RHODES – The Island of Endless Sunshine

Rhodes averages over 12 hours of sunshine everyday and 26º C (78º F) temperature in the summer. Add to this the crisp Aegean sea, a rich history, along with a fairytale medieval town , and you will see why Rhodes is one of the most visited islands of Greece.

Introduction and Orientation

Rhodes is a living testament to the multitude of invaders who took hold of the island and left their mark in the form of beautiful archaeological and architectural evidence.

The Old City’s impressive defensive wall is a marvel of medieval military architecture. It encloses an amalgam of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, Byzantine monuments, medieval churches and buildings, and Ottoman structures. It is a World Heritage Site and it is protected by appropriate government regulations.

Beyond the Rhodes old city walls the modern town is framed on the east, west and north by one long, and wide beach named Eli.

Flanking the beach is an endless belt of large hotels that struggle to accommodate the millions of tourists who descend to the island every summer.

Behind this hotel belt, the new city of Rhodes resembles a typical contemporary Greek city with busy streets, traffic, noise, shops, small squares and a lively atmosphere day and night.

The rest of the island is of two minds. The coast all around is dotted with beach resorts, while the interior is much more quiet with agricultural communities.

What to Do and See

Stroll around Historic Rhodes Old Town

Today, Rhodes old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This time capsule exists within the imposing walls built in the 14th C. by the Knights of St. John (also known as Knights Hospitallers) who used the island as their home.

The defensive walls were built partly on top of the older Byzantine fortifications. They were so well constructed it took the Turks a six-month long siege and 100,000 men to breach them in 1522.

Within the magnificent walls you can visit countless shops, and a number of exciting exhibitions in the Archaeological, and Byzantine museums, as well as special shows at the Palace of the Grand Masters and the Municipal Art Gallery.

Once you enter the walled city through Liberty gate you will find yourself in Simis Square surrounded by history.

The fenced ruins of the ancient temple of Aphrodite provide the first historical anchor. The Hellenistic ruins of the temple testify to a glorious Greek past, one that was subsequently transformed and built upon by a multitude of invaders who coveted Rhodes for its strategic position and resources.

A short walk beyond the temple of Aphrodite will bring you in the midst of a stone-paved square (some maps indicate it as either Simis Square and some as Argyrokastrou Square) surrounded by impressive medieval buildings.

The Folk Art museum on the right and the Byzantine museum are both worth a visit The latter hosted in the halls of an impressive Gothic cathedral building.

You can find the scant remnants of the ancient city of Rhodes on Monte Smith hill on the southeast part of the city. This location was part of the ancient acropolis of Rhodes that lies beyond the ancient city walls. Visible today are a small theater, the well preserved stadium, and the ruins of the temple of Apollo.

A little further down the same street, through the archway, you will have the option of continuing straight through Apelou Street, but turning right will put you on a path towards the Palace of the Grand Masters through the beautiful Ipoton Street (Avenue of the Knights).

Walk through Ipoton Street (Avenue of the Knights)

Ipoton Street (Avenue of the knights) was the Knights place of residence and it is perfectly preserved to this day.

It is about 600m long on a gentle incline towards what used to be the ancient acropolis of Rhodes, and it is unusually straight for a medieval street. The tall walls that frame it on both sides are majestic and forbidding at the same time. Many of the building fronts have the original stone-carved codes of arms.

The old Knight’s inns are now replaced by several government offices. What is visible today is the result of the careful Italian restorations in 1913-16, and provide an accurate depiction of the original medieval street.

At the top of the hill, Ippoton Street culminates under an arched portico (Logia of St. John) and Kleovoulou square just beyond it. On the right as you reach the top of Ippoton Street you will see the very impressive Palace of the Grand Masters.

Visit The Palace of the Grand Masters

The palace of the Grand Master
The Palace of the Grand Masters was built as the last line of defense if the outer city walls were breached.

The Palace of the Grand Masters is a very imposing fort, built to be the last line of defense should the outer walls of the city be breached.

The palace is built on the site where the ancient Greek temple of Apollo stood, it was the residence of the Grand Master of the Knights, and where the Order assembled.

After Rhodes fell to the Turks in 1522, it was converted to a prison and the palace was completely destroyed by an accidental explosion of stored black powder in 1856.

The explosion, caused by lightning, leveled the original palace and took the lives of about 800 people. Afterwards, the Turks built a military hospital on the spot using the stones of the destroyed palace, but in the 1930’s the Italians used old drawings to rebuild the Palace.

What is visible today as the Palace of the Grand Masters is the complete Italian reconstruction that was undertaken to create the summer residence of Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III.

The exterior of the Palace of the Grand Masters is a faithful reproduction of the original, but the interior was built more to accommodate modern inhabitants than for accuracy to the original plans.

Nevertheless it is worth a visit to appreciate the majestic medieval lifestyle of the Knights, and for the collection of authentic antique furniture and ancient floor mosaics the Italians assembled to decorate the various rooms.

The two exhibitions of the history of Rhodes through Ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine times at the basement and ground floor of the palace should not be missed.

Mosque of Suleiman

Suleiman mosque in Rhodes old town
Suleiman built the mosque after invading Rhodes in 1522. The existing mosque is a 1808 reconstruction.

Across the palace of the Grand Masters if you continue on Panetiou Street you will pass the ruins of the Turkish Library on your right and at the bottom of the hill the Mosque of Suleiman which is currently being restored.

The mosque of Suleiman was built soon after the Turks occupied the city of Rhodes in 1522 on the site of the destroyed Christian Church of the Apostles.

In front of the Suleiman Mosque the old Turkish Bazaar has been transformed to a melee of the tourist shops that line Sokratous (or Socratous) Street.

Shop Sokratous Street

Sokratous Street is a pleasant cobblestone street that is bound to be walked by every tourist who visits Rhodes. It is packed with tourist shops of various qualities that spill their wares into the street, providing a colorful (if tacky) atmosphere that contrasts sharply with the austere historical architecture.

A slow walk through this street from the Mosque of Suleiman will bring you to the very lively Ippokratous Square.

Have a Drink in Castellania Palace and Fountain

Castellania fountain in the center of Ippokratous square
Ippokratous square with the Castellania fountain in Rhodes Old Town.

Ippokratous Square surrounds a modest Castellania fountain, and is framed by the old Chadrevan mosque on the west and the Palace of the Castellan on the east. All around, coffee shops and restaurants burst at the seams as they spill onto the street having completely covered the old buildings.

The Palace of Castellan (on the right hand side in the picture above) is a square building restored by the Italians and its exterior staircase is a popular spot where people relax to watch the square activity in front of them.

Castellinia was originally built in 1507 and was the Knight’s commercial court before the Turks converted it to a fish market, with a mosque on the floor above.

Continuing south, past Ippokratous Square the street is renamed to Aristotelous Street and leads through another mass of tourist shops to another small fountain topped by three bronze sea horses in the middle of Plateia Evraion (Jewish Square) or Martyr’s Square.

Beyond the fountain the street is renamed Pindarou and leads to Port and Myllon Gates that take you to the new harbor. This was the very lively Jewish quarter that reached a population of 2000 at its height.

Right before the Port Gate, lie the ruins of the “Our Lady of the City” church and the gothic arches of the Hospice of St. Catherine that was built in 1392 as a rest stop for Italians traveling to the Holy Land.

Take a Walk Beyond the Old Town’s Main Streets

Beyond the aforementioned places of interest, Rhodes old town is a maze filled with interesting streets, buildings, and details. You will not have experienced its magic without venturing to the least traveled streets that have been untouched by the tacky tourist shops.

The less traveled part of Rhodes has a personality of its own, and a way to engulf you with the romantic melancholy of a time-traveler.

The old, dilapidated buildings and streets of the unexplored old town contrast vividly with the tourist traps of the bazaar and the majestic Knight quarters near the port of Rhodes.

You will definitely get lost in this maze of medieval streets, but you can always find your way back to the enclosing city wall and from there to a gate out, or to the main hub of activity around Ippokratous Square.

Visit the Center of Contemporary Greek Art

Rhodes museum of modern art
The Center of Contemporary Art in Rhodes

The Center of Contemporary Art (or “Modern Art” as its Greek name describes) is a good gallery that features artwork of contemporary artists.

Stroll Around the Old City Walls

The city walls of Rhodes were built in many stages over two centuries, partly on top of the Byzantine fortifications. Work on the walls began before 1330 and were completed sometime in 1522.

The wall is as massive as it is beautiful. It is a continuous, 4 km. long, stone construction that supports a walking platform from which defenders could move and fight where needed. Formitable towers project from several place and they are decorated with elaborate stonework, while a wide dry Moat provided the first line of defense.

Get Into the Local Rhythm in Rhodes New Town

The city of Rhodes lies on the northern tip of the island, wrapped by a wide beach that engulfs the new town almost from one end to the other.

The eastern part of the beach is called Elli beach and is the most popular being sheltered from the high winds that plague the western part of Rhodes beach.

The northern tip and western beachfront is packed with a multitude of hotels, most of which cater to the package tourism that feeds the island with a constant stream of visitors.

Further in, the town of Rhodes resembles a regular Greek city with busy street life, outdoor cafes and restaurants, and noisy road traffic.

During the day the city breathes in the rhythm of its commerce, and after dawn it comes to life in every corner-bar and street café with locals and tourists alike contributing to the care-free atmosphere.

Rhodes main activity hub by day and night is the eastern end that faces picturesque Mandraki harbor.

Two main squares, Koundourioti and Eleftherias are pleasant areas to stroll by evening, and several main arteries radiate from there towards the inner part of Rhodes town. 25 Martiou street and Galias Lambraki can bring you to Amerikis street that is lined with stores and fast food restaurants.

A little to the north of Plateia Koumoudourou you can find the Casino and if you keep heading north on Kos street you will eventually find the very interesting Aquarium.

Stroll the Mandraki Harbor Promenade

Mandraki harbor, Rhodes
The entrance to Mandraki harbor is flanked by two statues of stags. The harbor is guarded by the St. Nicholas fort.

Around Mandraki harbor, are a number of monumental government buildings built by the Italians before WWII, the Murad Reis Mosque by the beach, and the National Theater.

Two statues of deer at the supposed location of the ancient Colossus of Rhodes frame the entrance to the Mandraki harbor that is guarded by the charming fort of Saint Nicholas that doubled as a lighthouse.

Take a Day-Trip to Lindos

Beyond Rhodes town, Lindos is the second most popular destination of the island. Lindos is one hour away from Rhodes town, through the eastern coastal road that unfolds pleasantly through several resort towns.

On your way to Lindos you will pass the beach resorts of Kalithea, Faliraki, Ladiko, Kalimbia and Tsambika before the roads turns inland near Archangelos and Masari.

The landscape all around is so barren it literally feels like a landscape from another planet. The town of Lindos itself however is perfectly located to take advantage of the two small harbors below and the easily defensible acropolis above it.

Lindos is home to about 800 permanent inhabitants, but this number swells during the summer months, as just about every able house of Lindos has been converted into rental dwellings.

The town retains a quaint island character with its cubist dwellings packed tightly around winding cobblestone streets at the foot of the dramatic rock. Some of the buildings of Lindos date back to the 15c.

Read more about the Archaeological Site of Lindos…

Outside Rhodes Town

Kalithea is the nearest resort to the city of Rhodes and once was one of the busiest parts of the island with interesting Art Deco run-down Italian buildings from the mid-war era. Besides the few visitors to the small sandy beach, and the old spa, most tourists prefer to pass Kalithea for beaches and towns further down the east coast. Kalithea is also a hub of scuba diving activity with several SCUBA schools operating in its waters.

Faliraki, previously a small fishing village, now turned into an infamous party-town that competes with Hersonissos of Crete for unruly behavior and ugly architecture. The main and only attractions of Faliraki, besides its nightlife is a nice sandy beach and a monster water park built further inland.

Kolimbia, and Tsambika are located south from Faliraki, and are nice, spacious beach resorts with few hotels and more genuine island character. Most of the beaches are lined with pebbles, but don’t feel as crowded as the other popular beaches of Rhodes. The best beach of these parts is Ag. Agathi near a nice little village called Haraki.

Between Tsambika and Haraki, Archangelos is a large picturesque inland village that has been developed in recent years to accommodate the mass of package tourists who prefer it to Rhodes town. Vlicha beach resort is about 5km before Lindos and it is also a nice place to stay.

Beyond Lindos on the east coast most of the land is fairly unaltered by package-tourism due to the distance from the city of Rhodes.

South of Lindos, Pefki is the nearest east-coast base for many visitors, and about 15 km farther south, the village of Genadio is quiet with a few restaurants and a nice beach.

Further south at the very tip of the island, the beach of Prasonissi is a narrow sand strip that connects the mainland with what was once a tiny islet off the coast. The beach is almost always windy on the west and popular with windsurfers, while the east end is sheltered and enjoyed by sunbathers and swimmers.

On the other side of the island,  western Rhodes is more reminiscent of mainland Greece, with many agricultural communities that go about their business oblivious to the hustle-bustle of the rest of the island.

From the airport, all the way to Monolithos the landscape is mostly ordinary. With the exception of the ancient cities of Ialysos and Kameiros (35 km from Rhodes town), there is not much on this part of the island to attract visitors.

The nearest spot of interest in the western part of the island is Monolithos with its spectacular 15 c. knight’s castle.

Monolithos is located about 48 Km from Rhodes town and offers some nice views of the Aegean. Although it is debatable if it’s worth the long drive from Rhodes for those not very interested in medieval defensive architecture, it offers reasonable accommodations for a quiet stay and for exploring the most remote areas of Rhodes if you have your own vehicle (preferably a 4×4 jeep).

Rhodes Beaches

View of Lindos beach
Lindos beach, Rhodes.

Rhodes has so many beaches, they needed their own page.

Click here to visit the beaches of Rhodes with photos, descriptions, and rating for each.

The Beaches of Rhodes include: Rhodes city beach (Elli), Ixia or Trianda, Ialysos, Kremasti, Kamiros beach, Faliraki, Tsambika and Kolimbia beaches, Lindos, Prasonisi, and Vlicha Beach.

Archaeological Sites and Museums

Visit the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes

The Archaeological Museum of Rhodes is housed in the converted Knight’s hospital. The collection is definitely worth a visit and it includes Rhodian artifacts from prehistoric years all the way up to Hellenistic and Roman times.

The building itself is very impressive and its thick stonewalls can provide much needed relief from the mid-day heat.

The Temple of Aphrodite

Temple of Aphrodite ruins
The temple of Aphrodite dates from the 3d c. BCE.

You will find the temple of Aphrodite between Mandraki harbor and the Great harbor in the city of Rhodes.

The temple was built in the 3rd century BCE with sandstone blocks which then covered in stucco.

It is a small prostyle-in-antis structure, and it is oriented east to west.

Along the three sides of the cella there was an Ionic colonnade. Along the long sides, the half-columns protruded from the wall.

The Acropolis of Lindos

Lindos acropolis panorama
The acropolis of Lindos is a spectacular archaeological site. The temple of Athena Linda is on the right, and the columns of the Hellenistic Stoa on the left.

The acropolis of Lindos bares witness to the multitude of cultural influences that established themselves on the area for centuries at a time.

The ancient Greek Sanctuary of Athena Lindia dominates the acropolis of Lindos with the massive double-winged stoa and the massive staircase that leads to the propylaea and the temple of Athena beyond.

Read more about the Acropolis of Lindos…

History of Rhodes for Travelers

“Praise the sea maid, daughter of Aphrodite, bride of Helios, this isle of Rhodes.” (Pindar, Odes Olympian 7 ep1).

According to Pindar, Helios lay with Rhoda (Nymph of the island of Rhodes and daughter of Poseidon) in her island and soon after she gave birth to seven sons. The older three sons, Ialysos, Kamiros and Lindos divided the island of Rhodes into three major parts and named the strongest cities of each part after themselves.

This account by Pindar reflects the contemporary archaeological evidence of the three major ancient cities of Rhodes: Lindos, Ialysos, and Kamiros; All three cities are mentioned in the Iliad by Homer.

The island of Rhodes was inhabited since Neolithic times, and was an important Bronze Age center. Later, Rhodes, along with Kos, Knidos, and Hallicarnassos was a major Dorian hub in the eastern Mediterranean, and it remained in the forefront of commercial and military activity throughout Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman times.

The city of Rhodes was created in 408 BCE by the inhabitants of the three older cities (Ialysos, Lindos, and Kamiros) to be the new capital of the island. During the Hellenistic Era, Rhodes became a major naval power with influence over the southeastern Aegean as its ports connected Italy and Greece with Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Egypt.

Ancient Rhodes changed allegiance frequently throughout history. She took part in the naval battle of Salamis with the Persian fleet, but later joined the Delian League under Athenian hegemony.

During the Peloponnesian War Rhodes sided with Sparta, and later helped Tyre when it was besieged by Alexander the Great. After a brief subjection to Macedonian rule, Rhodes became an ally of Rome, helping her defeat the Macedonian king Philip V at Cynoscephalae in 197 BCE.

Rhodes prospered as a Roman ally, but after the Roman Empire was divided, Rhodes became part of the Byzantine Empire and later came under the control of the Genoese in 1246.

The Genoese in turn sold the island to the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (the original Hospitallers, later named Knights of Rhodes, and Knights of Malta) in 1306. They used the island as their base against Ottoman settlements in Asia Minor and fortified the island with impressive city walls and a powerful fleet.

Rhodes prospered for two hundred years under the Knights of Saint John, and successfully repelled several siege attempts by the Ottomans, until 1522 when a reported 100,000 Turks, under the leadership of Suleiman I, breached the walls of Rhodes after a six-month long siege.

The Knights departed from the island, the Christian churches or Rhodes were converted to mosques, and the Greek inhabitants were forced to move outside the city walls as slaves of the Ottoman Empire.

The island of Rhodes remained under Ottoman control until 1912 when it fell to the Italians after a short siege. The Italians administered the island until 1943, and under the direction of the fascist regime in 1923 they embarked on a massive building project that was meant to transform the island to a holiday resort of Mussolini.

British and Greek forces liberated the island in 1943, and Rhodes eventually joined Greece as part of the Dodecanese in March 7, 1948.

Practicalities

Rhodes is one of the most popular and expensive Greek islands.

It is also one of the largest islands of Greece, and you will be hard pressed to explore a small fraction of it in a week’s time.

Rhodes’ extensive history, visible through its diverse architecture is the main attraction for the millions of visitors who also enjoy nice beaches and the islands perpetual sunshine.

April, May, and early June might be the best times to visit if you want to avoid the larger crowds.

While Rhodes city is the main destination in itself, visits to sites beyond the town require using either busses, or your own car.

Mopeds would be useful for the area immediately surrounding the city of Rhodes, but walking is the best way to experience the new and old town of Rhodes.

Where to Stay

The best place to stay is Rhodes city itself. The new town overflows with large hotels that line the waterfront, and smaller ones sprinkled throughout.

Ideally you should find a small hotel inside the old city of Rhodes if you can. Hotel space is abundant in Rhodes and also expensive from spring until fall.

Getting to Rhodes

By Air: The airport is 13 Km to the southwest of Rhodes town, and it is connected to the city by bus and taxi service.

The International Airport of Rhodes named Diagoras, receives regular flights from Athens and direct charter flights from most European countries.

The bus ride from the airport to the city of Rhodes costs 1.50 Euro, and a taxi ride will set you back between 15 and 20 Euro. The airport also houses Car Rental offices for major international companies.

By ferry from Piraeus: Most ferries from Piraeus also serve other islands of the Dodecanese, so be prepared for an overnight sailing, and for several quick stops to embark/disembark along the way.

Since it’s an overnight trip, you will probably need to book a cabin beforehand. If you don’t mind staying awake all night, you may buy “deck tickets”.

If you plan to visit other Dodecanese islands like Simi and Kos, it would be easier to visit Rhodes first and the other islands on your way back towards Piraeus.

If you plan to sail to another island after Rhodes you will find that it’s very difficult to connect with any other islands outside the Dodecanese.

Map

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