RHODES - IN DEPTH
As you enter one of the largest medieval towns in Europe through the Gate of Freedom, it soon becomes obvious that the Old Town of Rhodes is a mosaic of different cultures and civilizations; rarely does a visitor have the chance to stroll within medieval walls and explore twenty-four centuries of history. The fascinating medieval fortress-like buildings, the bastions, walls, gates, narrow alleys, minarets, old houses, fountains, tranquil and busy squares make it feel like you have stepped back into medieval times. The Palace of the Grand Master is certainly the highlight of the Old Town. The Palace, originally a Byzantine fortress built at the end of the 7th century A.D., was converted in the early 14th century by the Knights of the Order of Saint John into the residence of the Grand Master of the order and the administrative headquarters of their state; now it has been turned into a museum.
The cobblestoned Street of the Knights, one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe, is packed with medieval inns that used to play host to the soldiers of the Order of the Knights. At the end of the Street, in the Museum Square, stands the Hospital of the Knights, which houses the Archaeological Museum. Across the square is the Church of Our Lady of the Castle, the Orthodox Cathedral of Rhodes in Byzantine times that became the Catholic Cathedral when the Knights occupied the city. Now it hosts the Byzantine Museum. Polidorou Street leads to a square with outdoor cafés and restaurants. Moving on, you enter Sokratous Street, always buzzing with life thanks to its cluster of cafés and shops, which leads down from the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent towards the harbor. If you decide to take a detour and head off for Arionos Square, don`t forget to stroll around the `Turkish district`, where you will find the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and the 16th century Yeni Hammam (Turkish Baths).
Outside the walls
Outside the walls of the Old Town lies the `new` city, with its magnificent Venetian, neoclassic and modern buildings. Among the most remarkable buildings that keep the memories of the island`s Italian period alive are the Post Office, constructed by the Italian architect Florestano di Fausto, the Prefecture of the Dodecanese, formerly the Italian Governor`s Palace that resembles the Doge`s Palace in Venice, Evangelismos Church (Church of the Annunciation), the Town Hall and the National Theatre.
A stroll around Mandráki, the small marina with the Rhodian deer statues at its entrance and the surrounding windmills, is an experience not to be missed. The multicultural character of Rhodes is also evident in this part of the city, since next to the Prefecture stands the Murat Reis Mosque with its elegant minaret. Enjoy the sun and the sea at cosmopolitan Elli beach at the northern tip of Rhodes town, which is lined with modern hotels. Here you will also find the beautifully renovated historic Grande Albergo delle Rose, which today operates as a Casino.
On the other side of the city you can visit Rodíni Park, a true paradise with many peacocks, streams and paths amidst oleander bushes, cypress, maple and pine trees. Rodini is said to be the site of the famous School of Rhetoric, where prominent Greeks and Romans, including Julius Caesar, Cato the Younger, Cicero, Pompey, Brutus, Cassius and Marc Anthony, studied. Saint Stefanos Hill (known as Monte Smith) marks the site of the Acropolis, one of the most important centers of worship, education and recreation in ancient times on Rhodes. At the top of the hill you will find the remains of the Temple of Apollo, a Hellenistic stadium and a gymnasium.
Don`t forget that while you are on the island you can take the opportunity to go on a daytrip to the following nearby islands:
Kastellórizo (or Megisti)
The easternmost island in Greece, with a long and stormy history. Only 300 people live on the island today but the town and its magnificent neo-classical houses reveal the former prosperity of the island.
A former sponge-diving center, it is famous for its Theological School, which unfortunately does not operate anymore. Emborio, with its grand houses and a picturesque waterfront offering fresh fish, is the only inhabited hamlet on the island. Horio and the Knights` Castle are both well worth visiting.
Beautiful Sými is an hour away by boat from Mandráki, the port of Rhodes. An island of sponge divers and seamen, Sými used to have 30,000 inhabitants before the Second World War and was the richest island in the Dodecanese, despite its small size. Today Sými attracts many visitors thanks to its beautifully preserved neo-classical buildings and the famous Archangel Michael monastery at Panormitis.
To the north west of Rhodes you will find Tilos, with its imposing mountains, rocky and steep coasts, beaches with crystal clear water and caves and medieval castles. The island`s harbor is at Livadia, and from there you can visit the village of Micró Horió (Small Village), deserted since 1950. At Meyálo Horió ("Big Village) visit the Paleontology Museum, where you can see petrified skeletons of dwarf elephants.
Extra tip for trekking enthusiasts: Following breathtaking routes on foot is the ideal way to discover the unique natural beauty of the island: try the two-hour route from Filérimos to the coast through a magical pine-tree forest, tour the Valley of the Butterflies (3 hours), go from the village of Salakos to the summit of Profitis Elias following a breathtaking route that takes 4 hours to complete, walk from Kritinia Castle to Kritinia village through a lush green valley (4 hours) or, if you are an experienced hiker, take the opportunity to conquer the summit of Ataviros, a beautiful six-hour walk!