Although inhabited as early as the Neolithic period, the first written trace of the island is connected to mythology. The poet Pindar writes about the birth of Rhodes as follows: When Zeus defeated the Giants and became ruler of the world; he decided to divide the Earth among the Twelve Gods of Olympus. The Sun god, however, was absent and when he appeared, his complaints made Zeus promise that the land that would emerge from the sea will belong to him. Then an exquisite island, strewn with flowers and full of roses began to emerge from the turquoise sea waters. Delighted Helios bathed it with his own light and made it the most beautiful spot in the Aegean. Pindar reports that the first inhabitants were Telchines, a strange race of super beings with supernatural powers.


The island of Rhodes lies at a crossroads between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This strategic location has given the city and the island lots of different identities, cultures, architectures, and languages over its long history and its position in major sea routes has given it a very rich history.

According to historical sources the island of Rhodes was inhabited as early as the late Neolithic Period (ca. 4000 BC). Kares are claimed to be the first inhabitants, then the Phoenicians and the Minoans. Around the year of 1400 BC, the Achaeans established a strong colony on the land and later the Dorians took ownership of the island and founded the three city-states of Lindos, Ialyssos and Kamiros. These states together with Halicarnassus, Knidus and Kos, constituted the `Dorian Hexapolis`, a powerful confederation and counterweight to the federation of Ionians. Later the island joined the alliance of Delos.

The island flourished in the 4th century BC after the famous Colossus, a huge statue representing the Greek sun god Helios, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the shortest-lived of them, was erected there. It was completed in 282 BC having taken 12 years to build. The statue stood at the harbor entrance until a strong earthquake hit the island around 226 BC and snapped the statue off at the knees 56 years later. As a result, the city of Rhodes (formed by the cities of Ialyssos, Kamiros and Lindos in 408 BC) was badly damaged and the Colossus collapsed.

At the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC, Rhodes remained neutral, although part of the league along with the other islands of Dodecanese. New capital was built in the north part of the island, whose construction works were carried out by the architect Hippodamus. The general weakening of the political situation following the Greek Peloponnesian War meant that the island was first conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassus, then by the Persians in 340 BC, then by Alexander the Great in 322 BC. After Alexander`s death, three of his generals (Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus) divided the Empire. Rhodes town became maritime, commercial and cultural center of great importance whose currency circulated throughout the Mediterranean. Its famous schools of philosophy, science, literature and rhetoric rivaled those of Alexandria. The most important exponents of this great moment were the master of rhetoric Aeschines, Apollonius of Rhodes, astronomers Hipparchus and Geminus, the philologist and grammarian Dionysius Thrax. The school of sculpture developed a rich and dramatic style known as `Hellenistic Baroque`.

The city of Rhodes, thanks to sea trade, skilled shipbuilders along with wise political and diplomatic maneuvers stayed prosperous until the Roman period, which was initiated in 164 BC when Rhodes became part of the Roman Empire. Under the rule of the Romans, Rhodes managed to keep much of its splendor and developed into one of the leading centers of learning for arts and science.

In the 7th century the island was raided and captured by the Arabs. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 1204, the native noble Leo Gavalas took control of the islands, but after his death and succession by his brother, the island was returned to the Emperor of Nicaia, though initiating a new, although short-lived, Byzantine period.

Christianized by St. Paul, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire Rhodes belonged to the Byzantine Empire, but it was occupied by the Arabs and several groups of pirates several times. In 1309 the Knights Hospitallers of St. John captured and established their headquarters on Rhodes and they remained on the island for two consecutive centuries. During the Knights`` period the island experienced strong economic, artistic and spiritual growth. The city was rebuilt as an ideal model of the European medieval city: from this period are many famous landmarks including the Palace of the Grand Master. During the Knights era the fortifications were extended, modernized and continuously reinforced. Á hospital, a palace and several churches were among the many public buildings constructed at that time, offering interesting examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

In 1522 the Rhodes Island fell under the yoke of the Turks which ushered in the Ottoman period in the history of Rhodes. During the Ottoman era new buildings were constructed: mosques, public baths and mansions for the new patrons. The Greeks were forced out of the fortified city to new suburbs outside its walls. Following the establishment of their sovereignty in the island, the Ottoman Turks converted most of the churches into mosques and transformed the major houses into private mansions or public buildings. This transformation was a long-term process that aimed to adapt the buildings to the Ottoman way of living. The Knights period facades with their sculptured decorations, the arched gates and hewn stone walls were enriched with the random character of the Ottoman architecture adapted to the local climate and culture. The most characteristic additions were the baths (usually in the back of the buildings) and the enclosed wooden balconies on the facades over the narrow streets. This allowed for most of the architectural features of the existing buildings of the Hospitallers` period in the Medieval Town to be preserved. The result was a mixture of oriental architecture with imposing western architectural remains and more recent buildings, which were characteristic of the local architecture of the time.

Én the 19th century the decline of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the general neglect of the town and its buildings, which further deteriorated due to the strong earthquakes that often struck the area. In 1912 Rhodes, along with the rest of the Dodecanese, was taken over by the Italians, which initiated the Italian period in the history of the island. The Italians demolished the houses that were built on and around the city walls during the Ottoman period and turned the Jewish and Ottoman cemeteries into a green zone surrounding the Medieval Town. They also preserved the remnants of the Knights` era, removed all the Ottoman additions and pulled down all Ottoman buildings. Moreover, they reconstructed the Grand Master`s Palace and established an Institute for the study of the History and Culture of the region. At that time major infrastructure work (roads, electricity, port, etc.) was done to modernize Rhodes, which significantly transformed the town of Rhodes.

The English bombs that fell on the medieval city of Rhodes in 1944 destroyed a great number of buildings, leaving large gaps in the urban tissue. The Romans, Knights, Ottoman Turks, Italians left deep traces of their presence but failed to affect the Greek character of the island of Rhodes that reunited with mother Greece after the Second World War in 1948. The island as we know it today is the result of this absorption. In 1988, the old town of Rhodes was designated as a World Heritage City by UNESCO.