Roses is a town which appears to have been built for summer vacations. Hotels and apartments line the beachfront, interspersed with restaurants and bars, but the majority are closed and I’m about to discover that Roses’ origins were not related to sunbathing at all.
As I enter the town, a large wall forms on my left. This is one side of the monumental citadel, inhabited by Greeks, Romans, Medieval monks and 17th century soldiers. It has also been systematically destroyed by many wars throughout the centuries and was almost turned into a housing development in the 20th century. Luckily, it’s still here to educate us about the town’s long history and to provide something to do on a less than perfect beach day.
When I arrive, wrapped up in my fleece against the cold winter chill, I discover that in 45 minutes, and for only €1 more than the normal entry fee of €4, I can have a guided tour in English. While I wait, I visit the excellent museum which tells me about the history of the citadel, which was first settled by the Greeks and called Rhode, meaning rose, which is where the present day town gets its name. My tour guide is also called Roser (rose bush) and I’m the only client.
We make our way past a group of happy primary school children, who Roser has just been educating, and head over to an excavated area of the Greek settlement. From her shoulder bag, my enthusiastic guide extracts a piece of Greek pottery and explains how it helped to date the site. I’m amazed that I’m allowed to handle a piece of ceramic that is more than 2000 years old. However, the silver coins that we also discuss are reproduction and probably not silver at all.
Next to the Greek settlement is the Roman one. At one point this was the main port, though we are now some way from the sea. On slightly higher ground, a large church represents the site of the medieval village, part of which has also been excavated and I can clearly see the cobbled streets and walls of dwellings. The church has been partially restored. The multi-coloured stones, some recycled from the earlier settlements, are very interesting, as is the story of the destruction of the main apse. It’s easy to imagine that it was destroyed during one of the many wars and sieges of the citadel, but Roser tells me that it occurred in the 1930s due to a dispute between two local brothers which resulted in a fire.
Part of the tour takes us along the high, thick walls of the 17th century citadel. Some areas were destroyed by Napoleon’s army, while others were destroyed by the town council and building planners for a proposed housing development in the 1950’s. Luckily, the archaeologists persisted in examining the site until they found something of historic significance that would stop the housing plans and, in the end, common sense prevailed over financial gain. The citadel and the ghosts of its inhabitants over the many centuries have been preserved for future generation to appreciate. Though, I suspect that most visitors to Roses would appreciate a cold beer or an ice cream much more.