dartmoor might look in November on a clear day.
Think About Landscapes In Your Writing
I find these landscapes inspirational as they can give us a sense of what a primordial landscape might have looked like (in so much as the east coast is concerned) and can show us how different a small island like Rhodes can be just for how its topographical features can affect and influence different areas just a few miles apart. The striking difference between west and east is almost certainly down to the mountain range at the centre.
When you set out to create a landscape, especially a fictional landscape, it’s important that you think about how a place, its climate, its botany or wildlife may be affected by the landscape and microclimates. You don’t need to study for degrees in geology, soil science and meteorology, but some rudimentary understanding is required to portray a real sense of the place and make it come alive.
I feel that a sense of place in fiction is often sometimes lacking. We take it for granted, we ignore it and we simply look for lazy indicators. For example, if its set on the coast we expect seagulls. We settle for simple descriptions.
I have two follow up posts for this. One will be Prasonissi beach and the other will be the urban landscape of Rhodes Town.