The Old Town, likely to be your first port of call, is a UNESCO World Heritage town and one of the best preserved medieval settlements in the world. Today its protective, imposing buttressed walls act as a border between the past and present. In the ‘new’ town, the cosmopolitan Mandraki, you find imposing Venetian buildings, a marina, and many shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Old Town of Rhodes
The old town of Rhodes attracts visitors from all over the world. The town is awash with Architecture from different historical periods. The labyrinthine network of narrow streets and cobbled alleys with impressive 15th and 16th century buildings is complemented by churches, mosques, fountains and shady squares where you can enjoy coffee and food.
The walls and gates
The best way to get to know the old city wall is to take a walk along a section of it. The walls stretch for 4 km (2.5 miles) and are adorned with towers, bastions and imposing gates bearing the Venetian coats of arms. The ones you see today were built in the period between the two Ottoman sieges (1480 and 1522). Around the fortification there is a wide moat.
Access to the Old Town is usually through one of the seven impressive, large gates. Smaller ones can be found around the perimeter. Most impressive of all is the Thalassini gate with its two towers, built in 1478 and emblematic of the Old Town. The others are: St. Paul’s (entrance from Mandraki), Liberty, Abouaz, St. Athanasius (New Gate), St. John (Koskinous) and Acadia. Some were created in “the time of the Knights“, others were built by the Italians.
Walking in the mediaeval moat
With a total length of about 2.5 km (1.5 miles), this is arguably the most beautiful walk in the city of Rhodes. The scenery is stunning; lush and green with palm trees. While walking you can admire the ramparts, mediaeval towers and old town walls. The peace and tranquillity will make you believe you’re in the countryside.
The Street of the Knights
The Knights of St John occupied the island for over 200 years, being forced out by the Ottomans in 1522. On the Street of the Knights, particularly at dusk when the lights come on, the atmosphere of the knightly era is revived. The Street has been restored to the form it had at the time of its creation. It follows the ancient road that led from the port to the Temple of the Sun. It starts at Museum Square and continues all the way to the Palace of the Grand Master. Along the route you will admire the residences of the “tongues” – 7 inns representing the 7 ‘nationalities’ who participated in the Order of the Knights of Saint John (Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon, Italy, Baviere (Germany), and England). Each “tongue” had a separate area that served as a gathering place for members and a guesthouse for official guests.
The Palace of the Grand Master
At the highest point of the Street of the Knights, on the north-western side of the Old Town, stands the iconic Castello, the most important building of the Knighthood. It was originally built in the 14th century, on the site of a 7th century Byzantine fort. It was the administrative centre of the Knights of Saint John. The Grand Master resided here with his courtiers, and held meetings with the heads of the “Tongue”.
The image of the oversized wooden door and two huge towers is one of Rhodes’ most iconic and beloved sights. Impressive statues from the Hellenistic and Roman periods can be found in the inner courtyard. According to the latest archaeological theories, the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the ancient wonders of the world, was built on the spot where the Palace of the Grand Master rises. Not, as previously believed by the old harbour.
The palace is now a museum. On the first floor are mosaic tiles from the island of Kos, and furniture from the mediaeval period. On the ground floor there are two permanent exhibitions on the history of Rhodes, from 408 BC when it was founded, until 1522, when it was conquered by the Ottomans. On Summer evenings the Rhodes Philharmonic Orchestra holds concerts here.
Inside the old town you’ll find the squares of Symi, Argyrokastro, Museum and Hippokratous. All of them contain monuments, such as the Knight’s Armoury in Argyrokastro square. The fountain was a swimming pool of the early Christian church of St. Irene of Arnitha (6th century). Hippokratous Square, which you will find entering from the Thalassini Gate, is the liveliest, especially in the evening when it is filled with café and restaurant tables. Another popular spot for dining in the Old Town is Orfeos Street. It too is best visited in the evening.
Shopping on Sokratous Street
This area was chosen for a market by the ancients, the Byzantines, the Knights of Saint John, and the Ottomans. Today, there are dozens of tourist shops selling souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, leather, ceramics, carpets, and more. There are also three mosques.
The ports of Rhodes and the famous deer
The city of Rhodes has not one, not two, but three ports. The shallow Mandraki (for small boats and yachts), the Big Port, where passenger ships dock, and Akandia, where the large Rhodes marina operates. The two famous bronze deer, symbols of the island, are set up on either side of the entrance to Mandraki, on pillars of limestone. In the past, it was believed that Colossus stood here. Ships would sail beneath his feet and the passage was closed at night with a chain. However, more authoritative research has proven that this could not have been the case, as the rocky shelves of this harbour could not have accommodated the huge statue.
At the edge of the jetty at Mandraki is the restored castle of Agios Nikolaos, built in the period 1464-1467. While walking along the pier, look out for the three windmills which were built in the 15th century to grind the grain unloaded by merchant ships.
The Colossus of Rhodes
This impressive 33-metre-high statue in honour of Apollo, the god of light, was built to commemorate victory against the Macedonian king and military leader Demetrius I Poliorcetes. It dates back to around 304 BC and was completed in twelve years. In 226 BC an earthquake destroyed it and it was never restored. For hundreds of years the debris of the Colossus remained submerged in the harbour. But in 654 AD, when the Arabs conquered the island, they dismantled it to sell it to Syria. Legend has it that 900 camels were used to transport it.
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