The first time I heard about Rhodos was in late 70s, when my sister went there for a week with her classmates as part of an organized school tour. What I very much remember is that she brought an umbrella for everyone as a gift (!!!) and for me an azure Lacoste polo shirt…which I think was a fake. There was a huge Lacoste fake market in the area those days.
Umbrellas as gifts? Yes... Umbrellas were the popular souvenirs everyone used to bring back from his holidays on Rhodos those days…a tax break I suppose(?)… I am not sure. They still sell umbrellas at souvenir shops on the island, and certainly the reason is not the frequent rainfall!
Therefore, from my sister I heard all about the “Island of the Knights”: the castle town, the beaches, the Italian style buildings, the valley with the butterflies…everything.
Everything? I believe castles were not really what she was interested to. You see, those were the 70s and it was her first long stay away from home. I can only imagine.
The next time Rhodos came into my life was some 10 years later, when I visited the island as a student. To tell you the truth, the things really stack in my mind from that trip around the Dodecanese islands has nothing to do with the touristic attractions at all: I remember a 22-hours boat journey from Pireaus to Rhodos, sleeping on the floor of the upper boat deck (next to the big buoy) and a long night sleep under the stars at the island port waiting for the boat back home (in a blue outside and red inside sleeping bag (*)).
Since then I have visited the island several times for long weekends and a couple of times on business trips. But never during winter!
(*) My friend Maria on that trip had exactly the same sleeping bag as mine, but that was red outside and blue inside... long live the boy-girl stereotypes!
Rhodos island (or Rhodes or Ρόδος) is a big island and there are lots to see and do.
Nevertheless, this long weekend and New Year’s Eve, I decided not to get far out of Rhodos Town at all.
The Town has a rather big population of about 60,000 inhabitants and a history that spans from the ancient times to modern days (from classical antiquity to Hellenistic ages and the Colossus, to the Byzantine period the crusaders and the Islamic rule, to the Italian rule and the union with mother Greece in 1947), so there are so many things to do and visit in the city itself.
Certainly, the options you have are limited compared to the ones during the summer period: most of the restaurants are closed in winter, as well as most museums and places of interest. On the other hand, the restaurants which stay open, are the ones that cater for the locals, so you have better food for a better price. The most important, though, is that you can have long tranquil walks, something impossible to do during the hectic summer months, when you bump onto other tourists all the time, or compete with them to catch the last available restaurant table.
For the traveler's interest, Rhodes Town falls into three distinct areas:
Rhodos Old Town, still enclosed by its medieval walls,
Rhodos New Town, north and west of the Old Town, which includes the New Port (the Commercial Harbor), Mandraki (the yacht and ferry harbor) Elli Beach & the Casino, and
Acropolis of Rhodos, the ruins of the ancient city.
Arriving on the island
“Diagoras” International Airport is the main gate to the island. Even during winter months, there are several flights connecting the island to Athens. The flight lasts only 45 minutes. Needless to say, that from March till October the island is served by many charter flights from all over Europe and the Middle East. There are also scheduled air connections with other Greek islands in the area: Kos, Kastellorizo, etc.
The airport is located 14 km south of Rhodos Town and there is a good bus and taxi connection to it. The bus to the city costs 2.6 euros and the ride lasts 30-40 min, depending on the traffic. The taxi costs 25 euros, which is a real rip off for a 20-30 minutes’ drive. Nevertheless, if you want to explore the whole island, you should hire a car which is much cheaper and more convenient than the taxi… unless you feel unconfortable to drive “the Greek way”.
We arrived on the island very early in the morning. We checked in to our room the moment we arrived, so we were free to explore the island.
The weather was not ideal for walking, but there were so many umbrellas to buy!
I decided to include a lot of history and architecture information in the description of this adventure of mine. This may not be of much interest to every reader. So, this extra information is given in the following text in "italics" bracketed like this: text.
In this way, it is easier for the reader to leave out "unwanted" information.
The “New Town” is the part of the town spread outside the walls and covers the northern most tip of the island. Most of the bigger hotels are located there, as well as lots of restaurants, bars, cafes and commercial shops.
The town would be a typical modern Greek, colorless and chaotic city if the Italians throughout their occupation of the island did not elaborate it with beautiful, lavish, public buildings. Rhodes was “the crown” of the “Italian islands of the Aegean" ("Isole Italiane dell' Egeo”).
The Italians gave to the city a plan expounded with beautiful parks around the walls and public buildings. It was the Italian Governor Mario Lago (1924–36) who was responsible for the commissioning of a comprehensive new Master Plan for the expansion of the city of Rhodos outside the walls, which was entrusted to the architect Florestano di Fausto and approved in 1926.
The Master Plan envisioned the development of an area (already partially used by the Ottomans for administrative buildings and large residences) to the west of the port of Mandraki, between the Old City and the northern tip of the island. Against the theatrical background of the City of the Knights, with all its convenient associations of a Latin dominance, a new “Foro Italico” of commercial and administrative buildings was to be spaciously laid out along the shore.
Associated with this plan for the city was the wider project for the construction of new streets and roads and in the frame of this plan the Italians demolished the Ottoman period houses, that were built in and around the city walls, and “restored” the Medieval City to its pre-ottoman status.
The buildings at the Mandraki front are in use even today as city and prefecture public buildings. I have to admit, that nothing has been really done to the city after the Italians handed the islands to the Greeks, besides the construction of unimaginative buildings made of concrete.
I should not be misunderstood though, Rhodos town is a very pleasant medium size city with lots of cafes, restaurants, commercial shops and little green spots where usually a huge ficus tree dominates the place with its grandeur and thick shade.
Italian Colonial Architecture in the Dodecanese
The Italians sought to give a unifying architectural stamp to the Mediterranean and African territories which they occupied in late 19th and early 20th centuries.
They occupied the Dodecanese from 1912 to 1943. At first, they tried a new, pan-Mediterranean, "Rationalist" architecture which, by incorporating different elements of local traditions (Greek, Roman, Venetian, Ottoman, middle eastern & north African Islamic), was intended to give the visible impression of the extent and diversity of the new empire. This gave rise to the period’s greatest and most imaginative buildings. This period corresponds to the period Mario Lago (1924–36) was Governor of the Dodecanese. But it was to prove a short-lived architectural springtime.
After 1936, with the new political Governor, Cesare Maria de Vecchi, (who had formerly been Mussolini’s Minister for Education), and the declaration of the Fascist ‘Imperium’, architecture had to turn to more austere forms following the demands imposed by more authoritarian politics. Some of the earlier buildings were even purged of their decorative elements in a ‘purification’ of the colonial architecture. Such an example is the “Grande Albergo delle Rose”, which ‘purified’ of its decorative details and ‘arabesques’ to reveal a stern, more serious core in unadorned ‘poros’ limestone (the building took a form similar to that of the present day). Fortunately, many more of the early buildings have survived throughout the Dodecanese than the later ‘purified’ ones.
A walk of Italian architectural splendor
Start your Italian architecture walk at the “Therme Park” (in Diakou str.), which was once part of the luxury "Thermae Hotel".
Today the hotel houses part of the “Rhodos College for Hospitality Management”, and its gardens have been converted into a park, the biggest part of which is occupied by a modern complex of restaurants and bars.
Leave the park behind you and walk in Sofokleous Venizelou str. for a couple of blocks till you reach “Akadimias Square” (Πλατεία Ακαδημίας). On the square there are two important buildings of the Italian colonial era: the Men's High School ("Scuola Maschile"), which today houses the «Teachers Training College of Higher Education», and just opposite of it, an eclectic building built in 1928 to house the “ItalianYouth Club” and which today accommodates the "Rhodos Scout Club".
Continue north till you reach the main entrance of the Casino.
Turn left on Kastelorizou street to reach the "Gavriil Charitou Square" (Πλατεία Γαβριήλ Χαρίτου). Around this elongated square, lined with palm trees, there are some excellent samples of “Italian colonial” architecture: namely, what is today a Bank as well the under renovation buildings next to it.
Stand on the long axis of the square and look north to see the "Enidryon" (Aquarium & Museum of Marine Life) framed by two huge modern hotels in the foreground.
The Aquarium is an Art Deco building designed by the Italian architect Armando Bernabiti and it was constructed between 1934 and 1935.
When the Aquarium first started operations in 1937, it was named the "Reale Istituto di Ricerce Biologiche di Rodi" (Royal Biological Research Institute of Rhodos). Research included the hydrology, sponges, and fisheries of the Aegean.
When the island handed back to Greece, after the WWII, the facility was operated as part of the "Hellenic Hydrobiological Institute". Since 1963 it has been known as the "Hydrobiological Station of Rhodes", and is administered by the National Centre of Marine Research. An exhibition area was added to the north side of the building in 1971–72.
In front of the aquarium, there is a huge open space, the “Enidryo Square” (Πλατεία Ενυδρίου). At this point you have a 360 degrees view of the northern tip of the island.
The aquarium is surrounded by sandy beaches. The one on the east side is the famous “Elli beach” (Παραλία Ελλη) and the one on the west is the "Akti Miaouli Beach".
Continue your walk along the Elli beach southwards (towards the city).
From Elli beach you can clearly see the Turkish coast of Asia Minor, while on your right hand you pass by the “Rhodos Casino”, a luxury hotel which opened its doors in 1927 as “Grande Albergo delle Rose”.
The hotel changed hands several times and eventually closed in the mid-70s. The building renovated and opened again in 2002 as a Casino and hotel.
Throughout the years royalty, statesmen and other prominent international figures have walked through the imposing front doors, including Greek prime ministers Eleftherios Venizelos, Konstantinos Karamanlis and Georgios Papandreou, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan.
Its lavish premises have housed events of great historic importance, most significantly the 1948 signing of the foundation of the State of Israel.
Next to the Casino is the Rhodos Tennis Club, just behind which stands the “Mourat Reis Mosque” and its neglected garden and ottoman cemetery. The Murat Reis Mosque is one of the oldest mosques on the island, built less than a year after the Ottoman conquest in 1523.
The mosque was constructed on the site of the Aghios Antonios church next to the cemetery of the Knights. The exterior of the mosque boasts an ornate minaret from which the call to prayer has been heard down through the centuries. The mosque is named after Murat Reis, who is buried in the cemetery within the grounds. One of the Ottoman Empire’s most successful naval commanders, he was also considered by many to be one of the most important Barbary corsairs. For centuries sailors visited his tomb at the mosque seeking good luck at sea. He was later in life relieved of his post by the Ottoman Sultan presumably because of his sarcastic poetry.
It is pity that the surrounding grounds of such an important monument has been left in despair.
The entrance of the mosque and the gardens is on Kountourioti Square.
At the south-west corner of the Ottoman cemetery, behind the Tennis Club stands "Villa Kleobolos", a kiosk-like house, where lived the philhellene and friend of Rhodos poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell for two years (from 20/05/1945 to 10/04/1947) with his future wife Eve Cohen. So for his fans this is a "must visit" place.
Durrell held the post of Information Officer in the British Military Administration of the Dodecanese.
In the spring of 1945, Durrell, ''speechless with gratitude'' upon taking his first swim in the blue Aegean, realized that ''space, light and solitude will have to be rediscovered again here, in all their ramifications.'' ''Reflections on a Marine Venus", Durrell's account of ''two lucky years'' spent on Rhodos, published in 1953, became the first book of postwar Mediterranean travel, and the begining of a series of books, popular songs, colorful movies and tempting travel images from which the Greek tourist boom of the 1960's would emerge.
Continue south till you reach "Kountourioti Square" (Πλατεία Κουντουριώτη), which today is a big open car parking.
The Square (formerly known as the "Piazza 23 Marzo") is surrounded by important buildings.
The "ELLI" structural complex is situated at the Punta della Sabia (known as Kum Burnu under the Ottoman rule), which together with the building of the Rhodes Marine Club (Yaghting Club & swimming pool) and the restaurant next door, delimits the square’s northern boundaries.
Westwards the square is bordered by the Tekke Murat Reis ottoman complex, eastwards by the seafront and southwards by the building housing the administrative services of the Prefecture of the Dodecanese (Palazzo Governale).
ELLI (Έλλη) (originally known as “La Ronda”) was built over the period between 1936 and 1938 on a project believed to have been elaborated by the Italian Architect Armando Bernabiti.
Together with the concrete diving board (trampoline) off the beachfront, it was destined to house a bathing facility and a snack bar.
The complex itself is a statement of eclectic style, typical of the time of its construction albeit featuring several details perfectly harmonized with the “oriental” style. Striking is its voluble design perfectly adjusted to the environing area and the complex’s overall allure, the predominant feature of which is the circular hall (hence the original name of “La Ronda”), endowed with spacious arched window doors under a vaulted roof dotted with a multitude of small, lozenge-form skylights.
ELLI has come down in history as the most impressive example of bathing facilities. The ground floor was meant to be used for storage of canoes, boats and relevant gear as well as hosting a kitchen and a cloth-press, the whole connected to the upper floor through an internal staircase; the premises on both the ground floor and the upper floor of the northern wing harbored the lockers.
Upon the Dodecanese’s annexation to Greece, the main building was converted to an officer’s club for the crew of USS “COURIER” aboard of which “Voice of America (VOA)” used to broadcast. That was how for the first time the upper floor was cut off the ground floor premises. Later on, the upper floor hosted various night clubs, dancing venues, bars etc.
In 1987, the complex was formally classified as a protected heritage monument by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.
Today, Elli houses a restaurant, a bar, a beach snack bar and a disco Club. The building next to Elli houses a fish tavern, and the Yaghting Club buliding accomodates a Beach lounge cafe and restaurant.
To the south of Kountourioti Square you see the short side of a long building housing the administrative services of the Prefecture of the Dodecanese. The entrance of the building is on the “Eleftherias Square” (former "Piazza dell' Impero" and "Piazza Balbo"), which is surrounded by three important buildings of the fascist period designed by architect Armando Bernabiti: namely,
a) National Theater,
b) City Hall, and
c) Police Headquarters.
With Armando Bernabiti, there is a transition to a new generation of buildings in the late 1930s: purer, undecorated, and in every way more minimal and more consonant with the politics of the repressive Governorship of Cesare Maria de Vecchi.
The simplicity is recognizable already in his early (1934) Aquarium building; but his later creations (the Puccini Theatre, the Town Hall, and the church of San Francisco) tend ineluctably toward the military in spirit. It was in this later period that a number of di Fausto’s earlier buildings "renovated" to a new austere form.
a) The National Theater.
The building on the north side of the square is the “National Theater”, originally the “Teatro Puccini”, built in 1937.
The massive theater had its big moments of glory hosting even performances of Italian opera. After the war and the integration of Rhodos to Greece, it continued to function as a theater and cinema in the city.
The National Theatre impresses with its unique architecture, combining the "International style" and the "Italian (fascist) style" architecture. This is expressed by the cubist mood, simplicity and symmetry, lack of any ornamentation, horizontal openings and much more. For this reason, it is one of the most famous examples of the art of “Finta pietra” with glass blocks in Greece.
The main facade of the theater imitates the great Porta Marina (Marine Gate) of the medieval town. The main hall is impressive with great depth and height and can accommodate up to 1,200 guests. It also features a stunning foyer, luxury boxes and a very large balcony.
Today, the National Theater is under major renovations, after years of neglect.
b. The City Hall.
The City Hall dominates Eleftherias Square. This edifice was built between 1936 and 1939 under the De Vecchi government, as the “Casa del Fascio" (Fascist Administration Building).
The building in local stone follows the academic schemes of the fascist architecture. In 1939 three statues of Roman emperors, donated by Mussolini, placed in front of the building. These statues are now exposed in the gardens of the Palace of the Grand Master in the medieval town of Rhodos.
Before the construction of the buildings the Piazza dell' Impero was a racecourse.
The Square is today cluttered with cars.
The Town Hall is well preserved and in its interior one can see original furniture.
The building is accessible to the public and the tourist can grab the atmosphere of an Italian office building of the 40s with lots of shelves, archives, desks, chairs, etc.
On the north side of City Hall Building (1, Efstathiadou str) stands the Municipal Theater “Ροδον”, an open-air theater that stages lots of cultural events during the summer months.
Across the street from Eleftherias Square, imposes the “Palazzo del Governatore”, built in 1927 by Florestano Di Fausto.
The building today houses the offices of the Prefecture of the Dodecanese.
Since located on the beach, the “Palazzo del Governatore” is one of the first images of the city the visitor has, arriving from the sea.
The architecture of Florestano di Fausto was highly eclectic.
It grafted decorative elements from a variety of origins (Moorish domes, Venetian tracery, Gothic arches, and the clear, cuboid volumes of Aegean indigenous buildings) onto the framework of simple geometric forms favored by ‘Rationalist’ architecture.
It alternates in overall effect between a Crusader military purity at one extreme and an Oriental luxury at the other. Its most characteristic and architecturally courageous feature is the ‘sub merged’ arcade (a broad, generally Gothic arch, or series of arches, supported on very low, stunted columns, which give the impression of having sunk into the ground). The effect is not unpleasing, and accentuates breadth and horizontality over the soaring height customarily associated with the Gothic arch.
The origin of this idea lies in the lower arcade, of the "Palazzo Ducale” in Venice; but it is much exaggerated when it reappears in the port-side arcade of “Palazzo del Governatore”.
At the southern most tip of the Palazzo del Governatore you can see the "Church of San Giovanni" (Saint John), built between 1924 and 1925. The church was designed by Di Fausto and Rodolfo Petracco and is a replica of an older, Hospitallers-era church located just opposite the entrance of the Palace in the Old town, which destroyed in 1856.
Currently the church is readapted internally to the Orthodox Faith. The perfectly preserved church, with its characteristic bell tower and its famed sarcophagi of the Great Magistrates, is now the Orthodox Metropolitan "Church of the Annunciation" (Ευαγγελισμός της Θεοτόκου).
Continue south on the main street of Mandraki (7th Martiou str) and on your right hand, just opposite the entrance of Church of the Annunciation, you see the "Main Post Office" (behind the post office are the police headquarters), the "Port Authority Building", and further down the "Courthouse" and the "Bank of Greece".
Between the Bank of Greece and the Courthouse stands the historical “Aktaion” (Ακταίον) cafe.
Aktaion was founded during the Ottoman era as an Officer’s club. The Italians in 1912 renamed the Club in “Circolo d ‘Italia” and it was used again as a Club of Italian Officers and State Senior Officials. They altered the exterior of the building, so it suits the new Italian era.
From 1912 until 1948, all social events took place in the same Aktaion as today. In front of the Italian Club, in the area of Mandraki, parades, musical events, major political, sporting, social and religious events took place, and every Sunday afternoon brides would meet potential suitors and they were then auctioned.
Thousands of young people, children, elders and their families would go there every Sunday to take a walk, eat some ice cream – whilst the young boys would try to catch a hint, a nod or a smile from one of the girls from the villages.
Since 1948, all formal political speeches directed to the public, numerous literary, sporting and social events have been hosted at this historic center of Rhodos.
At the time of Liberation (March 31, 1947) and at the time of the incorporation of the Dodecanese islands with Greece (March 7, 1948), all events were centered and targeted at Aktaion, which is so loved and appreciated by the locals and the visitors.
The tree of the beautiful, large and historic courtyard of Aktaion, is also a historic monument. It is called Ficus Benjamina in Latin and “Syke” or “Mikra” in Greek. It was planted on Liberation Day as a reminder of the 5,000-year-old Hellenic Civilization in the Dodecanese!
The polygonal white building, opposite the moored yachts and sail boats of the marina, is the work of Fausto and served as the fish market of Rhodos until 1990: it has an outdoor central courtyard where the old fish market was located in the giant gazebo with the fish decorations.
The New Market of today is a remnant of the old glorious and spectacular market. It is left in despair by the authorities and most of the shops have been closed or moved to more shopper attractive places.
The Town Authorities are looking for a new investor who will renovate the market and make it the center of the city it used to be.
The two deer, one male and the other female which stand on pillars at the entrance of the Mandraki port (harbor)were built by the Italians and symbolize the “platoni”, a local deer species.
The legend says, that the famous "Colossus of Rhodes", one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was standing at this same position, with his legs spread, so that the boats enter the port by sailing underneath this huge statue.
Between the New Market and the entrance of the Old Town is a shaded park area where, in the summer, street venders sell all kind of souvenirs and local products and portraitists wait to offer their services to the tourists sketching caricatures of them.
In front of this park, there is a taxi station.
And this point (where it has started) ends your long architectural walk of the New Town. What is the best way to finish your long day than having a good dinner at “Therme” (inside the Therme Park)? "Therme" is advertised as the only “food entertainment park” … and it is exactly this.
Under the same roof of a modern building, as well as outside in the park, under the lavish vegetation, there is a Chinese restaurant (288 bar&wok), a sushi bar (Rodos Susgi Sowbar), a meat restaurant, a bakery/café (Swedco Café) and much more.
We dined at the place more than once, as it was very well located (just opposite our hotel), but also because the food is very good, the ambience great and the prices very good.
The platoni deer of Rhodos
For many years the platoni, the little deer of Rhodos, that has been considered an emblem of the island, beautifies its forests and is a part of its tradition. It is one of the few deer species in Europe that has survived until today.
There are many popular stories related to the growth and presence of the deer on the island. Many claim that the platoni came to the island of Rhodos with the arrival of the Crusaders. This theory has been correlated with other historical characteristics of the island. Rhodos is referred to in ancient texts as "Ofiusa" which means "having a lot of snakes". According to this theory the Crusaders, in order to protect their camps from snakes, brought the deer to be used as guards. Even though the deer does not hunt to kill snakes, as many believe, it is said that the antlers of the deer secrete an essence, a smell that annoys and drives snakes away. So, some of these animals which the Crusaders brought, escaped from the camps, hid in the forests and later created the existing population.
However, Rhodos is also referred to in ancient texts as "Elafousa" meaning that in those days it had many deer, which naturally existed on the island before all conquerors.
Archaeological findings that indicate the existence of the deer in the East Aegean, are dated back to the 6th millennium BC.
The Colossus of Rhodes
The "Colossus of Rhodos" was built between 292 and 280 BC. The statue was a depiction of the Greek Titan Helios (The Sun) and was meant to celebrate the Rhodian victory over the Demetrius Poliorketes (Demetrius the Βesieger) who unsuccessfully sieged the city in 305 BC.
At 30 meters high, the Colossus was one of the tallest statues of the ancient world. It only stood for 56 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 BC.
When the would-be conquerors οf Demetrius Poliorketes did not manage to conquer the city, left leaving behind much of their equipment. The Rhodians sold the equipment and used the money to build the Colossus and also used brass and iron from this equipment to build the statue itself.
The architect/sculptor of the Colossus was Chares of Lindos.
The "Statue of Liberty" in NYC has been referred to as the ‘Modern Colossus' and has more or less the same height as the ancient Colossus. "The New Colossus” (1883), a sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903.
Ptolemy III, the king of Egypt, offered to pay for the Colossus' reconstruction, but the Rhodians refused. They believed that God Helios himself was angered by the statue and caused the earthquake that destroyed it. The Rhodians were conquered by the Arabs in the 7th century A.D. The Arabs dismantled what was left of the Colossus and sold it as scrap metal. This is most probably the reason we haven't find any remnants of the statue till today.
The harbor-straddling Colossus was a figment of medieval imaginations based on 14th centure texts noted the local tradition held that "the right foot had stood on land and the other in the sea". Many later illustrations show the statue with one foot on either side of the harbor mouth with ships passing under it. References to this conception are also found in literary works (e.g. Shakespeare's “Julius Caesar”).
While these fanciful images feed the misconception, the mechanics reveal that the Colossus could not have straddled the harbor as described above.
If the completed statue had straddled the harbor, the entire mouth of the harbor would have been effectively closed during the construction, and the ancient Rhodians did not have the means to dredge and re-open the harbor after construction. Even neglecting these objections, the statue was made of bronze, and engineering analyses indicate that it could not have been built with its legs apart without collapsing from its own weight.
While scholars generally agree that anecdotal depictions of the Colossus straddling the harbor's entry point have no historic or scientific basis, the statue's actual location remains a matter of debate. Some postulate that the Colossus was not located in the harbor area at all, but rather was part of the “Acropolis of Rhodes”, which stood on a hill that overlooks the port area. Others believe that the statue was standing further south, outside the “Marine Gate” of the Medieval Town, or at the mouth of “Kolona-Fishing Harbor”.
The "Old Town" is what we also call the "Medieval Town" (a rather misleading term, since the town is much older than the Middle Ages).
The visitor should not be deluded by the term "Medieval Town" into thinking that what he will see is a ruined and deserted city, such as Mystras in the Peloponnese. The Old Town of Rhodos is a bustling community of 5-6 thousands of residents, who live and work in the same buildings in which the Knights and the Ottomans lived. This makes the Old Town a living monument, which is most probably unique in the world. This feature is what really amazes the visitor.
The Old Town continues today to be "divided" into the two parts which made it up in the time of the Knights: the northern part, the "Kollakio", which was the internal fortress of the Knights, and which contained the official buildings; and the larger southern part, called the “Chora”, where the Greeks, the Jews and the Europeans who were not members of the Order lived. These two descrete parts of the town were separated by a wall running approximately parallel to the line of Sokratous street.
During the years of Turkish occupation, the Greeks were expelled from the Old Town, which was the exclusive province of Turks and Jews. Greeks were allowed to enter only during daytime.
The cats of Rhodos
Greece is famous for the abundance of stray cats. An all-time classic souvenir from Greece, tourists bring back home, is the calendar with cat and/or kitten photos from Athens or the Greek islands: black cats, white cats, ginger cats, longhaired cats, shorthaired cats, cats of all sizes enjoying their tramp life under the mediterranean sun.
So, in this country we are very much used to see stray cats everywhere. But, the number of cats I show during this trip in Rhodos is just astonishing! Wherever you go, you are surrounded by cats.
I dedicate these pictures to my friend Ioanna, who always complains that during my journeys I do not make pictures of cats to bring back home for her!
The Knights of Rhodos
Having been driven out of the Holy Land, the Hospitaller Knights of Jerusalem, led by the Grand Master Fulk de Villaret, went to Rhodos via Cyprus in 1309, occupying the island for over 200 years before the Turks expelled them.
The Knights built ramparts, churches and a great castle. This legacy of military glory appealed especially to Mussolini, who, in the course of a three-decade Italian occupation, completely restored the Old Town and landscaped it with brilliant gardens.
The italian reconstruction wasn't always accurate, and was sometimes heavy-handed, but no matter. The result is right out of Hollywood: the most spectacular array of Crusader remains in all of the Levant, including four kilometers of robust fortifications, which even today amaze the visitor of its size and advanced military architecture.
The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, was a medieval Christian military order. It was headquartered variously in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on Rhodos, in Malta, and is now headquartered in Rome.
The Hospitallers, dedicated to John the Baptist, founded around 1023 by Gerard Thom to provide care for pilgrims coming to the Holy Land.
After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, the organisation became a religious and military order under its own Papal charter, charged with the care and defense of the Holy Land.
After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, the order sought refuge in the Kingdom of Cyprus. Finding themselves becoming enmeshed in Cypriot politics, they created a plan of acquiring their own temporal domain, selecting Rhodos to be their new home. In 1310, the city of Rhodos surrendered to the knights.
On Rhodos, the Hospitallers (now named the Knights of Rhodos) were forced to become a more militarised force, fighting especially with the Barbary pirates. They withstood two invasions in the 15th century, one by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and another by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1480.
In 1522, an entirely new fierce force arrived under the command of "Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent". Against this force, the Knights had much less men-at-arms and their fortifications. The siege lasted six months, at the end of which the surviving defeated Knights were allowed to withdraw to Sicily.
The fortification of the Old Town
What we most admire today in the Old City is its spectacular fortification.
Notwithstanding what most people think, the town was fortified with big walls long before the Knights arrived on the island.
During the Hellenistic period (late 4th cent. BC), the town of Rhodos was already enclosed in defensive walls which allowed it to withstand the siege of Demetrius Poliorketes, in 305 BC. The earthquake of 226 BC severely damaged the fortifications, but they were soon rebuilt. The Byzantines built a fortress on the highest part of the town (Kollakio).
When the Knights arrived to the island, started continuous works on the fortifications, both to include the new villages in the south of the historical Byzantine town and to update the fortification to the new military defensive techniques after the artillery started to be used as a siege means.
The expansion of the walls was undertaken by Grand Master Antonio Fluvian de Riviere who allowed the town of Rhodos to reach the current area of about 42 hectares. The walls finished in1465. The Byzantine fortifications were demolished leaving just a portion of those of the old fort known at that time as Kollakio.
Today, there are 11 gates to access the Old City. Some of them are ancient, some are modern. The ancient gate of Saint George was closed by the Grand Master d'Aubusson after the siege of 1480 and transformed it into a bastion.
Starting from the Palace of the Grand Master (North-West) and moving anticlockwise, the gates are: Gate d’Amboise, Gate of Saint Athanasios (Saint Francis Gate), Gate of Saint John (Red Gate), Acandia Gate, Gate of Saint Catherine (Windmills Gate), Gate of the Virgin, Marine Gate, Arnaldo Gate, Gate of the Arsenal (Tarsana), Gate of Saint Paul, and Liberty Gate (Eleftherias).
The fortifications also include two bastions: Bastion of Saint George and Bastion of Italy; two towers: Naillac Tower and Windmills tower; and three terreplein: Terrepleins of Spain, of Italy and of England.
In order to better manage the tour of the Old Town, I decided to divide my long walk into three sections. Every one of these sections roughly follows the old Ottoman division of the walled town:
a) Kollakion, which is the northern part of the town, bounded by Sokratous Street to the South. South of Kollakion is the part of the town called Chora and which is divided into two parts the Turkish and the Jewish quarters.
b) The Turkish quarter, which is the south-west part of the town, bounded by Sokratous Street to the north and Perikleous street to the east, and
c) The Jewish quarter, which is the easternmost part of the town. This is the smallest part of the Old Town bounded by Perikleous street to the west and Akti Sachtouri to the north.
PART 1: Kollakion
Enter the walled city from “Eleftherias Gate” (Liberty Gate-Πύλη Ελευθερίας).
The Gate was opened by the Italians in 1924, who portrayed themselves as liberators of the island from the Ottoman rule.
The Gate allows the connection between the Kolona and Mandraki ports (harbors). Although it is a modern gate, it was built respecting the architectural style of the medieval gates.
Having passed the Gate, you find yourself at “Simis Square” from where (on your left) you can take a glimpse of the “Kolona Harbor” ("Fishing Harbor") thru the "Tarsana Gate" (Arsenal Gate-Πύλη Ταρσανά).
This Gate was built during the 14th century by the Grand Master Juan Fernandez de Heredia, whose coat of arms stands on top of the gate. In 1908 the Ottoman administration demolished the side towers to widen the access road to the Kolona Harbor. Today thanks to the direct connection with the Liberty Gate it allows a fast flow of vehicles between the Kolona Harbor and the New Town.
At "Simis square" (which has been turned into an open car parking) you can see the ruins of “Aphrodite’s Temple”, one of the few ancient remains to be found in the Old Town (dating from the 3rd c. BC), and the “Municipal Museum of Modern Greek Art”, on your right hand.
Just behind and on the left of the ruins of the Temple stands neglected the impressive “House of Hasan Bey”.
Continue for some meters (along Apellou str) to see the small but picturesque “Argyrokastrou Square”, opposite of which stands the “Auberge of the Langue of Auvergne”, build in 1507.
Note the outside staircase leading up the front of the building which is a purely Aegean architectural feature, owing nothing to Western influence. The auberge is used today as government offices.
Note: A "langue" (tongue) was an administrative division of the Knights Hospitaller between 1319 and 1798. The term referred to a rough ethno-linguistic division of the geographical distribution of the Order's members and possessions. The headquarters of each langue was known as an "auberge", a French word meaning "inn". Auvergne is aν historic province in south central France with its distinctive variety of the Occitan language (Auvergnat).
Argyrokastrou sq. also boasts one of the oldest buildings in the Castle, the "Armeria", built in the 14th century, probably by Grand Master Roger de Pias.
Its similarities to the Hospital of St John lead scholars to believe that this was the first building used as a Hospital. Later, it was used by the Turks as an armory (armeria). To the left as we look at the Armeria, which today houses the Institute of History and Archaeology, is the "Museum of Folk Art".
Continue, under an arch, and come out in front of the church of “Our Lady of the Castle” (“Panagia tou Kastrou”), which was the Knights' Cathedral.
The original core of the building was probably erected in the 11th century and belonged to the type of cruciform domed temple. This architecture phase is evident to the genesis of some vaults.
After the conquest of Rhodos by the Knights, the Byzantine church was reconstructed and took the form of three-aisled Gothic basilica with transept. The coats of arms of the Grand Master Helion de Villeneuve and Pope John XXII saved in the central pointed arch window.
The east side of the church is adjacent to the sea fortifications and shaped externally in a rectangular tower with battlements. On the west side, above the main entrance door, exists a large rectangular frame, which used to host a (now lost) painting composition of the Virgin Mary among saints and knights.
During the Turkish occupation, the church was converted into a mosque (“Enteroum Mosque”). A minaret and a mihrab were added, while the white-washing of the walls caused the destruction of the wall-paintings. The additions of the Ottoman era were removed during the Italian occupation.
The decoration of the interior is no longer preserved with the exception of some fragmentary parts of the wall-paintings, representing the Holy Mother of God and four other saints. The best preserved among them is the figure of St. Lucia dated to the 14th century.
Since 1988 the church houses an exhibition of Byzantine and post-Byzantine painting, including portable icons of the 17th and 18th centuries and wall-paintings detached from the church of St. Zacharias at Chalki Island (14th century) and from the monastery of the Archangel Michael at Tharri of Rhodos (17th century). The collection also includes a group of architectural members and mosaics of the Early Christian period.
During our visit the church was closed: unfortunately, this is a common situation throughout Greece during the winter months.
Right after the Church is "Mousiou Sq." (Museum sq.), with the “Inn of the Tongue of England” on the left and the “Hospital of St. John” on the right.
The Inn of the Tongue of England is on the corner of the Square and an alley running down to “Arnaldo Gate”, which used to give direct access to the Hospital from the sea. The building was re-constructed in 1919 in its original position and in the same style as the old structure, which dated from 1443 and was destroyed in the mid-19th century. Today the Inn houses the National bank of Greece.
The construction of the “Hospital of Saint John” began in 1440 and was completed in 1489. This huge building today houses the “Archaelogical Museum”.
Visitors enter the building by way of the main entrance on the east side and find themselves in a large interior courtyard surrounded by vaulted porticoes, on the architectural model of the Byzantine inn. In front of the colonnade of the west portico stands a late Hellenistic tombstone in the form of a lion with the head of a bull between its front paws. The museum houses interesting collections not only from the island of Rhodos, but also from neighboring islands.
The “Street of the Knights” ("Odos Ippoton") is one of the most famous landmark in Rhodos. It is a 300 meters (more or less) long, well preserved cobble paved street. Following an almost exact east to west direction, uses part of an ancient straight road that connected the port with the Acropolis of Rhodos. The street is slightly uphill, fully reconstructed by the Italians and connects the “Palace of the Grand Master” (also known as Castello), with the former hospital of Saint John.
Along the street, seven (five to be precise, since the “Auberge of the Langue of Auvergne” and the "Auberge of the Langue of England" are located elsewhere, as we have already seen) imposing "inns" (auberges) where constructed during the Knights era, representing the seven countries and languages (tongues), that the Knights of the Order of St John were originated from: Auvergne, Provence, France, Aragon (Spain), Germany, England and Italy.
Each facade is decorated with emblems and details that reflect the respective country. Most of the Grand Masters were French, so their influence on the architecture was considerable. Stonemasons and craftsmen were for the most part Greek but workers from France and Spain were also brought here. The Italians in 1916 carried extended renovations and removed all Ottoman architectural elements (e.g. wooden balconies) to give to the street the 15th century style, which we see today.
Judging by descriptions, the inns were used for the meetings of the members of a langue, a kind of a club. The knights could meet each other there, have dinner together and discuss their daily affairs.
They did not live in the inns, but noble travelers, pilgrims or refugees could stay there. These guests were usually settled according to their nationality, with the French staying at the inn of France and so on.
As you enter the "Street of the Knights", the first building on your left is the north side of the Hospital. To the right, a medieval building houses the Tourist Information Office. This is followed by another building and next to that is a small palace ("Mikro Palati") bearing the coats-of-arms of the French Masters Aimerie d' Amboise and Villiers d' Isle Adam. Although it cannot be verified with any certainty, it seems that this was the residence of Villiers, the Master who defended Rhodos during the Turkish siege in 1522 and was entrusted with the grim duty of handing over the city to the Turks.
Opposite of the small palace is the original main entrance to the Hospital. After this, behind an iron gate, is a shady garden with a Turkish fountain, the running water of which is the only sound to break the complete silence that reigns in the garden. The Catalan and Aragonese style of a gateway which has survived among the ruins indicates that the building which stood there could be Spanish.
Almost opposite the garden stands the finest, with no doubt, and largest of all inns, the “Auberge de France” which was built between 1492 and 1503.
The Façade is decorated with several coats of arms of the different masters or dignitaries. The gargoyles on the roof of the building resemble crocodiles: the story goes that the Grand Master Dieudonne de Gozon killed a crocodile which escaped from an Egyptian ship moored at the port and was terrifying the inhabitants of the island.
The Inn was bought in 1911 by France’s ambassador to Turkey, Maurice Bombard, who restored it at his own expense and donated it to the State of France.
The Inn today houses the Consulate of France. If you find it open, visit the exhibitions on the 1st floor and the gardens of this beautiful mansion.
Next to the “Auberge de France” stands the "Church of the Holy Trinity" ("Aghia Triada") with a statue of the Virgin and Child in a niche of its facade. This single-nave chapel, which according to written sources, was dedicated to St. Michael, was built sometime between 1360 and 1380.
The prevalence of the Coat of Arms of the Tongue of England is one of several features suggesting that this church used to pertain the order of the English Knights. During the 15th c. it seems to have been transferred to the tongue of France. Also visible on the marble frontispiece at the church’s entrance are the blazons of two of the most prominent Grand Masters in the history of the Order of St. John, namely Hélion de Villeneuve and Dieudonné de Gozon, along with the coat of arms of the Order.
The name given to this church today was inspired by the Holy Trinity frescoes decorating its interior. There have been more than one attempts over time, to interpret the absence of the depiction of the Holy Spirit from such frescoes. These frescoes are estimated to have been created sometime between late 15th and early 16th century.
The dome is also a later addition, assumedly during the Ottoman rule, at a time when the chapel was used as a mosque, under the name of Khan Zade Mescidi.
Shortly after these buildings, which are the last two inns in the "Odos Ippoton", a large Gothic loggia provides a monumental end to the street.
This is the “Saint John Lodge”, which connected the church of "St. John" to the "Palace of the Grand Master". The loggia rebuilt by the Italians.
The church of "St. John", which was built in the early 14th century, was the official church of the Order. After the Ottoman occupation of the island, it was converted into a mosque and was in use till the explosion of 1856, which was caused most probably by a bolt of lightning that struck the minaret and ignited the gunpowder stored in its cellars. The explosion destroyed the church, the loggia and part of the abandoned Palace. I do not know why the Italians did not rebuilt it, as they did with the loggia and the Palace. Instead, they built a replica of it at Mandraki port, which is today the "Church of the Annunciation".
The "Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights" (also called Castello), built at the highest point of the Old Town.
The volumes of the Palace dominate the city and its harbors. It is a strong structure, indissolubly linked with the fortifications, and played an active role in the defense of the city, forming the last refuge of the population in the event of the city attacked by the enemy.
The Palace is a roughly square building designed around a large courtyard. Built at the end of the 7th c., to act as the citadel of the early Byzantine fortress, it continued to play this role throughout the Byzantine period and the period of the Knights.
The building was modified when the Knights established themselves on the island: from the first quarter of the 14th c. the Knights began to repair the Byzantine citadel and convert it into the residence of the Grand Master and administrative center of their state.
During the first years of their occupation, the Ottomans used the Palace as a prison, after which it was allowed to fall into ruin, and finally damaged to a big extend by the explosion which wrecked St. John's Church.
The main entrance is in the south facade, flanked by two imposing cylindrical towers. The west facade is pierced by a gate, in front of which rises a tall, square tower (overlooking the Gate d'Amboise).
On the north side there are underground rooms that served as storerooms; and it was probably in these that the civilian population took refuge in the event of an enemy attack. The ground floor was occupied by small and large vaulted rooms, set around the square courtyard, which were used as secondary rooms.
During the Italian rule of Rhodos, the Italian architect Vittorio Mesturino restored the damaged parts of the palace between 1937 and 1940.
On the first floor were various official rooms, such as the Great Council Chamber and the dining room, as well as the private quarters of the Grand Master, which were commonly known as Margaritae.
During the period of Italian rule, a chapel was built to the right of the monumental marble staircase leading up to the first floor. In it, erected a bronze statue of Saint Nicholas, a copy of the work of that name by Donatello, in Bari. Floor mosaics of late Hellenistic, Roman and Early Christian times have been laid in many of the rooms on the first floor, most of them taken from buildings of Kos island.
There is a lot of controversy around the Italian restoration and how much arbitrary that was. But, one must have in mind that the palace was restored to serve as a holiday residence for the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, and the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. None of them enjoyed the beautifully furnished rooms though, because, soon after the complation of the restorations, WW II began and eventually, in 1948, Rhodos and the rest of the Dodecanese were transferred to Greece.
The palace was then converted to a museum, and is today visited by the millions of tourists that visit Rhodos. The entrance to the building costs 3 euros, but keep in mind that the 1st floor is not accessible by people with mobility difficulties.
The locals still remember the famous 1988 Palace party that gave (for the other leaders of the EEC) the Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, when Greece held the rotating presidency of the European Economic Community. Those were the days!
As you leave the Palace, Kleovoulou Square (Πλατεία Κλεόβουλου) lies to your right, and beyond this, after passing under an arcade, you enter a wide street with tall trees and gardens.
This is Orpheos street, a street full of restaurants. The restaurants in Orpheus str. cater mainly for the tourists. Only one of the restaurants was open during our winter visit: Venus Restaurant (Αφροδίτη), just opposite the Clock tower.
The most famous restaurant in the area is the “Mama Sofia”, overlooking the Mosque of Süleyman. Mama Sofia with her Husband Sotiris (today, together with their sons and their grandchildren) has been feeding travelers quality Greek cuisine since 1967. The presentation and homely service is first class.
To the northern end of Orpheus street stands the "Gate of St. Anthony".
After passing through St Antony’s Gate, there is an elevated wide alley lined with big plane trees, where during the summer months artists draw caricatures of tourists. This alley leads to two smaller gates and after those you see the impressive "Gate d'Amboise".
St Anthony's Gate was the old western gate of Rhodos, but with the redesign of the walls it became part of the "Gate d'Amboise's complex", which comprises four gates.
D’Amboise Gate is definitely one of the most remarkable gates, from a military perspective, in the medieval town of Rhodos. It was built by Grand Master Emery D’Amboise in 1512. The gate was fortified with two impressive round towers to protect the city from the Ottomans.
Even if the enemies did manage to enter this gate, they still couldn’t access the town. Knights modified the wall's structure so that there were three more gates (the last one of which is St Antony’s Gate) to pass in order to enter the town. This system of gates, the Ottomans call Egri Kapi (Twisted Gate).
If you turn the other way down Orpheos street, you will come to the "Clock Tower", also known as the "Damat Pasha Tower".
The tower has had its present form since the times of Fechti Pasha, who commissioned its construction in 1857. Still, historical research has revealed that a tower had already stood on this site since the 7th century AD, built under the Byzantine rule and having served as a watchtower. At the time of the Knights, another tower was constructed, only to be reinstated by the Ottomans, in the wake of the 1851 earthquake, until a new crumbling occurred, this time in 1856, as a consequence of the explosion in the forgotten powder magazine underneath the Church of St. John of the Kollakio.
The best panoramic view of Rhodes is found at the top of this stunning clock-tower. The tower was closed during our winter visit, but in the summer, the entrance fee includes one free drink on the attractive terrace below.
From here, a wall ran downhill (parallel to the Street of the Knights, following roughly what is today Theofiliskou, Agisandrou and Protogenous streets) to the point at which it met the outer walls near the harbor. Almost none of this section of the inner wall, separating Kollakion from Chora, has survived.
We are now at the top of Sokratous street, the 'lug bazaar', as the Turks used to call it.
Sokratous street is the main commercial street of the Old Town and runs downhill to Hippocratous Square and the Marine Gate.
Today, the street is full of jewelry, clothes, leather and tacky souvenir shops. During the summer months it is packed with tourists and the hectic atmosphere prevents you from paying attention to the arbitrary add-ons to the old buildings. When we visited, there were just cats on the streets and the only noises we could hear were sporadic bangs and drills made by people refurbishing their shops to get them ready for the summer season.
Next to the Clock Tower is the "Mosque of Suleiman" (Suleymaniye Mosque), standing in a beautiful courtyard.
The present edifice was built in 1808 and replaced the first mosque built in the Town of Rhodos, which erected in honor of the conqueror of Rhodes (Suleiman the Magnificent).
The building is distinguished by its rose-pink plaster and the blue pillars of the porch. The pillars of the outer arcade belonged to the Christian church of Holy Apostles. It continues to operate as a mosque, today.
The "Muslim Library", founded by Hafiz Ahmed Agha in 1794, is just opposite the Mosque of Suleiman. Presently, there are 1256 manuscripts in the possession of the library in the Turkish, Arab and Persian languages.
Among the most valuables exhibits is a 1540 beautifully illustrated copy of the Quran, a 1522 chronicle of the Turkish siege of the city, and several manuscripts with Persian miniatures. On the walls hang old maps and engravings of the town.
PART 2: The Turkish Quarter
From the Muslim library head south. Ippodamou street, which is the street that ends to the “Gate of St. Athanasios”, takes you straight into the heart of the old Turkish Quarter of Chora (or “Chorio” or “Burgo”), that has lost almost nothing of its medieval color.
The alleys and the houses of the Turkish quarter are very much as they were in the time of the Knights. The arches, beneath which the road passes every now and then, were added by the Turks to provide protection against earthquakes, a rather often phenomenon in this part of the Aegean. To the right of the street you see the “Church of St. Paraskevi” (Ναός Αγίας Παρασκευής), which is one of the most sizeable churges in old town. The church was built in the late 15th c. and later, during the years of the Turkish rule, converted to a mosque (“Takkeci Cami”).
The first street to the left, just after the church, is Archelaou street, which leads to Arionos square.
The square (and the streets around it) is full of bars and restaurants, which were all closed during our visit.
The “Sultan Mustafa Mosque” is situated on the south of the square, within steps from the “Public Baths” (Yeni Hamam). The Mosque is an ochre colored building, which continuous to function as a mosque and actually is the site for the celebration of weddings amongst members of the island’s Muslim community. The name and the year of construction of the building are provided by the inscription featured above the main entrance, reading “Benefactor Sultan Mustafa the III, son of the Victorious Sultan Ahmed, son of the Victorious Mehmet, 1178” (that is 1764 under the Christian calendar).
The Turkish Public Baths (hamam), which were erected in the 16th century, were operational until recently. Their construction was developed in two stages, with an addition for female bathers built in the 18th century. The ottoman name under which the premises have always been known in Rhodos, “Yeni Hamam” means “New Baths”, although no other facility of similar use have been known to have existed within the Medieval Town of Rhodos.
The old Turkish custom says that when a couple was to get married, on the Friday before the wedding (which took place on Sunday) all the relatives and friends of the couple were provided with tickets for the baths, so that all could prepare themselves in a comrade atmosphere (with the two sexes separate, of course) for the ceremony to come.
Continue to the lane that runs down from Arionos sq. between the mosque and the baths to the outdoor "Theater of the Old City" (Folk Dances Theater), where performances of folk dancing were taking place during the summer months.
Today, the place is shut down and thick vegetation has covered everything.
At the entrance of the folk dance theater turn right and continue south. Pass between the churches of “St. Nikolas” and “St. Vernardos” and follow Omirou street till you reach the “Chruch of St.Athanasios” (Ναός Αγίου Αθανασίου) and the fortifications of the Gate bearing the same name.
Although the architectural features and the blazons embedded in various parts of the construction (namely those of the Order of St. John and of Grand Master Fabrizio del Carretto) suggest the St. Athanasios church to be dating from the 16th century, there is historic evidence of the existence of an even earlier church on this very site.
During the Ottoman rule, the church was converted into a mosque under the name of “Babi Mesdud”, meaning “the Mosque of the Closed Gate”.
The “Gate of Saint Atnanasios” is a gate elaborated with two towers: the "Tower of St.Mary" and the "Tower of St. Athanasios" and located between the "Terreplein of Spain" and the "Terreplein of England".
The Gate of Saint Athanasios was built between 1441 and 1442. It is also known to locals as "Saint Francis Gate" since the "church of Saint Francis of Assisi", built by the Italians, is located outside the gate.
The round tower of "Saint Mary" that controlled the entrance to the gate was built in 1441 by the Grand Master Jean de Lastic.
According to Turkish narrative the troops of the conqueror Suleiman the Magnificent entered Rhodos through this gate.
The gate was closed by the sultan who wished to avoid that any other conqueror could pass after him.
It was re-opened by the Italians in 1922 during the 400th anniversary of the conquest of Rhodos by the Ottomans.
At this point, you can divert from your tour in the Old Town and exit from Saint Athanasios Gate to visit “St Francis (of Assisi) Church”
Launched in 1936, under the Italian rule of the island, construction works on this church were brought to completion three years later. It continues to this day to function as the official parish church of the Roman Catholic Church of Rhodos.
One of the features worth noting about this church is the larger-than-life statue of St. Francis, standing in the outside area of the church as well as the recently refurbished belfry, from the top of which the views over the city and beyond are simply stunning.
The church of St. Francis has also made a reputation for its excellent acoustics, hence its frequent hosting of Sacred Music events.
Back inside the walled city. Take the street by the side of St. Athanasios church which continues behind it and walk along the walls till you reach Agiou Fanouriou str. Agiou Fanouriou str. is one of the most picturesque streets in the Old Town.
Continue on the same street till you reach the church bearing the same name, the small Byzantine"Church of St. Fanourios"(patron saint of those searching for lost persons or things). The Turks used the church first as stables and later as a mosque (“Peyal Mescit Cami”). Some fine wall-paintings have been preserved under the Turkish plaster on the walls.
Pass by the church and turn right at Akousilaou str. and into Dorieos square.
The square is dominated by the abandoned “Redzep Pasha Mosque”. This mosque was built in 1588 (as the inscripton right above its entrance suggests), using materials from Byzantine and Order times, and was, in its days, the finest mosque on the island.
Its ablution fountain stands in front of it, and behind, in an archway with a vaulted roof, is the sarcophagus of Redzep Pasha himself.
The Redzep Pasha mosque is not the most interesting feature of the square.
After having walked long in a deserted, rainy city with no open cafés or restaurants, the sound of 70s songs filling the square made us wonder if we were dreaming…. what we were experiencing was an acoustic “mirage”?
We decided to trace the source of the music, you know by moving our ears back and forth, just like dogs do, and we realized it was coming from a multicolored restaurant/bar called “The Walk Inn”.
To tell you the truth, we did not have great expectations. Besides, till that time we believed it was our destiny to have no food at all that day!
We entered a semi-dark small room with 4-5 tables, pictures of pop-stars hanging on the walls and several cats strolling around. An old man was sitting at the bar having a beer and a short, restless, young man was moving behind the bar. There was only one other couple sitting at the darkest corner of the room, having lunch.
We ordered burgers (we were also offered the choice of having pizza) at the price of 6 euros each! The low price made us suspicious, so you cannot imagine our delight when the burgers arrived and we had the first bite. Just superb.
After I finished my food I explored the place a bit: there is a beautiful, multicolored yard with funky wall paintings and a summer semi-transparent tent made of cane, next to the main room/bar. From the pictures hanging here and there, one could understand that the place is very popular during summer months and that there is also live music on site. If we had more time, we would certainly come back to this joyfull restaurant.
Happy, content and with full stomach, take Omirou street passing just south of the “Redzep Pasha Mosque” and head east toward the “Gate of Saint John” (“Red Gate”) and then further north-east, via Arch. Efthimiou and Nikis Streets, to an open space (Leonidou Rodiou Square), in the middle of which stands a very interesting Byzantine church.
This is the late 15th century church of the “Holy Trinity” (Ναός Αγίας Τριάδας), better known by its Turkish name of “Dolapli Cami”. Some of the original frescoes that once decorated its interior have been preserved – namely, sections of Ezekiel prophetic vision, the Society of Disciples, the Co-Officiating Fathers of the Church, the Ascension, the ecstasy of St. Peter of Alexandria, the Sacrifice of Abraham, scenes from the life of Jesus, His Crucifixion, Genesis, the Second Coming, etc.
Walk east along Triptolemou street and then north along Tavriskou street to the heart of the Jewish Quarter (La Juderia) and the Synagogue. The Sephardic “Kahal Shalom Synagogue” (or "Beit HaKnesset Kahal Kadosh Shalom", meaning Synagogue of the Holy Congregation of Peace), which is the oldest synagogue in Greece today.
There has been a Jewish presence in Rhodos for thousands of years. They were, at times, persecuted by Romans, the Knights, and other rulers of the islands.
During Ottoman rule, however, the Jews of Rhodos prospered, and many expelled Sephardim (from Spain) settled on the island, particularly in the city of Rhodos, where they built many synagogues. The Kahal Shalom Synagogue was constructed in 1577 and has been in use ever since. The synagogue and its worshipers prospered under Ottoman rule into the twentieth century.
However, the Kingdom of Italy took over the Dodecanese Islands in 1912, and large numbers of the Jews of Rhodos begun to emigrate during the 1930s, as they felt menaced by the Fascist Italian regime. When the Italian Fascist government fell, the Island came under direct German control in 1943, and more than 1,550 of the remaining 1,700 Jews were deported and met their deaths in concentration camps, largely putting an end to the use of Kahal Shalom.
Kahal Shalom was the only of the four synagogues in "La Juderia" at the time to survive the bombing during the WWII. Today, Kahal Shalom is only used for services during the summer, when there is an influx of Jewish tourists and as the headquarters for the "Jewish Museum of Rhodes".
Continue north till you reach the Evreon Martyron str. (Pindarou str.); then turn right and walk till the “Church of Agios Panteleimonas”, which is adjacent to the outer fortification walls close to “Gate of Saint Catherine”.
This Christian Orthodox church is still functional as a parish church. In its prime version, it used to be a single-nave construction, later enriched with a series of additions that gave it its actual shape. The church was somehow spared the havoc of air raids during WWII, unlike the best part of the Jewish Quarter which turned into rubbles.
Decorative features throughout and about the church suggest that it was built sometime in the 15th century. Interestingly, this is one of those very few exceptions of Christian places of cult not converted into mosques during the years of the Ottoman rule.
The dedication of the church to St. Panteleimon has been historically corroborated by the decision of the Order to have two churches erected in this area, in commemoration of the successful deterrence of the first Ottoman siege, lifted on the name day of St. Panteleimon. Part of that resolution was that the other church would be that of Panagia tis Nikis (Our Lady of the Victory).
Due to the heavily bombing, there are still undeveloped open spaces in the area, where archaeological excavations revealed Hellenistic and Byzantine buildings and part of the ancient port.
The beautifully restored “Knights Hospice of St. Catherine” dominates the area.
The Hospice is a two-storey guesthouse built in 1391-92, under Grand master Heredia, by the Italian Domenico d’Allemagna, admiral of the Order. The Hospice, exclusively intended for eminent guests of the Order, was already in use in 1394 when traveler Niccole di Martoni described it as “beautiful and splendid, with many handsome rooms containing many and good beds”.
The building was apparently destroyed in the siege of 1480 and the earthquake of 1481. Its rebuilding, as testified by the heraldry on the west façade, was completed in 1516.
In 1944 the east part of Hospice was destroyed by Allied bombing, along with many other buildings in the heart of the Jewish quarter.
In the following years, the surviving part stood forlorn in the deserted neighborhood. It was occupied by poor immigrants from neighboring islands until 1986, in slum conditions.
The monument restored in the years 1989-1997 by the Ministry of Culture.
You can enter the building (free of charge) during the summer months.
You turn back to the Evreon Martyron street and walk westwards, pass under two arcades and by many souvenir shops (all closed during our visit) to reach the remains of the 14th century Gothic church of "The Virgin of the Burgh" (Our Lady of the City - Saint Marie du Burg). The church was the largest Catholic church in Rhodos (30 meters by 18).
Built sometime during the rule of the Grand Master Villeneuve (1319-1346), the construction was later, during the Knights era, to be endowed with six chapels and some seven vaulted tombs, encrusted within the northern wall of the church. During the Italian rule, restoration works were launched, freeing the original site, through the expropriation and razing of various homes allowed therein in the previous century.
The church bombed during the WWII and only parts of it remains. Restoration works on this picturesque site are still under way whilst musical events have been hosted on these premises.
Just opposite the "The Virgin of the Burgh" you can take a glimpse of the port thru the “Gate of the Virgin”, namely the two towers standing at its entrance: Naillac and Windmills towers.
This Gate is a modern gate, envisaged in the town master plan by the Italian administration to allow vehicle traffic, but opened only in 1955 by the Greek administration.
Continue your walk towards the same direction and after some meters you arrive at the “Square of the Hebrew Martyrs” (Platia Evreon Martiron), with its attractive little fountain, decorated with rows of shells, starfish, octopuses and other sea creatures, set on blue tiles and coronated by three large metallic sea-horses.
The square named in the memory of the approximately 2000 Jews, who were assembled here before being shipped to Nazi concentration camps, from which only a very few of them ever returned.
The square and the surrounding streets are full of shops and restaurants during high season.
The building whose front is on the north side of the square is the “Palace of the Admirals” or "Admiralty", dating from the 15th century. The construction time has been suggested on the basis of a reference by Rottiers, a famous traveler of his time, who did mention the presence of a blazon (still seen today) of Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson at the terrace of the inner courtyard of this palace.
Although the premises still called the “Admiralty”, a series of recent findings seem to overturn such original assumption, suggesting instead that the building had been the residence of the Greek Orthodox Bishop before the Turkish occupation. Although spaced in time and nature, restoration works about this building, launched already at the time of the Italian rule, continue to this day whereas certain areas within the construction are used as storage rooms for parts of the island’s History Archive.
Continue west, on Aristotelous street, for a couple of blocks and you find yourself in what is most probably the prettiest and most spectacular square of the Old Town: “Ippokratous Square”.
In the center of the square stands an ornamental fountain with a characteristic sculpture of an owl on the top of it.
Ippokratous Square is one of the busiest and much photographed spots in the Medieval Town and a reference point for both visitors and locals, who entertain themselves in the abundance of its restaurants, cafes, bars and other shops.
The fountain along with a grand staircase at the east side of the square, is the only remaining evidence of the "Castellania", an important building constructed by the Knights in the 14th c. as a commercial center. The ground floor was used for transactions between traders, and the upper floor for the court where their disputes were tried. Later, the building converted by the Turks into a fish market, with a mosque on the upper floor.
Just opposite Castellania stands the “Chadrevan Cami” mosque ("Fountain Mosque").
The "Castellania Library" (today, The central Public Library), which is a treasure trove of ancient books and documents is housed in Epavlis Mansion (at the beginning of Aristotelous street) and features a music department and exhibition space along with the library tomes.
It is also at Ippokratous Square that Sokratous Street, one of the most popular commercial streets on the island, begins.
The inscription featured above the mosque's main entrance bears witness to the date of its construction in 1540, which makes it one of the earliest Muslim monuments in the Medieval Town of Rhodos. “This new and handsome mosque, on Hejaz street, was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman, son of Sultan Selim the Victor. May God protect him from all evil. May all those entering the site be safe. Hegira year 947”.
Two porches, succeeded by a 12 square meters hall constitute the area of worship. The building’s interior, austere and unpretentious in its decoration, contrasts the general trend for flamboyance of Muslim monuments, hence its approximation to the style adopted for “Reçep Pasha Mosque” (the latter being, nevertheless, off limits to visitors of the Medieval City). The minaret had over the centuries suffered serious decay, until the ‘30s, where restoration works were commissioned under the Italian rule.
Turn back at Ippokratous Square and, after walking a few meters north, get out of the Old Town via the "Marine Gate" ("Harbor Gate"), which is flanked by two tall cylindrical bastions.
This Gate is perhaps the most spectacular of all the gates to the castle, and that’s not a surprise: this gate is what the visitors (coming from the sea) would firstly see arriving at the Harbor, and they should be impressed and overwhelmed by its splendor.
As can be seen from engravings of past centuries, the sea used to run up to a point directly beneath the gate.
Marine Gate was constructed in 1478, under the auspices of Grand Master Pierre d’ Aubusson, in what is a series of deliberate resemblances to the main Gate to the town of Villeneuve- lès-Avignon, built two centuries earlier.
On the front side of the Gate there are featured in relief the effigies of the Virgin holding the Holy Infant, St. John the Baptist and St. Peter. Also featured are the coats of arms of France, of the Order of St. John as well as the blazon of the House of d’Aubusson. Moreover, a heavily worn inscription may still be seen, acknowledging Grand Master d’Aubusson for the commissioning of this Gate, in 1478. On the inner side of the Gate there may be seen yet another inscription and the effigy of an Angel brandishing the coats of arms of the Order as well as of the House of d’Aubusson.
The interior of the towers is structured in three levels of vaulted halls. There are two halls of different sizes on the lower level, two hexagonal halls on the middle level and two rectangular halls on the third level of each tower. On top of each one of such towers there used to stand the defense module, featuring a sequence of machicolations (devices through which burning oil used to pour down to the assailants at the level of the Gate), providing coverage for both the outer and the inner side of the Gate. During the Italian rule, the entire port structure developed by the Ottomans was eliminated.
You are now outside the walls, at Akti Sachtouri. Start walking north, along the sea front, to admire the high walls on your left and the fishing boats on your right.
From this point you have a full view of the Kolona Port and the two towers: the "Tower of France" (Tower of the Windmills) to the east and the "Tower of Naillac" to the north-east.
Pass outside the "Arnaldo Gate" and the "Gate of the Arsenal" and finally enter (from its port entrance) to the “Saint Paul Gate”.
This Gate was built in the second half of the 15th century to allow the direct access to the Kolona Port from the north, without having firstly to enter into the city.
The Gate of Saint Paul was almost completely demolished during WWII and was rebuilt together with Marine Gate in 1951.
The "Saint Paul (the Apostle) Gate" connects the Mandraki and Kolona Ports, bypassing the Old Town.
A semi-cylindrical tower in the inner part of walls bears a marble sculpture of the coats of arms of the House of Grand Master d’Aubusson right next to those of the Order and Pope Sixtus IV. Right above theese coats of arms appears the effigy of Paul the Apostle.
A common feature amongst this Gate, the Agios Athanasios Gate and the d’Amboise Gate is the drawbridge, which could move up and down through a system of beams and counterweights.
You pass through the gate and exit from the front entrance which is almost adjacent to "Liberty Gate".
This is where your long walk in the Old Town started and here it ends.
You must feel tired and hungry after all this walking. You need a cozy place to relax and enjoy a nice meal.
The best choice you have for dinning in the area is the “Auvergne” Café/restaurant.
Auvergne is a very atmospheric place in the walled city, just next to the “Lady of the Castle” church. Its wonderful garden has a very tall and old tree in the middle of it. It is the ideal place for relaxing during days or nights, and the place to enjoy either your coffee and drinks or your lunch and dinner.
We were really tired and wet from the rain when we arrived at the restaurant. The garden was covered for winter and it was warm and cozy. The Christmas decorations gave to the place that happy mood of the festive days.
We ordered a Caesar’s salad with avocado as a starter and then “chicken with pesto & cherry tomatoes” and "pork fillet in wine sauce". The portions were huge and the prices very reasonable.
The last day on the island we decided to take it easy. We did lots of walking the previous two days and we needed some relax.
So, we decided to visit two places outside the town: the "Acropolis of Rhodos" (which is actually in the Town of Rhodos) and "Kalithea Springs".
For both little escapes we used a taxi. There were buses available, but since it was winter and New Year’s Eve, buses did not run often.
The Acropolis of Rhodos
The Acropolis of Rhodos is located just west of the Old Town and only 3 kilometers from the center of New Town and our hotel.
The taxi took us at the west part of the archeological site, which is the highest point of the area, for 4 euros. The idea was to start walking through the archeological site from the highest point to its lower part and continue walking towards the city.
Moreover, the residential area between the Acropolis and the Old Town walls (St Athanasios Gate) is nice and there are several beautiful old houses and mansions, which survived the chaotic development of the island, to admire.
It was a very beautiful, sunny and bright morning when we visited. Lush vegetation covered the fields around the buildings. Sheep were grazing among olive trees. Greece at its best.
Note: I should mention our taxi driver, who was very kind and on our way to the archeological site told us interesting things about the area and not just about the area. He left us on site, but after we walked back to Town and we looked again for a taxi to drive us to Kalithea, by coincidence it was the same driver whom we picked up. He was so kind to wait for us, while we strolled around Kalithea Springs, to take us back. He even detoured on our way back (at no extra cost) to show us around.
The "Acropolis of Rhodos" is an acropolis dating from the Classical Greek and Hellinistic period (5th–2nd century BC). It was not fortified like most ancient acropoleis.
The Acropolis consisted of a monumental zone with Sanctuaries, large temples, public buildings and underground cult places. The buildings were built on stepped terraces supported by strong retaining walls. It was "full of fields and groves", in the words of the 2nd c. AD orator Ailios Aristides.
Today, the reconstructed part of the site consists mainly of the "Temple of Apollo", below which is a "Stadium" and an "Odeon" (small theatre). There are other buildings in the area, but are less “impressive” and tourists usually sidestep them.
All these stand in a large and well-maintained park, called "Monte Smith", named after the English admiral William Sidney Smith. During the Italian occupation of the island, the area (hill) used to called "Monte San Stefano".
The original excavation was carried on by the Italian School of Archaeology from 1912-1945.
Following WWII, the Greek Archaeological Service took over excavation and restoration of the ruins. This included extensive reconstruction of the Temple of Pythian Apollo, which was extensively damaged by bombing and artillery installed there during the WWII. Excavation began in 1946 and continues today in the acropolis archaeological park, which covers 12,500 square meters, and is protected from any new construction.
The Acropolis is situated on the highest part of the city. The monuments were built on stepped terraces, with substantial retaining walls. The first monument you see when you arrive at the western part of the park is the "Temple of Pythian Apollo". It is a poros peripteral orientated E-W temple.
Part of the NE side has been restored: four columns and part of the architrave. Unfortunately there is a lot of scaffolding around it, which prevents you from admiring it.
There is also one bigger temple within the boundaries of the archeological park, namely, the "Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus", which stands about half kilometer to the north of the Temple of Pythian Apollo.
The Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus is orientated E-W and was a poros Doric peripteral temple (having a columned portico on all four sides). Four oversize column drums and parts of a capital and architrave still to be seen on the site are an indication of its original monumental character. This was where the Rhodians kept the texts of their treaties with other states. The temple stood in a larger temenos bounded by a stoa on the east.
This temple is usually left out of a tourist walk, since it is not restored to the extent that would make it attractive to visitors.
From the Temple of Apollo, start walking toward the east till you meet a large rectangular terrace and a staircase that leads to the upper part of the "Odeon". This small marble theatre held approximately 800 spectators. It is believed to have been used for musical performances and rhetoric lessons of prominent Rhodians. It has been restored to its original size and beauty.
Walk down the Odeon stands, cross the orchestra and you find yourself at an open place, which used to be occupied by the "Stoa". The impressive façade of the Stoa was visible from far away, even from the harbor. Unfortunately, today just one foundation wall of it remains.
South of the Stoa stretches the "Stadium". Located on the southeast side of the hill, the impressive 210-metre north-south Stadium was initially restored by the Italians. Its surviving features include the sphendone (rounded end with turning post), proedries (officials' seats), and some of the lower seats in the auditorium (spectators seating). The starting mechanism used in the athletic events has also been preserved. Athletic events of the Heleion Games, honoring Helios, were held here.
"Kallithea Springs", located at the bay of Kallithea, just 9 km from the City of Rhodos, is a very popular spot attracting visitors from all over the world during summer. There is an entrance fee to the premisies (3 euros) and it is easily reached by bus or boat during summer months. When we visited, it was a bit tricky to go there by bus, so we took a taxi. It costs 14 euros one-way, but you better ask the driver to wait for half an hour or so to take you back. That means you need 30 euros, more or less.
Note: Taxis in Rhodos charge a fixed price to take you to destinations outside the town.
Since the place during winter is deserted and there is not even a café open to have a coffee or a refreshment, it is not worth going; unless, like us, you are interested into the architecture of the springs. In this case the visit is a must.
In contrary, during summer months, there is an onsite café/restaurant (called "Pane di Capo") and even a scuba diving school at the premises. The waters are very sparkling clear, but the visitor must have in mind that there are no sandy beaches here, only beautiful rocky beaches.
The thermal springs of Kallithea, were well known since the Ancient Greece times for the beneficial properties of their waters springing up from the surrounding rocks. Crowds of visitors were coming to the area and they were even setting up camps in the surrounding area, so as to be close to the springs.
Since the time of the Dorian Hexepolis 700 BC and later during the times of the Knights of Saint John, the springs were attracting visitors from the surrounding islands, the Asian Coast, the middle east and even from the depths of the Orient being a meeting place of Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews.
During the Italian occupation of the island of Rhodos, at the early 20th century the political governor Mario Lago, took the initiative in 1927, to conduct a systematic study of its waters known to the locals as “Tsillonero” after it’s cleansing properties. The survey was conducted by distinguished hydrologists and doctors under the supervision of the famous Gustavo Gasperini. After Gasperini’s death his son Carlo took over his work, along with the person who was later to become the director of the curative springs, Enea Brunetti.
In December 1928 the initial premises were constructed. The work was assigned to the architect Pietro Lombardi whose designs made it one of the best architectural creations of the period.
The premises were inaugurated on 1 July 1929 attracting a large number of patients and scientists from all over the world.
The premises were kept in good condition and operational till 1967. After that the area fell in despair. The doors to the springs reopened on the 1st of July 2007, after years of work by the Kallithea town council, now welcoming visitors to the magical areas of the beautifully renovated premises situated beside the sea with a unique combination of nature, architecture and history.
Several films were filmed in the area, but the place is known to all Greek cinephiles for the final scene of the 1964 cult film "To Doloma" (screened abroad with the titles «The bait» or «Aces of Spades») staring Aliki Vougiouklaki, the “national greek” actress.
The plot is simple: an expert card game hustler, a beautiful woman, and their smooth friend, try to "con" wealthy tourists; but the film gives the Greek diva the opportunity of a grand come back with the favorite studios of the time “Finos Film”. The film considered provocative for that time, but was a huge commercial success and everyone was crooning the main song of the film: “I like boys” (“Mou aresoun ta agoria”).
It was in New Year’s Day, at noon, when we took a taxi to bring us to the airport for our short flight back to Athens.
Nothing unusual till the moment the taxi driver opened his mouth: “this is my last drive for today, I must go back home otherwise my girlfriend will kill me”. We just grinned casually, but that was encouraging enough for him to start his brisk and detailed narrative of his boisterous life: A marriage; an adulteress wife, who ran away with her lover; her lover an ex-cop, whom the taxi driver liked very much, but who was unlucky and died early, so his wife came back home; two kids, now in their mid 20s, who call their mother names; a Romanian girlfriend ex-handball-player strong and very tall, who works in a night club and lives with her mother; him (the taxi driver) a short dark man in his late 50s, who shares his time between the two houses and takes care of everyone in these houses because this is what “real men” do; and his girlfriend admirers and would be lovers, whom the taxi driver beats to death because this is how a real man “defends his dignity”.
Listening to him, I realized that his life story epitomizes the whole modern urban history of this beautiful but decadent country… not morally decadent, but ethically, culturally and politically decadent country.
The drive to the airport should last 15 minutes… it took us double as much, since the story was long.