Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands, is located in the Southeast of the Mediterranean just a few kilometers away from Turkey. Its capital, the City of Rhodes, is located at the far northern end of the island, whose history is immersed with centuries of foreign influence and occupation. Once a home to real-life knights and ladies, Rhodes is Greece’s medieval fairytale island.
As with many aspects of Greek culture, the origin of Rhodes is incorporated into Greek mythology. According to one myth, Rhodes was given to the sun god Helios as a token from Zeus who had already divided Greece among other gods. Ancient Greeks had several names for the island, including Ophioussa, Elaphousa, Asteria, and Makaria, among others. Following the defeat of the Persians in the late third century B.C., the Rhodians built the famed Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven World Wonders. The Colossus stood as a beacon at the central port of Rhodes, welcoming ships into its harbor. Unfortunately, it was destroyed when an earthquake hit the island in 226 B.C. Nonetheless, the island became an important site for trade and maritime activities, so much so, that the ancient Rhodians enacted the “International Maritime Law of the Rhodians,” one of the earliest legal documents in the world, which stood as the basis for the modern-day International Maritime Law.
Rhodes in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, Rhodes thrived as an important site for commerce and Christianity. Rhodes became the provincial capital of the islands under the auspices of the Byzantine Empire after the Roman Empire split. Once the Byzantine Empire began to fall apart, Rhodes was overrun and destroyed by enemies for centuries, but ruins that remain from that era take visitors back in time. After having served for over 200 years as the headquarters of the Knights of Rhodes, Order of St. John, the island still has many medieval characteristics. The medieval town of Rhodes, first developed around a fortress built in the fifth century, is one of the most well preserved structures from that period in all of Europe. The town has also been named a UNESCO monument of world cultural heritage. The island’s knightly history lives on in the medieval town that has now become a lively tourist destination. Visitors enjoy walks up and down famous Ippoton Street, the Street of Knights, just below the Palace of the Grand Master. Around the palace, narrow alleys are lined with shops, restaurants, and houses. Visitors roaming the town can walk through medieval courtyards, under gateways and porticos once crowded by the king’s men. Remnants of the island’s other historical influences are still very much present in the medieval town. The island’s Byzantine Museum, Church of Panagia tou Kastrou, Mosque of Suleiman, Minaret of the Old City, Great Hamam, clock tower, and finally Rhodes Archaeological Museum are other key sites to visit.
The Knights of Rhodes
The Order of the Knights of Rhodes, St. John of Jerusalem, was founded by a charitable brotherhood, also known as the Knights Hospitaller for building a hospital in the Amalfitan district of the Old City in Jerusalem. The order became a military organization under the church after the Crusaders took over Jerusalem. In the 13th century, Rhodes became the headquarters of the Order of St. John, although the knights were stationed in Jerusalem as well. After settling in Rhodes, the Knights gave the island its medieval character, instilled in the architectural design and ornamentation of palaces and courtyards. The knights remained in Rhodes for 213 years until 1522 when the last Grand Master, Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, surrendered the island to Suleiman the Magnificent, Ottoman Empire Sultan. What remains of the order today is the Castle of the Knights, built in the 13th century A.D. Located at the end of the Street of Knights, it is also known as the Palace of the Grand Masters. Only two circular towers and a gate of the palace survived through the centuries.
Ancient City of Lindos
The medieval city of Rhodes is not the only hot spot the island has to offer. About 55 km south of Rhodes City, the ancient city of Lindos is another favorite tourist destination, equipped with busy shops, a magnificent beach, and an acropolis of its own. In the ancient times, Lindos was an important maritime power, and rightfully so, as the town boasted a natural harbor and an acropolis that protected the village. Today, Lindos is a quaint and traditional Greek village with paved walkways weaved among small but well kept houses and Byzantine churches. Characteristic of the island are the unique colorful doors, and the intricate pebble mosaics that adorn every house. Lindos’ main beach is adjacent to the natural harbor where many private yachts and sailboats dock to enjoy the island. Atop the Lindos Acropolis, remains of several ancient temples that have been destroyed and rebuilt over time can be found. A temple located at the acropolis was built around 342 B.C., and was dedicated to Athena, who is considered the island’s patron goddess.
Valley of Butterflies
For those who value the natural beauty of Greece and want to enjoy a quiet getaway from souvenir shops and busy beaches, the Valley of the Butterflies in Rhodes is the place to visit. The unique valley is located about 27 km west of Rhodes City and is home to a special moth-like butterfly, formally known as the Euplagia Quadripunctaria. August is the mating season for these butterflies, and during the summer the valley becomes overwhelmed with thousands of them. Although the butterfly trail accepts visitors during the summer, the butterflies are highly protected since the number of returning butterflies has declined over time, mainly due to human disturbances. Visitors are prohibited from touching or disturbing the butterflies with loud noises. A river, which runs along the valley, cools the trail and supports a lush vegetation. The Museum of Natural History is located at the end of the trail. There, visitors can learn more about the flora and fauna of Rhodes.
The Loutra (Spa) of Kallithea
Located just south of the city of Rhodes is the famous Kallithea Spa. Since antiquity, this location has been known for its healing springs and natural beauty. The Italians, during their occupation of Rhodes in the early 20th century, proposed to build an astonishing spa complex to take advantage of the healing spring water. In 1928, the famous architect Pietro Lombardi planned the construction of the Kallithea Thermal Spa Institution. His design was considered among the best architectural creations of the time. The site was also the set for many feature films. Although the spa is not currently open for operation, it has been thoroughly renovated and now serves as one of the island’s best organized beach locations and leisurely hot spots.