The Lady of Ro: Tracing the Path of a Heroic Greek Granny

This is the unique story of the Lady of Ro: A Greek granny who lived all alone on a small island and became an unlikely national hero.

One of the things I love about travel is to learn more about the local culture and history.

On a trip to the stunning island of Kastellorizo, I learned more about the remarkable life of Despina Achladiotou, an elderly hermit woman better known as the Lady of Ro, who emerged as an unlikely national hero of Greece.

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Sunrise over the sleepy harbour of Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan

The story of the Lady of Ro

If the small island of Kastellorizo – the easternmost island of Greece, home to only 584 inhabitants – can be considered remote, then the nearby island of Ro is even more secluded.

Measuring only 1.6 square kilometres, the island of Ro – part of the Dodecanese – has no permanent residents.

However, the island of Ro wasn’t always uninhabited.

If it weren’t for the life story of Despina Achladiotou, the last person to inhabit Ro, this otherwise unremarkable island would have remained highly obscure.

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The island of Ro. ©Paliparan

Life as a hermit

Despina Achladiotou, born in 1890 on Kastellorizo, sailed in 1927 together with her husband and her mother to the uninhabited island of Ro, where they sustained themselves with their livestock, a few chickens, a modest vegetable garden, and whatever they managed to catch from the sea.

When her husband died in 1940, she remained on the island with her ageing mother.

Following her mother’s passing some years later, Despina Achladiotou rowed her remains to Kastellorizo for burial, but opted to return to Ro to live out the rest of her life as a hermit.

Despina Achladiotou’s claim to fame is however not just connected to her life as a hermit, but mostly to her significant contributions to Greek patriotism and a sense of nationhood.

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The crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea around Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan

A dive into history

From the moment Despina Achladiotou set foot on Ro, she would raise the Greek flag over the island each and every morning.

Even in stormy weather or when she wasn’t feeling physically up to the task, Despina Achladiotou would proudly hoist the Greek flag over Ro.

Raising the Greek flag over the island might seem insignificant, but in the first half of the 20th century it was a bold move as Ro didn’t belong to Greece at the time.

Just like the other islands in the Dodecanese such as Kastellorizo and Rhodes, Ro was awarded to Italy according to the provisions of the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.

During those years, even when Nazi Germany occupied nearby Kastellorizo, Despina would defiantly rise every morning to hoist the Greek flag.

After a brief period of British occupation following the Second World War, Ro and the other Dodecanese islands were ultimately integrated into Greece.

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Greek flag proudly flying on top of the castle ruins on Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan


Even after Ro became a part of Greece, Despina Achladiotou continued her tradition of raising the Greek flag over the island every morning.

She continued to raise the flag each and every day until she passed away at the venerable age of 92 in 1982.

By then, Despina Achladiotou had already become a national sensation in Greece and earned herself the honorary nickname “The Lady of Ro.”

The Lady of Ro was laid to rest with full military honours, an extremely rare honour for a civilian, on her own island.

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Greek flag on Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan

Military tradition

Although no one has permanently lived on Ro since Despina Achladiotou’s passing, the Greek Army has established a small military outpost on the island to maintain security in the area.

Each morning, one of the soldiers who are temporarily stationed on the island continues the tradition of the Lady of Ro by raising the Greek flag.

The presence of Greek soldiers is necessitated by a conflict with Turkey over the precise demarcation of territorial waters and even Greek sovereignty over islands like Ro and Kastellorizo.

Although Kastellorizo is popular among Turkish visitors who often make day trips from the nearby city of Kaş, located just eight kilometres away across the sea (at its closest point, Kastellorizo is only three kilometres from Turkey), political tensions persist in the area, despite friendly relations between the people on both sides of the maritime border.

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The HS Grigoropoulos, a Roussen class fast attack and missile boat of the Hellenic Navy, lies at anchor in the Port of Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan
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A Greek Army jeep at a lookout point on Kastellorizo, with the Turkish coastline being visible across the strait. ©Paliparan


To pay tribute to the Lady of Ro, you can visit a statue of her located on the main square in Kastellorizo.

Since there is no public transport to Ro, you’ll need to charter a boat or join a tour in Kastellorizo to sail over to Ro.

On the island, you can visit the white marble grave of the Lady of Ro, which overlooks the sea.

Adjacent to the grave stands a flagpole, proudly flying the Greek flag.

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Statue of the Lady of Ro on Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan

Getting to Kastellorizo

To reach Kastellorizo, you can fly to the island’s small airport, which is served by the Greek flag carrier Aegean Airlines through its subsidiary Olympic Air.

As Kastellorizo Airport is only served by flights from Rhodes, most foreign visitors will need to make at least two connections (both in Athens and Rhodes) to reach the island.

I’ve taken the flight from Kastellorizo to Rhodes with Olympic Air, and you can find out about my experience by reading my review.

It’s also possible to reach Kastellorizo by ferry, as the island is connected to both Rhodes and Piraeus (the port city of Athens).

Blue Star Ferries operates the route from Piraeus to Kastellorizo, making stops along the way at islands such as Astypalea, Kalymnos, and Rhodes.

SAOS Ferries operates just the Rhodes-Kastellorizo route.

To reach the island, I took the overnight ferry from Astypalea to Kastellorizo, a wonderful experience and the best way imaginable to arrive in Kastellorizo, which surely must be one of the world’s prettiest ports to arrive in.

An advantage of taking the ferry to Kastellorizo is that you’ll sail past the island of Ro.

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View over Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan
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The Kastellorizo waterfront. ©Paliparan
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Hiking on the gorgeous island of Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan
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Turtle swimming in the harbour of Kastellorizo. ©Paliparan
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You can reach Kastellorizo by ferry from Piraeus (the port of Athens) and Rhodes. ©Paliparan
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You can fly with Olympic Air between Kastellorizo and Rhodes. ©Paliparan

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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