Medieval Town Walking Tour, Rhodes

Medieval Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Rhodes

The medieval town of Rhodes, where every street, square, or building evokes a story about ancient times, is a living museum in its own right. Being one of the best-preserved medieval walled towns in Europe, this enchanting area boasts several remarkable locations and is quite deservedly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Welcoming you at its entrance is the Liberty (or Eleftherias) Gate. Right beside it lies one of the town's notable sites, the Temple of Aphrodite, a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of love and beauty.

Wandering along the cobblestone streets further, you'll find yourself on the Street of The Knights lined with imposing medieval buildings that tell the stories of the valiant knights who once defended this town. The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes stands as a grand testament to their influence and power.

Religious diversity is evident in the Mustafa Mosque and the Rejep Pasha Mosque, showcasing the multicultural history of the town. Ippokratous Square offers a charming respite, while the Square of Jewish Martyrs leads to the Kahal Shalom Synagogue and the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, highlighting the Jewish community's enduring presence.

The Church of the Virgin of the Burgh, with the remnants of its awe-inspiring architecture, symbolizes the Christian heritage of the town.

As you explore these landmarks, you can't help feeling awestruck by the layers of history preserved in their stones. The medieval town of Rhodes invites you to immerse yourself in its captivating past while appreciating the cultural tapestry woven by different civilizations throughout centuries. So, do come to explore it and let the echoes of the past transport you to a world of wonder and discovery!
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Medieval Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Medieval Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Greece » Rhodes (See other walking tours in Rhodes)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: rose
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Eleftherias (Liberty) Gate
  • Temple of Aphrodite
  • Street of the Knights
  • Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes
  • Sultan Mustafa Mosque
  • Recep Pasha Mosque
  • Hippocrates Square
  • Square of Jewish Martyrs
  • Kahal Shalom Synagogue
  • Jewish Museum of Rhodes
  • Church of the Virgin of the Burgh
Eleftherias (Liberty) Gate

1) Eleftherias (Liberty) Gate

Sitting right in front of Symi Square, otherwise known as Place de l’Arsenal, is one of the main entrances into the medieval city of Rhodes – the Liberty Gate. The original gate on this site dates back to the time of Grand Master Heredia (1377-1396) and used to link the northern flank of the seaside wall to the Mandraki Harbour. Back then it was also colloquially referred to as the Shipyard Gate or Shipyard Vaults, being a short distance from the local arsenal and the knightly shipyards that formed part of the domain of the Langue (Tongue) of France.

Two square towers that once flanked the gate on both sides were razed by the Ottomans in 1910. Historic records indicate that one of them appears on the coat of arms of Grand Master d'Aubusson (1476-1503). The structure shows a pronounced influence of Byzantine architecture, and its dimensions (9.9 meters wide, 5.2 meters high) support the projected use of the passage – letting through voluminous vessels or appurtenances thereof en route to the shipyard. Under Ottoman rule, this gate may have also operated as a bridge over the water to a basin designated in Turkish as "Eğri Liman" ("Concealed Harbour").

The ramparts currently seen on top of the wall were erected during Italian rule (1912-1943). The Italians, who deserve much credit for historical reconstruction in Rhodes, created this gate in 1924 after they had taken possession of the island during WWI. Portraying themselves as liberators from the Ottoman rule, they called it Liberty Gate. Although modern as such, it was built in a strict accordance with medieval architectural practice.
Temple of Aphrodite

2) Temple of Aphrodite

The Temple of Aphrodite, or rather the remains thereof, located on Symi Square, outside the Eleftherias (Liberty) Gate in the Old Town of Rhodes, serves as a reminder of the splendor of ancient Greece that it once was. The sanctuary dates from the 3rd century BC and was built in honor of Aphrodite, the mythological Greek goddess of love and beauty. Venerated by ancient worshipers, her statue, currently in the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, is believed to have once stood here.

Today the ruins of the formerly majestic temple are surrounded with a small fence. While the site is closed to the public, an information board outside the fence offers a detailed overview of the complex. The descriptions here are written in both Greek and English.

Those determined to have a glimpse of the place's former glory may get close enough to see the old building blocks and fallen columns. Some may even be able to make out some inscriptions on a couple of the flagstones.
Street of the Knights

3) Street of the Knights (must see)

The Street of the Knights ("Odós Ippotón") is lined with many of the inns that housed the crusading order. Recognized as one of the most intact medieval streets in the world, it features buildings made from finely chiseled sandstone, presenting a unified facade that culminates in a striking double archway that spans the road at its highest point. The masonry is punctuated by small square windows and elegant arched doorways, wide enough to accommodate a horse and carriage or a knight on horseback. Intricate carvings, commemorative plaques, and other detailed ornamentation enhance the historic ambiance.

During the day, the street buzzes with tourists and large groups moving about, which can somewhat obscure the historical atmosphere of Knights convening for meetings or attending to their duties. However, at night, the atmosphere transforms; the soft, waxy glow from the streetlights, reminiscent of medieval oil lamps, casts a magical aura that more easily transports you back to the 14th century.

At the start of the street, on the right (north) side, stands the Inn of Italy, marked by a plaque honoring Grand Master Fabrizio del Carretto (1513–21) above its entrance. Adjacent is the smaller Palace of Philippe Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Carretto's immediate successor and the Grand Master who was ousted by Sultan Süleyman in 1522. Further uphill, across the street, there is a quaint garden with an Ottoman fountain, part of the courtyard of the 15th-century Villaragut Mansion, restored in 2002 but only accessible via application to the Archaeological Museum. Directly opposite is the highly ornate Inn of France, housing a magnificent life-sized stone carving of a knight—possibly originally a tombstone—located just inside the courtyard. This courtyard also contains a chapel from the time of Grand Master Raymond Berenger (1365–74), although the facade facing the street is from more than a century later.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes

4) Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes (must see)

At the top of the Street of the Knights stands the Palace of the Grand Master, which once served as the administrative core of the Order of the Knights of Saint John and the centerpiece of the Knights’ Quarter. Neglected during the Ottoman era and used as a prison before being nearly destroyed by an explosion in 1856, the palace was later restored by the Italians in a renovation that remains contentious. The rebuild did not adhere to the original floor plan and introduced modern elements to the interior, including statues and mosaics from other Dodecanese islands, much to the chagrin of those islands that still mourn their loss.

Despite these controversies, the palace continues to awe visitors with its regal presence at the highest point in Rhodes. The use of columns and capitals from ancient sites throughout the interior, and the exterior's stone cladding, illustrate the architectural grandeur of the Knights’ Quarter at its peak. Notable features include the splendid wooden ceilings and the onyx window panes that cast a soft light inside. Many of the main rooms display magnificent Hellenistic and Roman mosaics, sourced from nearby Kos, and while their presence here raises ethical questions, they are nonetheless well-preserved.

Visitors enter the palace between two grand semicircular towers and are greeted by a large marble staircase that leads to the spacious upper-story rooms, deliberately kept sparsely furnished to highlight the architecture and mosaics. These mosaics include depictions of the Nine Muses, a nymph on a sea-horse, and Medusa's head, with motifs of fish and dolphins also prevalent.

The ground floor, once used as stables or as storage for grain and munitions during sieges, now encloses a courtyard adorned with Classical statues and houses a permanent exhibition that spans the first 2,400 years of Rhodes' history. This includes a medieval gallery up to the time of the Ottoman conquest, along with temporary exhibitions. The collections are exceptionally well-organized and labeled, even more so than those of the Archaeological Museum.
Sultan Mustafa Mosque

5) Sultan Mustafa Mosque

Completed in 1765, this imposing mosque, facing the Great Hammam (Turkish baths) of the Old Town, stands as a testament to Rhodes' Ottoman heritage. Sultan Mustafa III is credited as its founder, as indicated by a marble inscription on the door frame.

Reflecting Ottoman architectural style, the structure comprises three square spaces, with one larger and taller than the others, covered with domes and two consecutive balconies on the north side. While the minaret was dismantled in 1973 and remains in ruins, the renovations carried out in the mid-2010s restored its bright yellow facade and roof.

Nowadays, the mosque occasionally hosts events for the Muslim community, especially weddings. Notably, its minbar, or pulpit, ranks among the largest surviving marble minbars on the island. Crafted from pieces of gray marble and adorned with intricate Arabic ornaments, it features a prominent inscription of the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.
Recep Pasha Mosque

6) Recep Pasha Mosque

Epitomizing the grandeur of the Ottoman golden age, this mosque, nestled within Rhodes' ancient walled city, was originally erected in 1588 from the remnants of earlier Christian churches, and was complemented by additional structures: a mausoleum honoring Reçep Pasha, the Ottoman Empire's Grand Vizier, located within the mosque's courtyard and housing his sarcophagus, and an ablution fountain.

Sadly, years of neglect have left the mosque in a state of near ruin, exacerbated by a partial collapse of its portico in 2011. With repair costs estimated at three million euros, the restoration efforts were halted due to financial constraints. Consequently, as of 2022, the mosque remains closed to both worshippers and visitors due to its precarious condition.

Despite its current dilapidation, the Reçep Pasha is hailed as the most exquisite and architecturally striking among Rhodes' mosques, with some advocating for its restoration to house a museum of Islamic art in the future.
Hippocrates Square

7) Hippocrates Square

Upon entering the Old Town through the Marine Gate and its imposing towers, you'll find yourself in Hippocrates Square, an ideal starting point for exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square serves as one of the main gathering spots in the area and features the Syndriváni at its center—a fountain topped by an Italian ornament and often surrounded by pigeons.

In the southeastern corner of the square, you'll find the Kastellanía, originally a medieval courthouse and commercial tribunal for the Knights. Completed in 1507 and later restored by the Italians between 1925 and 1935, the building now functions as the public library and town archives, housing a rich collection of ancient books and documents. This spot also marks the beginning of Socrates Street ("Odós Sokrátous"), one of the island's most frequented thoroughfares.

The square is a favorite among both locals and tourists, who enjoy sipping coffee, dining, or having drinks at the numerous alfresco cafes and bars lining its edges. You might consider relaxing at one of these cafes to absorb the local ambiance before venturing further into the Old Town. As you continue along the main street and ascend a gentle hill, you'll also catch sight of the historic clock tower.
Square of Jewish Martyrs

8) Square of Jewish Martyrs

Tucked away in the southeast corner of the Old Town, the Jewish Quarter is a maze of narrow streets, anchored by the Square of Jewish Martyrs, also known as Sea Horse Square for its charming sea horse fountain. Here, amidst quaint eateries and shops, lies a solemn reminder of the quarter's poignant history.

Once bustling with life, the quarter was home to 5500 residents a century ago; however, the tumultuous events of the 1930s saw half of its inhabitants flee, while the tragic deportation of 1673 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944 left only 151 survivors. Today, a black marble Memorial, inscribed with the words "Never Forget" in various languages (including English, French, Greek, and Hebrew), stands solemnly in the square, shaded by towering Ficus trees and surrounded by street artists.

For a deeper understanding of this history, visitors can explore the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, accessed via the Kahal Shalom Synagogue.
Kahal Shalom Synagogue

9) Kahal Shalom Synagogue (must see)

Completed in 1577, Kahal Shalom stands as Greece's oldest surviving synagogue still in active use. Its worshipers prospered under Ottoman rule into the 20th century; however, the Kingdom of Italy took over the Dodecanese Islands in 1912, and large numbers of the Jews of Rhodes had begun to emigrate during the 1930s, as they felt menaced by the Fascist Italian regime.

The architectural layout of the structure reflects typical Sephardic synagogue design, featuring a central 'biham' from which the Sefer Torah is read. Inside, the sanctuary has a striking mosaic floor crafted from local black and white stones, while two unique Torah arks can be spotted on either side of the door leading into the interior courtyard. In the courtyard, there is also a fountain used for handwashing.

A commemorative plaque within the synagogue pays tribute to the countless local Jews who tragically lost their lives under Nazi rule. Today, Kahal Shalom remains a site of worship and pilgrimage, with its former women's gallery now transformed into the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, preserving and sharing the rich heritage of the island's Jewish community.
Jewish Museum of Rhodes

10) Jewish Museum of Rhodes

The Jewish presence on Rhodes traces back to the 2nd century BC, with a significant influx of Jewish refugees from Spain in the 13th century – this resulted in the development of a unique local dialect known as 'Ladino', blending Spanish and Hebrew elements. By the 12th century, records indicate that 400 to 500 Jews resided on the island, as noted by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela.

This well-kept museum, accessible through the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, offers a captivating journey through the community's history via photographs, documents, and personal artifacts. It also commemorates the community's tragic fate, marked by the mass deportations to Auschwitz in 1944. With informative signage and a collection featuring a 16th-century Torah scroll, traditional attire, and textiles, the museum provides valuable insights into the rich heritage and enduring legacy of Rhodes' Jewish community.
Church of the Virgin of the Burgh

11) Church of the Virgin of the Burgh

At the eastern edge of the Medieval City, near the Gate of the Virgin, lie the ruins of this Gothic Roman Catholic Church, dating back to the 14th century. Likely one of the earliest constructions by the Knights Hospitaller, the structure was later converted into a mosque during the Turkish occupation. Despite suffering damage from World War II bombings, its grand original Gothic style remains impressive.

Today, only the three apses and parts of a small chapel stand, yet the site remains significant as one of the few remaining Roman Catholic churches from that era in the islands. With no formal opening times or admission fees, visitors are free to wander among the ruins.

As for a bit of trivia, the name "Burgh" originates from the bourgeois inhabitants of this part of the town.

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