Old Rhodes Town: Everything You Need to Know
Located on the northeastern tip of the island of the same name, the city of Rhodes, Greece has a long and colourful history.
The city is comprised of two major sections – referred to as Old Rhodes Town and New Rhodes Town. The New Town was created during the Ottoman period and surrounds the Old Town. The Old Town (sometimes referred to as the Citadel of Rhodes or the Walled City) is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. With it's fortress-like buildings and houses, narrow streets and alleys, and crenellated bastions, it's easy to imagine life in medieval times as you stroll through the city.
History of Rhodes
Early and Classic Antiquity
Archaeological findings indicate that the island of Rhodes was inhabited as early as 4000 BC and it is believed that Minoans settled on the island in the 16th century BC. The island's colonization during the Hellenistic period is attributed to Heracles' son Tlepolemus before the Trojan War.
In 408 BC the island's three major cities Ialyssos, Kameiros and Lindos – combined to form the city of Rhodes. The ancient city was designed to exacting specifications by Hippodamus of Miletus and featured both a water supply network and sewage system.
The city developed into a maritime, commercial and cultural center and its coins were circulated throughout the Mediterranean. It also developed a reputation for offering education in the fields of philosophy, science (astrology), literature, rhetoric and art.
Roman Period (164 BC – 330 AD)
In 164 BC, Rhodes became a province of the Roman Empire. It preserved much of its splendour during this period and continued to evolve as a center of advanced education, particularly for Roman nobility.
Byzantine Period (330-650 AD)
Little is known about Rhodes during this period. Given its location, the city continued to function as an important military base, and church records list many churches and impressive basilicas.
Knights' Period (1308-1522 AD)
In 1308 AD, the Knights Hospitallers (formerly the Knights Templar) conquered the island and established their headquarters in the city of Rhodes. They maintained control for over two centuries, building and strengthening fortifications to protect the city from invasion. Working in collaboration with the city's residents, they also built a hospital, a palace and several churches.
Rhodes prospered during this period despite growing hostilities with the Ottomans.
Ottoman Period (1522-1912 AD)
In 1522 AD, the Ottoman Turks conquered the island and the Greek population was forced to move to suburbs outside of the walled city. They populated the surrounding area, which is now referred to as the New Town of Rhodes. (Old and New are relative terms when historic timelines stretch back 24 centuries!)
Most of the city's mosques and baths were built during this period.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire and several strong earthquakes resulted in the deterioration of the town's buildings in the 19th century.
Italian Period (1912-1948 AD)
The Italians took control of the island in 1912 AD They improved on the existing infrastructure, building wide roads and squares, and several notable buildings in the New Town, including the Post Office, the Prefecture of the Dodecanese, Evangelismos Church (Church of the Annunciation), the Town Hall and the National Theatre. They also removed many of the additions made during the Ottoman rule.
The Italians were responsible for rebuilding much of the architecture from the Knights' period, restoring the Old Town's medieval feeling we know and love today.
In 1948 AD, Rhodes officially became a part of Greece, and forty years later (1988 AD), UNESCO recognized the Medieval Walled City of Rhodes as a World Heritage Site. Nearly two million tourists visit the city each year.
With so many influences, you might expect the city to have the look and feel of something assembled by a committee, but the architecture is a delightful mosaic combining the best features of each culture.
Some of Rhodes' most famous landmarks include:
- The Gate of Freedom – originally called the Gate of St. Anastasius, this is the main entrance to the Old City.
- The Palace of the Grand Master – now a museum, the palace was originally built as a Byzantine fortress (late 7th century AD) and later converted into a residence and administrative offices for the Grand Master of the Knights of the Order of St. John (early 14th century AD)
- The Street of Knights – the wide cobblestoned street was originally lined with inns to house soldiers in the Order of the Knights, and is now home to many countries' consulate offices.
- The Acropolis of Rhodes – located at the top of Monte Smith Hill, also known as Agios Stefanos Hill, the acropolis was an important site for worship, education and recreation in ancient times. The site includes the Temple of Apollo and a Hellenistic sports and entertainment stadium.
- The Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent – this striking pink and white mosque is located at the top of the hill on shop-lined Sokratous Street
- The Museum Square which includes:
- Hospital of the Knights – now an archaeological museum
- The Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Castle was built as an orthodox cathedral in Byzantine times – now the Byzantine Museum
- Mandráki Harbour – nowadays, two bronze deer statues oversee the entrance to the harbour, but the harbour mouth was originally protected by the Colossus of Rhodes (304-226 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
- Rodíni Park where prominent Greeks and Romans, including Julius Caesar, Cato the Younger, Cicero, Pompey, Brutus, Cassius and Marc Anthony, studied at the famous School of Rhetoric.
Map of Old Rhodes Town
A free, printable version of this map of Rhodes is available for download.
Click to enlarge.
Old Rhodes Town: A Photo Gallery
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