From a distance—whether approaching by sea or by land— the reason for the founding and for the enduring importance of Lindos is clear: an isolated and panoramic natural rock acropolis and two splendid bays for ports. In addition, there is a plentiful spring. These three elements compensated for a terrain which offered little possibility of agriculture and meant that Ancient Lindos, unlike Ialysos and Kameiros, had to live primarily on trade. Of the three ancient Dorian cities it was always the most important and maintained its influence, especially as a religious centre, long after the 5th century BC synoecism and the creation of the federal state of Rhodes. Lindos acquired prestige also through her early colonies, in particular Gela in Sicily and Phaselis in Lycia on the south coast of Asia Minor. The Lindians excelled in navigation and maritime commerce, developing a code of law for shipping on which ‘Rhodian (Maritime) Law' was later based: this in turn became the basis for Roman and, indirectly, modern, Maritime Law.
Neolithic and Mycenaean occupation of the promontory are attested by archaeology, while the cult of Athena Lindia appears to go back at least to the 10th century BC. Most of what the visitor sees today, however, dates from a later re-building during the 4th century BC. The site was too important to neglect in later epochs; passing crusaders and expanding Venetian trade brought Lindos prosperity in the 12th century, further nurtured by the Knights of St John who expanded the population over that of Byzantime times, fortified the acropolis and stationed a permanent garrison here. The prosperity of many of the families of Lindos is reflected both in the dignified and decorated mansions which are to be found in the narrow streets of the lower town and in the finely painted churches.
ACROPOLIS (Open Apr–Oct 8–7.30; Nov–Mar 8.30–2.30; closed Mon only in winter.) The inhabited settlement was never contiguous with the acropolis, but separated by a clear break of open rock and pinetrees. Visible to the right before reaching the entrance gate to the acropolis, are ancient votive inscriptions to the gods cut into the facets of the rock outcrops beside the pathway. (A couple—one particularly long— may be seen clearly from the path as you climb up, at about shoulder height and higher, on the outcrop of naturally faceted rock to the right-hand side, just as the path turns right into the last straight stretch up to the entrance.) Once through the outer gate, there is a shaded terrace punctuated by three prominent mouths of large, plaster-lined Byzantine cisterns: the acropolis had no spring within its walls, and depended on water collected in such cisterns; there are many more above, on the summit.
At the first turn in the path the visitor is faced with an impressive *votive relief of the stern of a ship, and to its left a dedicatory exedra—both skillfully carved into the living rock. Though contiguous, these are two separate dedications. An inscription on the side of the ship states that the work was ‘dedicated to Agesander, son of Mikion, by the people of Lindos', and that it was the work of the Rhodian sculptor, Pythocritus of the 3rd/2nd centuries BC. Delicate chisel and point work can still be seen on the surface.
Stylistic similarities have linked the piece and its artist to the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre. The kind of ship meticulously portrayed here – the triemiolia - possessed two rudders or steering paddles: visible are the helmsman's station on the near side, and a part of the serpentine shape of the rudder holding (something similar can be seen on a Venetian gondola). A break in the carving shows where a sculpted rudder itself would have projected downwards—if not in stone, perhaps added in wood. The boat's deck acted as the base for a statue of Agesander, possibly wearing the golden crown referred to in the inscription below. The exedra to the left may be a little earlier; it surrounds a base on which an honorific statue would have stood. Much later, in the 3rd century AD, the long inscription (originally picked out in red) was added by Aglochartos, priest of Athena Lindia.
To the left of the present stairs leading up to the acropolis there are vestiges of the ancient Sacred Way and steps. Much higher up to the left, is a flight of 14th century steps added by the Knights of St John, which originally gave access directly into the Governor's Residence by means of a wooden drawbridge. The Residence—now extensively restored—dates from the period of Grand Master Pierre d'Aubusson (1476–1503) and bears his arms in grey Lardos marble high up on the exterior wall: its interior was once painted with garlands, landscapes and coats of arms. These have faded considerably, and some areas have been removed to safety in Rhodes; the building now houses the local archaeological offices. The security of the building relies—as does the whole enceinte of walls—on the natural defences of the steep site, rather than on any ingenious military architecture. Some substantial machicolations can be seen high above the main door however.
The vaulted entrance, containing a number of capitals and finely inscribed altars and statue bases, gives onto an inner esplanade covered with many more of the same. This (only a fraction of the total number on the site) gives some indication of the forest of votive statuary in bronze and marble, as well as paintings and other works of art, which would have greeted the pilgrim in ancient times: in addition to the mute evidence of these fragments, writers (Philostratos, Plutarch and Pliny) also mention the works of art and spoils of war which were dedicated here—each piece vying for attention with the next.
The plateau of the acropolis is a roughly triangular area of 8,400sq. m rising to a height of 116m. The layout we see today dates from a building program begun in the 4th century BC; before that the Archaic Sacred Way had led across the open area, from the entrance directly up to the Temple of Athena at the summit. Some part of its paving can be seen in the floor, beside the long base of a Hellenistic monument, in the undercroft beneath the Governor's Residence reached by turning sharply to the left. This passage in turn leads out onto another esplanade crowded with more fragments of broken monuments. To the right, a line of (restored) vaulted chambers, originally built in the 1st century BC and used as storage spaces, support the first terrace of the grand approach to the Temple of Athena, created during the Hellenistic re-building. Just in front of the foot of the staircase that divides this line of vaults, is a rare and pleasing curiosity—a block of stone on the ground which fortuitously preserves an ancient mason's sketch of a piece of lifting machinery, scratched into the surface facing away from the steps. To the left is a dark grey marble exedra which—according to the inscription at its back—was surmounted in the 3rd century BC by a bronze statue of Pamphilydas, priest of Athena. At the northern (left) extremity of the area once stood a Roman pro-style temple (no longer visible), which faced towards the Temple of Athena. The wide area in front, littered with ancient material, shows how four different colours of stone have been used on the acropolis: Lardos marble; an indigenous, mottled-grey marble quarried a few miles to the west of Lindos, sometimes tending to a solid, dark grey, used especially for inscribed surfaces; Cycladic marble (from Paros/Naxos); small amounts of this have been used, mainly for sculptural needs or decorative refinement; a homogeneous, deep rust-red ‘poros' limestone from the area of Atávyros; the honey-coloured ‘poros' limestone of the native rock of the acropolis.
The grand ascent up to the temple at the summit is very much an expression of the Hellenistic mind—symmetrical, cadenced, theatrical, and with a grandiose and rather impersonal sense of ceremony about it. Note how, although this approach is symmetrical within itself, the reason for its existence—the Temple of Athena—steadfastly refuses to be included in its axis and remains to one side, clinging to its historic site. There are three phases of building in the whole complex, which all followed on from the restoration of the temple itself after its destruction by fire in 392 BC: 1. the propylaia enclosing the temple's sanctuary at the top, which date from shortly after the fire, i.e. the early 4th century; 2. the wide stoa on the next level down which dates from 300–290 BC; and 3. the terrace and vaulted storage areas below the stoa, which were the last elements to be added, around 100 BC.
As well as mentally preparing and physically corralling pilgrims for the approach to the temple, the wide stoa served as a shaded space where votive gifts—especially paintings— could be exhibited. It has been minimally reconstructed at the beginning of the last century to give at least some idea of its form. Originally, the Doric colonnade would have run the entire width of the building (87m); but its roof was omitted in the centre to allow a clear view of the next flight of steps up to the main propylaia. These—only visible in foundations now—were in effect two contiguous propylaia: one symmetrical Doric colonnade at the top of the flight of stairs with two slightly projecting wings at either end; and an internal colonnade which was L-shaped, and which gave on to the temple. They marked the boundary of the sanctuary; access beyond this point was limited and the area could be entered only after ritual purification.
The Temple of Athena itself seems small after such a grand approach: it measures only 22m x 8m and is amphi-prostyle, tetrastyle in design, i.e. possessing a projecting four-column portico at either end. It hugs the very edge of the southern precipice: its placing, its size and its form, all faithful to the older Archaic temple that stood here until the fire of 392 BC, traces of whose crepidoma can be seen in the bed-rock of dark limestone inside the present building. There has been considerable restoration, but much of the west wall is original; the east wall rises straight from—and seems to grow out of— the rock of the precipice. The stone would originally have been covered with a layer of light-coloured plaster.
The temple has a long history: according to Herodotus (Histories II.182) it was the Danaids in their flight from the sons of Aegyptus who established the cult; according to Diodorus (5.58.1) it was Danaus himself. One of the temple's early donors, the pharaoh Amasis, dedicated here a remarkable linen corselet. In 392 BC fire destroyed the temple and a great many of its dedications. When it was rebuilt, the worship of Zeus Polieus was added and, at the same time, Athena became identified as Athena ‘Polias'. The original archaic cult statue inside the temple was probably a wooden image of the goddess, seated and wearing a golden diadem. It would have been protected by a railing. Such was the fame and influence of the statue of Athena Parthenos by Pheidias in Athens, however, that this original seated Athena was replaced in the 5th or 4th century by an image of the goddess, standing and armed—as in the Parthenon. It must have been this statue that was transported to Byzantium by Theodosius in the 5th century AD when the temple cult was officially suppressed and which apparently perished in a fire there later that century.
The entrance to the temple was at the north: on either side of it were two inscribed plaques in grey Lardos marble with the chronological lists of the priests of Athena L ind ia, running from 406 BC through to 47 AD. These precious records were removed in the Middle Ages and used as floor slabs in the church of Aghios Stephanos, only to come to the world's attention again when the church was removed and the area excavated in early 1900s: they are rare historical documents of great value. In the narrow area in front of the south entrance are signs of extensive Archaic cutting in the bedrock. The view from the edge down to the perfectly formed natural harbour below, where tradition holds that St Paul took refuge from a storm, is unforgettable.
The pathway back to the exit, which descends by steps to the west, passes by a deep water-storage pool—part natural, part cut into the bed-rock—and continues to wards the massive supporting wall for the terrace of the western end of the stoa—its regular, rectangular stone blocks, elaborately rusticated in customary Hellenistic fashion. Above it and to the north are the tall ruins of the three apses of the east end of the 13th century, Byzantine church of Aghios Ioannis . Its rounded windows and arches are a marked contrast to so much ancient rectilinearity.
Around the base of the Acropolis hill are three further important ancient sites. Below the southwest side, and reached by taking a right-hand (south) route through the lower town from the church of the Panaghia, is the ancient theatre (4th century BC), whose cavea of seats is cut into the living rock of the slope. Although only the central part is still visible today, its design is clear with a deep diazoma separating the lower nineteen rows of seats from the upper seven. It would have had a capacity of almost 2,000 spectators. Foundations which project in the centre, above the diazoma, probably supported a choregic monument and not a shrine to Dionysos, as was originally supposed. Opposite the cavea, and across the orchestra, the position of the original proscenium is marked by cuttings in the rock. Almost contiguous with the proscenium of the theatre are the remaining foundations of a large, almost square, building with peristyle which was constructed over a century later than the theatre. This cloister-like building is referred to as the Tetrastoön; its exact function is unknown. The fact that no fewer than three churches had been built on the site in later times, and that a number of Christian burials were found here, would suggest that it was used for cultic purposes in antiquity, since it was always the habit of early Christian communities to transform places of pagan worship into churches or sacred Christian sites. It was here, in the floor of the now demolished church of Aghios Stephanos, that the inscribed stones with the lists of Athena's priests were found, as well as the ‘Lindian Chronicle'. In 99 BC the people of Lindos commissioned an inscription recording the dedications that had been made in their temple to Athena since its foundation. Two men were selected and instructed to ‘inscribe from the letters and public records and from any other evidence, whatever might be fitting regarding the offerings and the visible presence of the goddess'. First published by the Danish archaeologist, Christian Blinkenberg in 1912, it is known as the ‘Lindian Chronicle', and is one of the longest inscriptions to have survived from the Hellenistic Greek world. It is now in the Archaeological Museum in Copenhagen. The chronicle gives the name of the dedicator, lists the objects dedicated (with a description of the material from which they were made and any inscription they might possess) and finally gives the ‘sources' that named and described any objects that no longer existed. The dedications include gold, jewellery, weaponry, statuary (e.g. a ‘cow and calf fashioned in wood', a ‘wooden Gorgon with marble head', etc.). Amongst those who made the dedications, are mentioned Cleoboulos, Artaphernes (brother and general of the Persian king, Darius), Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I of Egypt, and Pyrrhus, king of Epirus. A fascinating final section of the inscription narrates three miraculous apparitions of Athena that occurred within the temple: the first during the Persian Wars when the goddess promised to intercede with Zeus; the second giving instructions concerning the proper steps to be followed after the pollution of the sanctuary caused by a person's suicide there; and the third (which were repeated appearances) during the siege of Rhodes by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 305–4 in which the goddess counseled seeking the help of Ptolemy of Egypt. Both for what it reveals of the ‘historicising' cast of the Hellenistic mind and its emerging concern for ‘documentary' authority and record, as well as for what it tells us about cultic practice and experience in the Greek world, the Chronicle is a uniquely important document.
From the Tetrastoön and the Ancient theatre, it is a short walk down to the harbour of Aghios Pavlos, where St Paul is thought to have landed on Rhodes. Looking back towards the Acropolis from here, the wide, arching cave which undercuts the rock directly below the Temple of Athena is visible. Its name—Panaghia Spiliotissa (Virgin of the Cave)— indicates that it was a place of early Christian worship, which followed a preceding pagan cult. The walls of the cave bear a late inscription of the 3rd century AD, with the name and title of one of the priests of Athena Lindia, Lucius Aelius Aglochartos—perhaps the same individual who added the inscription to the exedra at the entrance to the acropolis, mentioned above.
Round the opposite side of the acropolis-rock, beyond the limits of the lower town and on the slope approximately 100m north/northeast of the acropolis, is a site referred to as the Boukópion—a ‘place for the sacrifice of oxen': the name appears on inscriptions on the rock surfaces. The area seems to have had early cultic significance. Vestiges of foundations show there to have been also a small temple of the Geometric period here (10th or 9th century BC) dedicated to an unknown deity. Earlier scholars, on the basis of ‘fire-less sacrifice' to which Pindar enigmatically refers in his 7th Olympian Ode (l. 48) in connection with Lindos, assumed that the sacrifices to Athena took place at this site and not on the Acropolis. However, subsequent evidence has proven this assumption wrong; there was, in fact, a sacrifical altar in front of the Temple of Athens on the Acropolis.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)