Protected thanks to its imposing fortifications -a line between the past and the present- Rhodes’ old town is the proud “emblem” of this island of the Aegean. It is considered to be the best preserved medieval settlement in the world and this is why it is included in the list of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO since 1988.
THE WALLS. They are circa 4-kilometers long and around their perimeter there are towers, ramparts and imposing gates. They were built over the pre-existing Byzantine walls, which had in turn replaced the ancient fortification, after the devastating earthquake of 515 BC. They took their current form during the period between the Ottoman sieges of 1480 and 1522. Around the fortification, there is a wide moat. Curved on the walls and on the towers, are the coats of arms of the Knights who built them, improved them or defended them. The coat of arms of Great Master d’ Aubusson, who cared for the reinforcement of the fortifications more than anybody else, is seen 50 times in various spots.
THE GATES. Access to the Old Town is granted through seven large gates and a few smaller ones, located around the walls. Some of them exist since the rule of the Knights, whereas some were opened by the Italians (Eleftheria, Tarsana, Akantia) to meet the new traffic needs. The gates are the following:
Thalassini (Sea Gate), the most imposing of all, built in 1478, with two towers on the left and right as a defense against any besiegers
There are also smaller gates:
THE ROAD OF THE KNIGHTS. It follows the traces of the ancient road that used to connect the port to the temple of the Sun. It has been restored to its medieval form. It starts from the Museum square and ends to the Grand Master Palace. Along the way, you will see the auberges of most of the "tongues", namely the ethnic groups which formed the Hospitallers Order. Each "tongue" had its own auberge, something between a club and a hotel, where its members would gather (they were not staying permanently there) and the official guests would be entertained.
THE "CLUBS". The Italian Knights auberge is located at one end of the road of the Knights, on the right, going uphill towards the Palace.
The road of the Knights ends to a loggia, leading to the Grand Master Palace.
SYMI SQUARE. It is the first square you come across entering the Old Town through the Eleftheria Gate, namely from Mandraki. On one end, the Municipal Library is accommodated in a renovated knightly building. On the other end, stands one of the few ancient monuments of the Old Town: the temple of Venus, build in the 3rd century BC. The area is not open to public, because the excavations are not completed.
ARGYROKASTRO SQUARE. It is an ample space between the Old Hospital of the Knights and the west wall of the Auvergne Knights auberge. The Italians placed here the font of the old-Christian church of Saint Irene of Arnitha (6th century) and changed it into a fountain. The piles of stony spheres surrounding it (as is also the case in many other parts of the Old Town) are tokens of Demetrius I of Macedon (called the Besieger). The building with the beautiful stony staircase and the balcony is the Old Hospital of the Knights, one of the oldest (14th century) in the Old Town.
MUSEUM SQUARE. It is located a little further from Argyrokastro square. Here starts the road of the Knights, right across Lady of the Castle Cathedral (11th century). During Byzantine rule, it was the Orthodox metropolis of Rhodes, but the Knights turned it into a Catholic Cathedral, and later on the Ottomans changed it to a mosque (mosque of Ederum).
HIPPOCRATES SQUARE. Crossing the most impressive gate, the Sea Gate, a few meters further on the left, you will come across Hippocrates square, the most central in the Old Town. It is crowded all day long, with people sitting at cafés, taking photographs near the marble fountain, or waiting for their dates to show on the steps of Castelania. During the Middle Ages, this knightly building of 1507 used to accommodate the commercial tribunal and the market regulations authority. Nowadays, the Municipal Library and the Historic Archive of the Dodecanese are accommodated there.
SOCRATES STR. From the ancient times, throughout the Byzantine period, the rule of the Knights and the Ottomans and up to present-day, this is the commercial road of the Old Town, the so-called old market. It is lined with hundreds of stores selling souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, leather goods, umbrellas (even though it does not rain a lot, Rhodes is famous for its umbrellas), ceramics, carpets, etc.
ORPHEUS STR. It starts where Socrates street ends. 1, Orpheus street hosts the Clock Tower, built in 1857 by Fehti pasha. The old clock tower, part of the byzantine fortification, had been destroyed a year earlier, in 1856, after an explosion. Orpheus street is full of plane trees, small cafés and restaurants. Especially at night, it is one of the most buzzing roads of the Old Town. It leads to Cleobulus square, in front of the Grand Master Palace’s yard. It is worth taking a detour to Ieroklis street, to see Aghios Markos (Saint Marcus) chapel, and then to Apolloneus street to visit Aghios Georgios (Saint George), transformed by the Ottomans into a seminar called Hurmali Médressési Djami.
THE JEWISH QUARTER. It is delineated by the Jewish Martyrs Square, with the characteristic seahorse fountain. It is surrounded by taverns, cafés and little souvenir shops, whereas in the park nearby, wandering portrait artists set their easels. The oblong knightly building across the fountain is known as the Admiralty, even though there were no admirals. It was probably the residence of the Uniate Bishop of Rhodes.
SOUTH OF THE OLD MARKET. Houses with white or yellow painted pillars, narrow arched alleys, old churches and mosques are the points of interest. The most well-preserved Muslim mosque of this area is Ibrahim Pasha Mosque (1540), located at Plato street. It is also worth visiting Recep Pasha Mosque (1588) at Dorieus square and Sultan Mustafa Mosque (1765) at Arion square, where you will also find Yeni or Mustafa Turkish bath, which is now operating, having being renovated. The alley on the left of the Turkish bath leads to Andronicus street. At the crossroads lies the Old Town Theater of Folk Dances. Here, every night from April to October, traditional and folk dance performances are given: sousta (cradle) and tsamiko, zeibekiko and syrtaki. Greek dances seminars are also organized. An original traditional orchestra is playing the music and the costumes worn by the dancers are really old.
In their majority, churches in the south part of the Old Town are humble, but very beautiful. Many of them still have the minaret added by the Ottomans at their yards. One of the most noteworthy, Saint Paraskevi (15th century), is located at Hippodamus street.