The island of the Knights
Welcome to Rhodes, the capital of the Dodecanese, an island which is ideal not only for those who want to relax but also for those looking for an action-packed holiday! With its bright green hills, rich green valleys and uninterrupted line of golden beaches, Rhodes is truly a blessed place. Add in the excellent facilities for tourism, the island’s special blend of cosmopolitan and traditional, and numerous cultural and archaeological sites and you’ve got the perfect holiday destination.
Thanks to its strategic position, Rhodes has been important since ancient times. The ancient city of Rhodes, the construction of which began in 407 BC, was designed according to the city planning system devised by the greatest city planner of antiquity, Hippodamus of Miletus. Rhodes soon developed into one of the most important seafaring and trading centres in the Eastern Mediterranean. When it became a province of the Roman, and later the Byzantine Empire, it initially lost its ancient glory. But in 1309 the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem conquered Rhodes. They built strong fortifications to protect the island, turning it into an important administrative centre and a thriving multinational medieval city. In 1523 Rhodes was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, and the Greeks had to settle outside the city walls. During the Ottoman occupation, new buildings were erected within the Old Town, mainly mosques and baths. In 1912 Rhodes and the rest of the Dodecanese, were seized by the Italians. The new rulers embellished the city with magnificent buildings, wide roads and squares. The Palace of the Grand Master was rebuilt and the Street of the Knights was reconstructed in order to regain its medieval purity. It was not until 1948 that Rhodes officially became part of Greece. In 1988 the Medieval City of Rhodes was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Medieval Town of Rhodes
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.
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. A visit to the Aquarium, one of the most important marine research centres in Greece, is a must! In the underground aquarium, reminiscent of an underwater cave, the visitor can see many of the species living in the Aegean.
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 centres 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.
Around the island…
The ancient city-state of Líndos was one of the three major towns of ancient Rhodes thanks to its great naval power. The remains of the acropolis of Líndos, a natural watchtower facing the open sea built on a steep rock 116 metres above sea level, bear eloquent witness to its long standing power and wealth. At the foot of the acropolis lies the traditional village of Líndos with its cubic whitewashed houses, mansions, Byzantine churches and narrow cobbled streets. By following a path through the village or by hiring a donkey from the main square you can climb to the ancient acropolis, which is surrounded by well-preserved walls. Here you can see the remains of buildings from ancient times, the Byzantine era and the era of the Knights, such as the 4th century BC temple of Athena Lindia, the Propylea, the large Hellenistic arcade, the Byzantine chapel of Ayios Ioannis and the castle of the Knights of Saint John.
Kámiros was one of the three most powerful cities of ancient Rhodes and flourished during the 6th and 5th century BC. The ruins of the city and the neighbouring necropolis were discovered in 1859; magnificent public buildings, a market, temples, houses and an acropolis on the hill top bear eloquent witness to the splendour and wealth of ancient Kámiros.
Ataviros and Embonas
The highest mountain on Rhodes, the imposing Mt. Atáviros, with its rocky summit and green slopes, is an eternal symbol of the island. The amazing view will compensate those who will make the effort to reach its summit! The biggest settlement in the region is Embonas. Built on a mountainside covered with vineyards, the village is famous for its excellent wines.
The Valley of the Butterflies
The most fascinating and popular attraction of the region is the Valley of the Butterflies, a habitat of unique value for the reproduction of the Panaxia Quadripunctaria butterfly. Admire an atmosphere of incomparable beauty with lush vegetation and streams as you stroll along cleverly laid paths. Also well worth a visit in the Valley is the Museum of Natural History.
Ialissos and Filerimos
Ialissós (or Triánda) used to be one of the three powerful cities of ancient Rhodes which acquired great fame thanks to the Olympic Champion Diagoras. Today Ialissós is a popular cosmopolitan resort; its beach is a favourite destination for windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing enthusiasts. Basking in the lush green of pine trees and cypresses, on the slopes of Filérimos (meaning “lover of solitude”) Hill stands the Monastery of the Virgin Mary and the ruins of an ancient acropolis. In Byzantine times, there was a fortress on the hill which, in the 13th century, became a monastery dedicated to Holy Mary. It was beautifully restored at a later stage by the Italians and the British. Directly in front of the church there are the ruins of 3rd century temples of Zeus and Athena. Visitors can walk up the “Via Crucis”, which leads to an enormous crucifix. The view from there out over Ialissós Bay is stunning. Illuminated at night, the crucifix is clearly visible even from the nearby island of Sými.