Medieval City of Rhodes

The heart of the island is the charming city of Rhodes, capital of the Dodecanese prefecture. Located on the northern tip of the island, the city is divided into the modern new town and the medieval town, once home to the Knights of Saint John and still bustling with life to today. In addition to the permanent residents, who are fortunate to live in a setting seemingly frozen in time, the town is a thriving commercial centre and a popular destination on the tourist trail. The imposing Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, at the top of Odos ton Ippoton (Street of the Knights), dominates the old town. Wandering through the warren of cobbled streets, the enchanting atmosphere intensifies the more a visitor begins to explore the town’s medieval alleys. Crossing though the shadows of an arcade, one might suddenly stumble upon a delightful hidden stone courtyard, then perhaps a little further on a Byzantine church built into niche within the imposing city walls, a witness to its own little piece in the city’s history. The old town’s charm is not limited though to its quaint streets and historic buildings and monuments. It is a city which is alive and vibrant with the local inhabitants still going about their daily business intermingled with tourists making their way to the Archaeological Museum, the Art Gallery or the Museum of Folk Art. This magical blend of past and present helps to create a truly dynamic urban environment that is rightly considered to be unique despite the town being largest medieval city in Europe.

The charming medieval town of Rhodes cannot be viewed piecemeal as the current layout covers the footprints of those who have conquered and settled the site over the centuries. The city, at the northernmost tip of the island, was founded in 408 BC and was laid out in a grid plan designed by Hippodamus of Miletus, who is considered to be the father of urban planning.

Later, a smaller fortified Byzantine city grew on the site of the ancient city. The fortified area was later named Collachio by the Knights. In the 12th century AD the walls were extended to enclose an area of 175,000 square metres. Since the fall of Acre, the last major Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, in 1291 the Knights of Saint John had been seeking a base from which to launch a new crusade. Eventually they decided on Rhodes, the city falling to them in 1309 after a prolonged siege. For the next two centuries the city was the political and administrative centre of the Knights’ own state, which included most of the islands of the Dodecanese. Maritime trade flourished during this period bringing great wealth to the island.

It was during the rule of the Knights of Saint John, as they soon became known, that the famous Odos ton Ippoton (Street of the Knights) was constructed. Running for 200 metres uphill and 6 metres wide, it is unusual for a medieval street in that it is straight, a legacy of the city’s ancient origins. It was the most formal street linking the religious and the political centres of the castle, namely the Latin cathedral (Our Lady of the Castle) with the Grand Master’s Palace. Along the street the Knights erected the most important of the order’s public and private buildings, including the lodgings of the tongues, the order’s geographic and cultural subdivisions. A visit to the late Gothic church Panagia tou Mpourgkou (Our Lady of the Burgo), dating from the 14th century, is well worth it. Bombed during the Second World War, all that remain today are the sanctuary’s three arches. The year 1522 was a milestone in the history of Rhodes. After a long and bloody siege the valiant Knights surrendered the city to Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

During the period of Ottoman occupation a clock tower was built after the earthquake of 1851 and also served as a watchtower. Today it also houses a small collection of archaeological artifacts discovered there. The most impressive mosque in the old town is the Mosque of Suleiman. The present building was constructed in the 19th century on the site of an older mosque originally said to have been built by the conqueror of the island, Suleiman the Magnificent. In Plateia Dorieon (Dorieon Square) is the Mosque of Recep Pasha.

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