Rhodes (Ródos) is a Greek island located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007 and also the Dodecanese islands’ historical capital.
The city of Rhodes had 53,709 inhabitants in 2001.
Historically, Rhodes was famous worldwide for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The medieval Old Town of the City of Rhodes has been declared a World Heritage Site. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
In this post I will focus on the City of Rhodes and in the next I will describe the island as a whole. This is nessecary, since the history, culture and nature of Rhodes island is extensively rich and impossible to cover in one single post. It has to be spread on two-three separate posts.
The city of Rhodes is situated in the north-east tip of the island and forms a triangle from north to south.
The island of Rhodes is at a crossroads between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This has given the city and the island many different identities, cultures, architectures, and languages over its long history. Its position in major sea routes has given Rhodes a very rich history. The island has been inhabited since about 4000 BC (Neolithic Period).
The city of Rhodes was formed by the cities of Ialyssos, Kamiros and Lindos in 408 BC, and prospered for three centuries during its Golden Age, when sea trade, skilled shipbuilders, and open-minded politicians of the city kept it prosperous until Roman times. The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was built by the Lindian sculptor Chares between 304 and 293 BC, which took 12 years and was completed in 282 BC. The statue represented their sun god Helios, which stood at the harbour entrance. A strong earthquake hit Rhodes about 226 BC, badly damaging the city and toppling the Colossus.
The Acropolis of Rhodes is dating from the Hellenistic period (3rd–2nd century BC) and is situated 3 kilometers from the centre of Rhodes. The partially reconstructed part of the site consists of the “Temple of Apollo” (also, as alternatives Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus) below which is a stadium and a small theatre. It is included in a large park, Monte Smith, named for English Napoleonic admiral William Sidney Smith.
In 164 BC, Rhodes became part of the Roman province of Asia. It was able to keep its beauty and develop into a leading center of learning for arts and science. Many traces of the Roman period still exist throughout the city and give us an insight into the level of civilization at the time.
In medieval times, Rhodes was an important Roman trading post, as also a crossroads for ships sailing between Constantinople and Alexandria. In the early years of the divided Roman Empire, the Isaurians, a mountainous Tribe from Cilicia, invaded the island and burnt the city. In the 7th century it was captured by the Arabs. The latter were the ones who removed the scattered pieces of the Colossus from the port and moved them to Syria where they destroyed them to make coins. 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 islands were returned to the Emperor of Nicaia, to a new, but short-lived, Byzantine period.
The Knights Hospitallers captured and established their headquarters on Rhodes when they left Cyprus after the persecution of the Knights Templar in 1307. Pope Clement V confirmed the Hospitallers possession of the Island in 1309. The Knights remained on Rhodes Island for the next two centuries.
In the Ottoman era, new buildings were constructed: mosques, public baths and mansions for the new patrons. The Greeks were forced to abandon the fortified city and move to new suburbs outside its walls. The city maintained its main economic function as a market for the agricultural products of the interior of the island and the surrounding small islands.
The most characteristic additions were the baths (usually in the back of the buildings) and the enclosed wooden balconies οn the facades over the narrow streets.In this way most of the buildings of the Hospitaliers’ period in the Medieval Town were well 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.
In 1912 Italian troops took over the island together with the rest of the Dodecanese Islands, and established an Italian colony known as Isole Italiane dell’Egeo in 1923.
The Italians would later demolish the houses that were built on and around the city walls during the Ottoman period. They also turned the Jewish and Ottoman cemeteries into a green zone surrounding the Medieval Town. The Italians preserved what was left from the Knights’ period, and destroyed all Ottoman buildings. They also reconstructed the Grand Master’s Palace. Furthermore, an Institute for the study of the History and Culture of the region was established, and major infrastructure work was done to modernize Rhodes.
The British bombs that fell on the medieval city of Rhodes in 1944 claimed human lives and destroyed a great number of buildings, leaving large gaps in the urban tissue. One of the first Decrees of the Greek administration designated those areas as reserved for future excavations and a number of edifices as safeguarded buildings.
The city hosts both the City Hall and the Prefecture Hall and as a form of recognition holds also a regional office.
Rhodes City falls into four more or less distinct areas:
- Rhodes Old Town, still enclosed by its medieval wall.
- Rhodes New Town, north and west of the Old Town, is an extensive and fairly non-descript modern city.
- Commercial Harbor, New Town’s eastern waterfront
- Mandhraki Harbor, the yacht and ferry harbour
- Elli Beach is a sandy organised beach next to Rhodes Aquarium (on the right). Here you can find several interesting beach bars, restaurants and a beach volley. You can also go scuba diving or enjoy other water sports.
- Acropolis of Rhodes, the ruins of the ancient city, are about 2 km southwest of the Old Town.
Things to see
You have the opportunity to visit the Aquarium of Rhodes Town. Located in the south of Mandraki, in the area of Niohori and also known as the Hydrobiological Station of Rhodes, which was built in 1935. In the year 1937 it started operating as a centre of oceanic research and in 1963 it was also turned into a Museum. Every year about 200.000 tourists visit the Aquarium in Rhodes.
The aquarium is managed and run by the National Centre for Marine Research which focuses its research in the areas of oceanography, fisheries and inland waters. This research is aimed at conservation and restoration of the natural habitat of the aquatic life in the Mediterranean. With the aquarium, tourists in Rhodes get a chance to experience underwater life and know more about them and thus can contribute in their conservation. This is not just a fun filled activity but a learning experience as well.
Rhodes Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the best preserved and most extensive medieval towns in Europe. It is also the location of many monuments and several museums – make sure to get a good map. If you want to see it all, plan for at least a day, and two will not be amiss if you want to see all the museums.
Rhodes Archaeological Museum
Megalou Alexandrou Square, tel: +30 2241 075674, +30 2241 034719
email: email@example.com, fax: +30 2241 031048
Open in season until 8PM.
It has two floors, and most of the exhibits are on the second, past the big stairs. The museum operates a tour of the city walls Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8AM leaving from the Palace of the Grand Masters. Visitors are simply allowed to walk up on the walls along the top of them at their own pace. This walk offers views of the town not otherwise available and is the best way to get an idea of the size of the town and the variety of its architecture. The walk is not guided. Entrance: €3.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes – can be split into outside, courtyard, outside wall, first floor and second floor. Open in season till 8PM, entry is €6, outside wall is an additional €2. First floor (photos prohibited contains some artifacts of Ancient Rhodes – Archaeological Museum offers more selection and allows photos. Second floor has a variety of later artifacts, but it has almost no descriptions). It was destroyed in 1856 by a large explosion of gunpowder that was hidden in the basement of the of St John Church. The Grand Masters Palace was then rebuilt according to the original drawings by the Italians in 1940. In 1988 it hosted the summit of the EEC. It occasionally holds exhibitions and major cultural events.
The Bee Museum
This exceptional Museum of Apiculture and Natural History of Greece, offers the visitors the unique experience to see the wonderful world of bees through transparent observation hives. You can learn the tradition and history of beekeeping in Rhodes and the process of making honey.