(Twelve Islands) are a group of islands in the southeastern Aegean just off the coast of Asia Minor. Extending from Patmos to Rhodes, the islands make up the southern Sporades (see Sporades). The modern district is divided into four countries: Kalymnos, which includes Patmos, Lipsos, Leros, and Astypalaia; Karpathos, which includes Kasos; Kos, which includes Nisyros; and Rhodes, which includes Telos, Syme, Chalki and Megisti. The name Dodecanese
is a thoroughly modern term and was applied in 1908 when twelve "privileged" islands of the Eastern Aegean, excluding Rhodes, Kos and Lipsos, united to protest against the deprivation by Turkey of special privileges that they had enjoyed since the sixteenth century under Suleiman the Magnificent (1495-1566). The name Dodecanese
stuck despite the fact that the Dodecanese
are made up of fourteen islands which have independent local governments.
As a group, the Dodecanese
enjoy a favorable climate because the heat of the long summers is alleviated by westerly winds. Kasos lacks water, and has always depended on fishing, while Karpathos exports olives, wine, and fruit. Rhodes, the largest island, is rich in agricultural produce and exports of oil, wine, fruits, and vegetables. Rhodes also boasts a peak, Mount Atavyros (1215 m), which has long served as a conspicuous landmark for mariners. In antiquity Mount Atavyros was forested with cypress and conifers which were used extensively for ship building.
Rhodes is a diamond shaped island, and it measures 78 km in length and 30 km in width, making it the fourth largest island in Greece, preceded only by Crete, Euboea, and Lesbos. It is part of the volcanic island arc that extends from the Peloponnese through Crete and Karpathos to Asia Minor. Rhodes is only 20 km from the mainland of Asia Minor. The rock-rose is so plentiful and exuberant that Rhodes is often called the "Island of Roses."
Its harbors on the east coast not only control entry into the Aegean Sea but also form the meeting-point of the sea routes converging from the Greek peninsula and islands, from Phoenicia and the southeast, and from the Hellespont along the coast of Asia Minor.
Mycenaean Greeks settled on the Island of Rhodes in c. 1400 B.C., and were followed by Dorian-speaking Greeks after c. 1100 B.C. The Dorians formed three city-states on the island: Ialysos, Lindos, Kameiros. From the early the fifth century B.C. until c. 412-411, Rhodes was a member of the Athenian Confederacy. Shortly after this (c. 408 B.C.) a unified state was established on the island with Rhodes as its capital, but the three original cities kept as much local autonomy as possible. When Rhodes withstood an attack by the Macedonian King Demetrios Poliorketes in 305 B.C., a colossal bronze statue of the sun god was erected by the sculptor Chares, a pupil of Lysippos, at the entrance to Mandraki harbor: the famous Colossus of Rhodes served as a lighthouse. The statue was destroyed by an earthquake in 227 B.C., making it the shortest lived of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In the second century B.C. Rhodes became a center of intellectual life with the establishment of a university which was attended in the first century by Cicero, Pompey and Caesar. The Rhodian School of sculptors also flourished in the first century. The prosperity of Rhodes throughout history is attributed to trade.
The town of Rhodes, on the northernmost tip of the island, has been the capital since 408 B.C. Within the town is a third century B.C. Temple of Aphrodite, and a Hospital of the Knights dated to c. A.D. 1440-89 which currently serves as an archaeological museum. Although most of the buildings in the town of Rhodes are from the Middle Ages, the ancient acropolis can still be distinguished. It lies to the southwest of the old town, and was once occupied by a temple to Apollo, and a second century B.C. theater and stadium. One of the three original Dorian cities, bearing the name of Ialysos, sites 15 km inland from the Classical and Medieval town of Rhodes.
Lindos, the chief city of the three original cities on the island of Rhodes, is situated in the middle of the east coast. The acropolis occupies a rectangular outcrop of rock accessible only from the north side. The sanctuary of Athena Lindia takes up most of the area, and includes a large double-winged stoa (c. 280 B.C.), a propylaea (c. 407 B.C.), and a small temple which was rebuilt in 384 B.C. after a fire destroyed the original structure. Southeast of the acropolis sits the ancient town of Lindos which includes a temple dating from between the second and first centuries B.C.. There is also a theater. On the west coast of Rhodes sits the third of the three original cities, Kameiros. The city had neither fortifications nor an acropolis, it did have, however, an agora, a Doric temple, a peripteral temple to Athena, and a temenos and a Doric stoa, both from the third century B.C.
Kos is the second largest island in the Dodecanese
group after Rhodes, measuring 43 km in length and between 2 and 11 km in width. The northeastern tip of Kos comes within 4 km of the Halicarnassus peninsula in Turkey while the eastern part of the island is hilly and rises to its height on Mount Oromedon (846 km). The most fertile land on Kos is on the northern slopes of Mount Oromedon and in the plain around the capital city, Kos. Kos is famous for the Asklepieion, a sanctuary of Asclepius, which lies 6 km from the main town. The island was renowned for its physicians in antiquity.
Patmos is the northernmost of the Dodecanese, and is volcanic in origin. A narrow isthmus on the north side of the island, on which the harbor lies, separates the northern and southern portions of Patmos. Patmos is famous for the Monastery of St. John. It is said that St. John wrote the Book of Revelation there in the late first century A.D.