The City of Rhodes lies on the northern tip of the island of Rhodes. It has been the most important harbour of the island since it was founded in 408 BC.
The old town
The medieval old town of Rhodes city has been declared a UNESCO world Heritage site, and has a mixture of medieval and Turkish buildings.
The old town can be divided in three parts: The Knights’ Quarter (Kollakio) with most medieval sights, the Turkish Quarter (Hora) with shops and restaurants and the Jewish Quarter where only a few typical Jewish buildings remain.
The layout can be confusing to tourists, as the streets aren’t even close to form a grid. Winding alleys and side lanes abound, and many of them don’t even have a name. If you get lost, you can either explore, or ask someone for the directions to Sokratous, the largest street in the Old Town.
The old town is surround by massive walls 4 km around and up to 12 metres thick, built by the Knights of St. John (Knights Hospitallier). The fortifications have a series of gates and towers, and are still remarkably intact. For a small fee, you are allowed to walk on top of the walls, and there’s a guided tour for small groups. starting at the Palace of the Knights.
The Knights’ Quarter
The Street of The Knights (Ippoton) is one of the best-preserved medieval sites in the world. The 600 metres long cobblestone street was constructed on top of an ancient road that led from the port to the Acropolis of Rhodes. The inns along the street are divided according to the place of origin of the Knights of St. John who lived there: England, France, Germany, Italy, Aragon, Auvergne and Provence. Each group was led by a bailiff and was responsible for the defence of a part of the bastion.
The large 15th century Knights hospital now houses the archeological museum, with the entrance on Museum Square. The most famous exhibit is a marble statue of Aphrodite of Rhodes, an adaptation of a Hellenistic statue from the 1st century BC.
The Palace of the Knights (also known as the Palace of the Grand Masters) was built by the Knights Hospitallier, with building starting in 1309. This is where the Grand Master of the order lived until 1522, when the Ottomans were able to conquer Rhodes, forcing the knights to leave for Sicily and later Malta.
Large parts of the palace were destroyed in 1856, after an ammunition depot blew up in 1856. The current palace is actually what the Italians rebuilt from 1912 to the 1930s, to use as a holiday residence for Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and later for Benito Mussolini. As such it is more of a fantasy than a historically accurate recreation. There’s a museum inside with mosaics from Kos and a collection of antique furniture.
The Turkish Quarter
The best-known building in the turkish quarter is the Mosque of Suleiman at the top of Sokratous, with its pink dome and slender minaret. It was built in 1522 to commemorate the Ottoman victory against the Knights of St. John.
The municipal turkish baths are located in a 7th century Byzantine building, and were last upgraded in 2000. The hamam (Turkish for bath) is in Plateia Arionos. Men and women enter through separate entrances and disrobe in separate cubicles. Cool marble floors and domed chambers with glass paned roofs makes this place well worth a visit, and the cost is only 2 or 3 euros, depending on the day.
The Jewish quarter
The Square of the Jewish Martyrs (Plateia ton Martiron Evreon) is dedicated to the memory of the 1,604 jews who were rounded up by the Gestapo on the 19th of July 1944 and sent to Auschwitz. The square is also called Sea Horse Square because of the sea horse fountain.
The hospice of St. Catherine has its entrance on the square. It was built by the Knights of St. John in the 14th century to house important guests. The hospice has been restored and has intricately carved and painted ceilings, beautiful sea pebble and mosaic floors, a lavish bed chamber and some interesting exhibits.
Near the square is Kahal Shalom Synagogue, established in 1557. This makes it the oldest synagogue in Greece. It has a commemorative plaque also in memory of the deported Jews. Although the Jewish community is smaller today, the synagogue is still open for prayer in the morning, and services are held on Friday night. There’s also a small museum connected to the synagogue.
The new town embraces the old one and extends south to the resorts. At the northern edge is the city beach, in a place called 100 Palms, and the famous Mandraki harbour where you can find both tour boats and yachts. The municipal beach and Elli beach are popular during daytime.
Around Plastira and Cyprus Square you’ll find most of the hotels in New Town. New Town also has most of the nightclubs, discos and bars in the Town of Rhodes, so it’s good bet after dark.
The Acropolis of Rhodes
The impressive remains of the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes are located at the north end of the island, overlooking the city from Mount Smith, with the sea on two sides. The stadium once held competitions in preparation for the olympic games, while the theatre was used for lectures by the Rhodes School of Rhetoric. Both of these buildings have been restored, and in combination with the trees there provide a pleasant scene for a picnic.
Only four of the pillars and parts of the architrave of the Temple of Pythian Apollo remain, but are enough to give an idea of what the temple originally must have looked like.
You can get back and forth to town by taking city bus 5.
The Colossus of Rhodes
In antiquity the Colossus of Rhodes was one of seven wonders of the world, which makes it the most famous sight of Rhodes through history. Unfortunately for us, nothing of it remains today.
After surviving a siege by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 304 BC, the people of Rhodes sold the siege equipment that had been left behind, and spent the money on a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios, the sun god. Construction was led by Chares, a native of Lindos, and the statue was built by the harbour entrance between 292 and 280 BC. The 30 meter high statue only stood for 56 years, until an earthquake in 226 BC destroyed the statue. The pieces could still be seen at the harbour for another 800 years, when the remains were removed.
What if you really want to see the status? Well, the design and dimensions of the Statue of Liberty in New York are actually based on what the engineers believed the Colossus of Rhodes looked like, so that’s a decent approximation. In addition, a project for a modern Colossus of Rhodes is underway in Greece. This is planned to be a lighter structure between 60 and 100 metres tall, costing 200 milllion euros, and will be placed in the harbour like the original.
In general, new town is livelier than the old town. You’ll find cafes on the harbour, behind Academy Square or on Galias, while bars aplenty line Dakonou. If you want to party in Old Town, most clubs and bars are on Miltiadhou street, but usually with more locals than foreigners. There are more than 100 clubs in Rhodes, and Rhodes is a relatively compact city, so it’s easy to go exploring until you find something you like.
Next to the Grand Hotel is the Casino Rodos. This was government-run for a long time, but is now a regular business with roulette and blackjack, located in the Grande Albergo delle Rose, in the New Town. You have to bee at least 23 years old to enter.
At Papagou, south of Plateia Rimini, there’s a sound and light show that tells the story of a youth that entered the monastery in 1522, the year before the Ottomans conquered Rhodes. Most performances are in english, but there’s also French, German and Swedish presentations.