Rhodes Introduction Walking Tour, Rhodes

Rhodes Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Rhodes

The city of Rhodes, capital of the eponymous island, has been famous since antiquity as the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes. The enormous statue once stood over the harbor entrance and was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 226 BC.

The name Rhodes comes from the ancient Greek word “rhódon” (rose), hence the island is sometimes referred to as the island of roses. Another theory suggests that it could derive from “erod”, which is the Phoenician for snake, since the island was once home to a huge population of snakes.

Due to its vicinity to Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Rhodes – inhabited since about 4000 BC – over the course of its long history has been exposed to many different cultures (architectural styles, languages, etc.). In 164 BC, the island fell under Roman control, and in medieval times was an important Byzantine trading post at a shipping crossroads between Constantinople and Alexandria.

The Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, commonly known as Hospitallers – for their mission to look after the welfare of the wounded and ailing crusaders, captured and established their headquarters in Rhodes in 1309. The supreme authority of the order was the Grand Master, hence the Grand Master's Palace located within the walls of Rhodes' Old Town. The citadel built by the Hospitallers is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe – declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

In the early 1520s the knights departed from the island, leaving it to the Ottomans. The Mosque of Suleiman, named after the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, was originally built after the Ottoman conquest of Rhodes in 1522.

In 1912 Italian troops occupied the island and eventually destroyed much of its Ottoman heritage, whilst carefully preserving that of the Hospitallers. The British bombs that fell upon the city in 1944 claimed many a life and destroyed a great number of buildings, leaving large gaps in the urban tissue. In 1960 the entire Medieval Town of Rhodes was designated a protected monument.

Today, the city of Rhodes is an important Greek urban center and a popular international tourist destination. To find the place where the famous Colossus once stood, as well as to discover many other notable sights of ancient Rhodes still in place, follow this introductory walk.
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Rhodes Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Rhodes Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Greece » Rhodes (See other walking tours in Rhodes)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: holly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Marine Gate
  • Hippocrates Square
  • Socrates Street
  • Medieval Clock Tower
  • Fortifications of Rhodes
  • Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes
  • Street of the Knights
  • Archaeological Museum of Rhodes
  • Church of Our Lady of the Castle (Museum Square)
  • St. Paul's Gate
  • Mandraki Harbor and Windmills
  • Fort of St. Nicholas
  • Colossus of Rhodes
Marine Gate

1) Marine Gate

Just south of Kolóna's fishing port, the Marine Gate stands as a dramatic entry point into the walled town of Rhodes, complete with two large round towers. This gate is where visitors arriving by sea enter the city, providing a grand first impression. Built in 1478 during the era of the Knights Hospitaller, it was designed to imitate the Gate to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon in France, which dates back 200 years earlier.

The exterior features several reliefs, including one of the Virgin holding Christ, and others featuring Saint John the Baptist and Saint Peter. One can also spot the coats of arms of France, the Order of Saint John, and the blazon of the House of d'Aubusson. On the interior side, additional relief work includes an effigy of an angel with the coats of arms of the Order of Saint John.

Strategically built close to the water, the gate's positioning and the narrow space between the sea and the walls made it difficult for any army, regardless of size, to gather and launch an attack from this side; moreover, the towers were equipped with devices designed to pour boiling oil on any possible attackers. The gate was last restored in 1951, following repairs to the north tower, which had been damaged during World War II bombings.
Hippocrates Square

2) 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.
Socrates Street

3) Socrates Street

Every resort town has a grand shopping lane for picking up souvenirs and tasting local flavors, and Rhodes, the capital of the island, is no different with its own Socrates Street. Named after the renowned ancient Greek philosopher, this cobblestoned artery is lined with a diverse array of shops, bars, eateries, and entertainment venues, buzzing with activity from evening until the early morning hours.

A stroll down Socrates Street can sometimes turn into a fully-fledged excursion due to the assortment of goods on display. You'll find clothing, fabrics, shoes, all sorts of sweets, numerous figurines that celebrate Ancient Greek themes, and an array of local handicrafts that fill the stalls each day. The sellers here are equally diverse, with many being multilingual, contributing to the vibrant and colorful atmosphere that draws visitors day and night.

Walking along the street, you'll also encounter significant medieval landmarks such as the massive fortified walls of the Old Town complete with ramparts and a defensive moat, Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques, as well as quaint squares, gardens, and courtyards that invite curiosity. Notable sights along the way include the Archbishop's Palace, which dominates the square of the same name, and the nearby Commercial Tribunal dating back to the turn of the 16th century. The Marine Gate and the charming Seahorse Fountain are also located along this route. Further down, you'll pass the luxurious Suleiman Baths, which boast a richly decorated interior and are still operational today. The Sultan Mustafa Mosque, another remnant of Rhodes' Muslim period, captures the classic oriental aesthetic.

Towards the southern end, a maze of narrow lanes leads to Pythagoras Street, home to the 16th-century Ibrahim Pasha Mosque, and to Fanourios Street, home to the small Orthodox Church of Saint Fanourios, built in 1335 and known for being partially underground.
Medieval Clock Tower

4) Medieval Clock Tower (must see)

Perched at the highest point in the Old Town, the robust clock tower, still in perfect working order, offers a spectacular panoramic view. Originally built in the 7th century, it suffered damage from an explosion in 1856 but was rebuilt with baroque elements by Fethi Pasha. Historically, it served an important function, keeping Greek locals aligned with Turkish time—a necessity due to the strict regulations imposed by the Turks regarding the comings and goings in Rhodes, where precise timing was crucial for adherence to these rules.

Visitors can ascend fifty-three steep wooden steps to reach a small chamber at the top that provides 360-degree views of the surroundings. The entrance fee includes a complimentary drink at the charming terrace cafe situated below. As you make your way up, you'll encounter photographs documenting the various stages of the clock tower's restoration, adding a historical layer to your visit.
Fortifications of Rhodes

5) Fortifications of Rhodes (must see)

The first and arguably most impressive feature of Rhodes' Old Town are the fortified walls themselves. Stretching 4 kilometers, these formidable barriers were constructed to shield Rhodes from attacks by foreign empires and corsairs who roamed the waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas during the Middle Ages. Although long deemed impenetrable, they were eventually breached by the Ottoman Turks in the early 16th century.

Mostly dating from the preparations for the 1480 siege, the walls stand strong and majestic, casting a beautiful glow at dawn with the sun's first rays or at night, illuminated by wrought-iron lamps. The Knights Hospitaller, who controlled Rhodes from 1309 to 1522, built upon what were initially modest Byzantine defenses. They created eight sections of curtain walls, each overseen by a different "langue" (or knightly division). Originally, each curtain section had a gate, but today, twelve gates remain in use, each with its unique design.

The walls are also dotted with several bastions and towers open to visitors, each filled with intriguing aspects that bring the ancient military history of Rhodes to life. Along the top, catwalks and ramparts, once patrolled by sentries or used for defense during sieges, offer a glimpse into medieval vigilance and warfare. An admission fee is required to explore these historic defenses more closely, with tickets available at the Palace of the Grand Master. Visitors can climb several of the towers and walk along the walls, perhaps imagining themselves as medieval knights.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes

6) 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.
Street of the Knights

7) 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.
Archaeological Museum of Rhodes

8) Archaeological Museum of Rhodes (must see)

One of the most significant buildings in the Old Town, the Knights' New Hospital, now houses the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes. This structure not only displays artifacts from all the ancient sites on the island but also stands as a testament to the wealth and considerable engineering skills of its medieval builders.

Construction of the hospital began in 1440 and was completed nine years later under the guidance of Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson. Designed as a state-of-the-art facility for its time, it provided medical care to Christians from across Europe. The building underwent restoration during the Italian occupation and required further repairs after sustaining bomb damage during World War II.

Inside, the museum features a large courtyard lined with arched porticoes, one graced by a lion statue from the Hellenistic period. The courtyard also displays piles of cannonballs from various sieges, including that led by Suleiman the Magnificent. To the left of the courtyard, a stone staircase ascends to the infirmary hall, a vast space with a roof supported by several stone columns, reminiscent of a medieval courtroom. This main ward originally accommodated over 100 beds and had special recessed rooms for the critically ill. Originally featuring minimal comforts, such as a fireplace, it now houses relics from the era of the Knights, including the gravestones of notable members complete with their familial coats-of-arms.

The rooms on the rest of the floor, including the large refectory, have been partitioned into smaller galleries displaying a variety of artifacts, including painted pottery, large storage jars called "pithoi", and grave artifacts from ancient sites like Ialysos and Kameiros, with sections devoted to finds from specific periods. Notably, rooms 6 to 8 focus on artifacts from Ialysos dating from the 9th to the 4th century BC, while rooms 9 to 15 showcase discoveries from Kameiros, all unearthed during the Italian period of excavation.

The atrium area, once the hospital kitchen, now exhibits a remarkable collection of Classical statuary and grave steles, notably one donated by Krito for her mother Timarista around 410 BC, crafted by a local artist in the Athenian style prevalent at that time. Nearby, visitors can also find an Archaic-era "kouros" and a small head of Zeus found near his temple on Mount Atávyros.

Other rooms display exquisite Hellenistic and Roman statues, including two marble representations of Aphrodite: Thalassia or Aidoumene, famously dubbed the 'Marine Venus' by Lawrence Durrell but notable for her sea-dissolved face, and the more accessible "Aphrodite Bathing", a crouched figure arranging her hair, which dates back to the 1st century BC but is thought to be a copy of a 3rd-century BC original. Adjacent to these, a sculpture garden displays a quirky mix of stylized animals both real and mythical, such as dolphin heads, lions, and sea serpents, all set among potted plants.
Church of Our Lady of the Castle (Museum Square)

9) Church of Our Lady of the Castle (Museum Square)

Museum Square ("Platía Mousíou") is surrounded by several notable buildings, including the Church of Our Lady of the Castle. Originally constructed by the Byzantines and later completed by the Knights of Saint John, who transformed it into their cathedral, this building is a historical gem. Its somber stone walls still display traces of 14th-century frescoes from its days as a church, although it was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period. Thankfully, its original architectural design has been preserved, and today, the church houses the Byzantine Museum, which showcases a remarkable collection of icons, primarily from the 14th and 15th centuries, along with post-Byzantine frescoes that have been salvaged from abandoned chapels across Rhodes and the nearby islands.

Also on the church grounds are the remains of a Doric temple dedicated to Athena Polias—a significant archaeological site that visitors should not overlook. Just a short distance away, at the southeastern edge of the square near the Arnáldou Gate, is the Inn of England. Originally built in 1483, this structure was reconstructed by the Italians after its destruction in 1856.

Rich with history, the Museum Square offers a deep dive into the layered past of Rhodes and its diverse cultural influences.
St. Paul's Gate

10) St. Paul's Gate

Southeast of Mandráki Harbour, a scenic walk along the waterfront leads you through Saint Paul's Gate, an outer defensive bastion of the Old Town. This gate opens up at the northwest end of Kolóna, the central of Rhodes' three ports, buzzing with activity from colorful fishing boats, ferries arriving from Turkey, cruise ships, and large catamarans.

The bastion at the gate showcases expert construction techniques and serves as a point of reference for fortification experts: it features twelve cannon holes strategically positioned to cover a broad range between the two harbors and the mole of Saint Nicholas ("Agios Nikolaos"). A common element between this gate, the Saint Athanasius Gate, and the D'Amboise Gate is the drawbridge mechanism, believed to have operated through a system of beams and counterweights. Evidence of this system is visible in the vertical slots on the external wall, where the drawbridge beams would have been mounted.

Inside the semi-cylindrical tower on the inner wall, there's a marble sculpture displaying the coat of arms of the House of Grand Master d’Aubusson (1476-1503), adjacent to those of the Hospitallers Order and Pope Sixtus IV. Below these emblems is an effigy of Paul the Apostle and an inscription in Gothic characters reading "Sanctus Paul". These heraldic symbols date the completion of this section of the fortifications to around 1477, during a broader initiative led by Grand Master d’Aubusson to restore the northern walls.

During World War II, Saint Paul's Gate sustained significant damage and nearly collapsed, but was rebuilt in the early 1950s. Today, one of the best spots to appreciate the views is from the foundations of the now-gone Naillac Tower, just east of the gate. This location offers unparalleled views of Mandráki, especially at dawn and dusk, making it a favorite spot for both locals and visitors.
Mandraki Harbor and Windmills

11) Mandraki Harbor and Windmills (must see)

Mandráki Harbour, historically the main port of the ancient city, today provides anchorage for numerous private sailboats along its lengthy eastern quay. During the summer months, the southwest quays come alive with colorful excursion boats that ferry passengers down the coast to Líndos or to nearby islands.

The harbor features a 400-meter-long breakwater jetty, at the end of which stands the Fort of Saint Nicholas ("Ágios Nikólaos"). Originally constructed by the Knights, the fort was last used militarily during World War II and now houses a lighthouse that aids modern vessels entering the port from the north. Despite popular myths perpetuated by local souvenirs like tea-towels, T-shirts, and posters, the ancient Colossus never actually stood here. Instead, the entrance to the harbor is marked by two columns, each topped with a bronze statue of a doe and stag, symbols of Rhodes.

Visitors to Mandráki Harbor can also admire three iconic medieval windmills on the jetty, once used to grind grain from moored vessels. Originally, there may have been as many as 13 or 14 windmills. The remaining three have been extensively renovated and provide a picturesque setting for photographs, particularly stunning at sunrise when their silhouettes are cast against the dawn sky.
Fort of St. Nicholas

12) Fort of St. Nicholas (must see)

The Fort of Saint Nicholas stands as a commanding presence over Mandráki Harbor, a site with a rich military history. Originally, in the 15th century, only a guard tower constructed by the Knights of Saint John occupied this location. Following the first siege of Rhodes, the tower was significantly fortified, eventually transforming into a robust stronghold that was later named after the chapel situated within its walls. This fortification played a crucial role in enabling the Knights Hospitaller to resist Turkish attacks for many years, including during major sieges in 1480 and again from 1522-23. While the initial Ottoman assault was repelled, the subsequent one in 1522 eventually led to the Knights being ousted from the city.

The fort's design was strategically planned to counter the Ottoman's use of cannons and other siege weapons, featuring thick walls that remained impervious for many years and still stand in excellent condition today. Currently, the Fort of Saint Nicholas is a major attraction, drawing visitors who are keen to explore its well-preserved structure. Visitors can enjoy a walk along the path where the moat once flowed—now a dry, scenic walkway lined with trees, providing a tranquil and picturesque experience of this historic site.
Colossus of Rhodes

13) Colossus of Rhodes

Despite widespread myths, the Colossus of Rhodes did not actually span the entrance to Mandráki Harbour—as many depictions suggest. The reality is that its immense weight, consisting of twenty tonnes of bronze, would have caused it to sink into the soft seabed immediately. More credible theories suggest that this monumental statue of the sun god Helios, erected to memorialize Rhodes' successful defeat of Demetrius Poliorcetes, who attacked Rhodes for a year, was located near the Palace of the Grand Master.

The sculptor Khares of Lindos spent twelve years crafting the 35-meter (114-foot) tall Colossus, with each finger reportedly as large as a man. Tragically, Khares took his own life after discovering a critical design flaw in the statue, and his work was subsequently completed by his disciple, Lakhes. Less than 70 years after its completion, the Colossus suffered a catastrophic failure during an earthquake, snapping at the knees and collapsing, which some say confirmed Khares' fears about its structural integrity.

Following the disaster, the people of Rhodes sought guidance from the Delphic Oracle, which ominously advised them against restoring the statue. Heeding this warning, the ruins of the Colossus remained where they fell for nearly 900 years. It wasn't until AD 653 that Arab pirates pillaged Rhodes, ultimately selling the statue's bronze as scrap to a Jewish merchant from Syria. According to legend, it took 900 camels to transport all the bronze, marking a dramatic end to one of the ancient world's most famous statues.

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