The Medieval City of Rhodes, built by the Christian military order Knights Hospitalers, is a historic town in the eastern Mediterranean.
The fortified city center is located within a 4km long wall. It has numerous fine Frankish (Gothic) and Ottoman buildings. The high town is where the buildings from the Knights remain, such as the Grand Masters' Palace and the inns. In the lower town, built when the city was expanding, Byzantine and Islamic monuments can be found.
Community Perspective: Usually “stuffed with visitors from cruise ships and the nearby party destinations”, the site best is explored off-season. The Palace of the Grand Master and the Street of the Knights are the highlights from the period of the Knights.
Map of RhodesLoad map
The Medieval Town of Rhodes has been much visited and highly ranked, but not reviewed very often so far. I’ll give you a low down on the monuments, as I experienced them on my visit in early September 2022. Certainly, if you have just come from the quiet north of Greece as I did, you first have to get over the mass tourism of Rhodes. But I was out early on a Sunday so that I could explore the old town at my leisure. There is a lot to see, in a mishmash of different eras. For 10 EUR you can purchase a ‘special ticket’ that gives you entrance to the Archaeological Museum, the Grand Master's Palace and the church Panagia tou Kastrou.
City Walls To enter the old city of Rhodes, you have to defy the city walls that the Crusaders put up here. They took it seriously – I came through the Amboise gate and had to go through several layers of defense. Through a wooden gate, you eventually arrive at the Grand Master's Palace. In the early evening, I visited again, walking all the way around the city walls along the harbour, through the Bastion of St. Paul, to the Sea Gate.
Street of the Knights. Here the different countries represented under the Knights of Saint John had their seat. It is a 600 meter long dead straight street, overly restored. The coats of arms of the respective countries can still be seen on the facades of the mission posts. St. Trinity’s is the most decorated; it belonged to the English knights, and also was a small Catholic church.
The Archaeological Museum opens early, at 8 o'clock. It presents a good opportunity to take a look inside a typical building of the inner city of Rhodes: it used to be the knight's hospital. At the entrance, I saw many 'regular' tourists give up after reading the sign 'Archaeological museum' and the entrance fee of 6 EUR. But I spent almost an hour there. The collection focuses on prehistoric and ancient Greek and Roman finds from the island. Mosaics and sculptures predominate. The nice thing about the museum is that it is spread over different floors, inside and outside, and even through a garden. You’ll also pass through one large hall, where the connection with the Crusaders is re-established as the tombstones of many foreign knights are on display.
Wandering further through the city, two things actually stand out: the Ottoman and Italian influences. The Ottomans conquered Rhodes from the crusaders in 1522. During their time, churches were converted into mosques, and baths and original mosques were also added to the cityscape. The Retzep Pasa mosque has the prettiest setting at a quiet square, but it doesn’t seem to be well-maintained. Greece struggles a lot with its Ottoman heritage and rather would think it away.
The Italians in turn took over from the Ottomans in 1912. What you see around town are mainly Italian (fascist) reconstructions from the 1930s – Italy occupied the island between 1912 and 1945. When Rhodes was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the “jury” was mainly dissatisfied with decorative elements such as fountains that the Italians added… Once I had read that I kept seeing these all over town!
The Italians have especially wreaked havoc in the Grand Master's Palace. This original knight's headquarters has been transformed into an Italian palace. It became a holiday residence for the Italian king and Mussolini. Its interior is quite boring, one empty room after another and no explanations of what they were used for.
Churches Near the palace is the Panagia tou Kastrou, a somewhat empty Byzantine church with the remains of a single original mural. It mostly houses a Byzantine icon collection now. At the end of the day, I arrived at the much-photographed remains of the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh. It was bombed in WWII and never rebuilt - it even seems that its ruined state makes it more appealing.
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It's the height of summer, and Coronavirus is severely limiting my travel options, so I figured I might as well skip to a review of a site I visited last fall that many in Europe will have the opportunity to see at the 2020 World Heritage Meetup in September: The Medieval City of Rhodes.
Before my visit, I was aware of a couple facets of Rhodian history. First, this was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World -- the Colossus of Rhodes. This statue to the Greek sun god Helios was demolished long ago, and its exact location has been lost through the ages. Still, I walked out to the entrance to the old city harbor to imagine what it must have been like to see such a statue on an approach by sea. Indeed -- even without the statue, the medieval walls and the Palace of the Grand Master in the heart of Rhodes are rather spectacular to see from the water.
Second, and more important to its status as a World Heritage Site, Rhodes for two centuries was home to the medieval Knights Hospitalier, also known as the Order of Saint John, dedicated to caring for pilgrims en route to Jeruslem and the Holy Land. This aspect of Rhodes was what my friend I was traveling with was most interested in exploring, so after we attended an early Sunday morning service at a Greek Orthodox church, we set to exploring the vast city walls and gates. We visited Rhodes in November, so much of the city was empty of tourists, and we passed only locals and stray dogs as we wandered through alleys and narrow streets. Of the many gates of the city we encountered, the Gate of Saint John and the multi-layered ramparts of the Gate of Saint Anthanasios, through which the Ottomans entered the city in the early 16th century, impressed me the most.
In addition to the city walls and gates built and/or modified by the Knights Hopsitalier, two major sites within the medieval city remain as a testament to their heritage: The Palace of the Grand Master and the Street of the Knights. The Palace was rather empty when we first arrived, but quickly accumulated other tourists avoiding a passing rain shower. Still, the rooms were largely empty, which left plenty of space to admire the intricate Byzantine-era mosaics on display. A museum within the palace also provided a good overview of the rich history of this city and island that for many years stood as a crossroads in the Mediterranean for travelers going to and from the Holy Land. Near the end of the walk through the palace were some simple rooms used to house sick and recovering pilgrims, part of the mission of the Knights Hospitalier, as well as displays highlighting the present-day history of the Knights, who moved on to Malta after the Ottomans conquered Rhodes.
Outside the palace, the Street of the Knights slopes down to the harbor. At the end of the street is a former medieval hospital, while on either side of this street are former hostels for the different langues of the Knights -- divisions of the order based on languages spoken, to include the Langues of France, Italy, and Spain. Each of these langues were responsible for defending specific sections of the fortress walls, and some of the city's embankments, or terreplains, were named after the langues who defended them.
Overall, the city of Rhodes was a relaxing and enjoyable site to explore, and I loved the mixture of Ottoman, medieval, and Byzantine architecture on display. Although the weather was a bit rainy when I visited, as I understand it, this is generally a sun-kissed corner of the Mediterranean, and hopefully it will be good weather for all who attend the meetup in September.
Logistics: The Medieval City of Rhodes is quite easy to navigate on foot, and there are plenty of small side streets to explore.
Rhodes would probably easy make it into the top 25 visited list on a community site for package tour travellers. The city is stuffed with visitors from cruise ships and the nearby party destinations, like Faliraki. No need to mention that almost every building within the walls is either a restaurant, a shop or a pension. Nevertheless Rhodes is one of the most beautiful medieval cities I've seen so far. The 4km town wall is stunning. The city is set at the sea and was occupied by the Ottomans for a few centuries, creating a really special flair. Further, Rhodes island is one of the sunniest places in Europe. Chances that clouds are ruining your pictures between April and October are pretty low. Definitely worth a trip.
I visited Rhodes through an island tour stop. We spent the better part of the day here. We had a tour of the medieval city but then we explored on our own. the old city was incredible, one surprise after another as you wandered the alley ways. The area by the water was beautiful. I would suggest spending two-three days here; one went by way too fast. We also visited Lindos and I would recommend doing this. Lindos is older but holds a lot of history and is definitely worth the trip.
I thouroughly suggest Rhodes as a holiday place , the medieval city is absolutely amazing and very well preserved, in between the two parts of the wall , there is an open theatre where live concerts of greek artists are given , nice music, the mystic yellow lights of the castle, a night summer breeze in the air, friendly people, and charter airplanes crossing the air with their lights every 10 minutes , make Rhodes one of Greeces most dynamic and classic places. The story of this order of St Johns knights is so interesting too, now i ll be looking for some books on this matter. I absolutely enjoyed my time in this magnificent town. One bad thing only, motor bikes should be forbiden of crossing the narrow streets of the old city..the noise is bothering. Thanks!!
The city of Rhodes is fabulous. This medieval city has been restored, and is as beautiful a walled city as any of the hundreds we have seen in other countries in Europe
Near some expensive hotels there were a dozen bathing-beauties, some so poor they could only afford half of a bathing suit, so were barefoot from the waist up.
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