When you approach the walls of Medieval Old Town of Rhodes you are about to enter the oldest inhabited medieval city in Europe. It's a thrill to behold. Best to know one thing from the start about the Old Town of Rhodes: It's not laid out on a grid - not even close.
How to get there from Krinis Apartments
There are many gates from where you can enter the Medieval Town. The gate that is closer to us is D' Amboise Gate. It is 10-15 minutes on foot. Eleftherias (Liberty) Gate is the main one and you can reach it by walking across Mandraki Port, a wonderful route.
In the Medieval - Old - Town of Rhodes one may for sure enjoy one of the most interesting walks on the island. Do not let the "medieval" mislead you: rather than a ruined, deserted setting, you will be pleasantly surprised to wander through an intricate network of busy little commercial streets delightfully alternating with quiet alleys, in what is a very much alive town consistently dwelt in over the last two thousand years! No wonder, therefore, that for some time now, the Medieval Quarter of Rhodes - the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe - forms part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage network!
This is a bustling neighborhood of some 6000 people, who live and work in the same buildings in which the Knights of St. John dwelt, six centuries ago. An emotion certain to remain forever alive on one’s memory!
Medieval buildings, mosques, traditional fountains, oriental motifs, Byzantine and Gothic churches, shops and cafeterias are scattered throughout the Old Town of Rhodes, all blending together to create a unique and picturesque whole. There are roughly 200 streets or alleys - some of them bearing no name! Getting “lost” here is not a defeat; it's an opportunity. Whenever you feel the need to find your bearings, you may ask for "Sokratous" street, which is the closest the Medieval City comes to having a main street.
The Palace of the Grand Master, reinstated by the Italians in 1940 after almost a century of abandonment (the building had been destroyed as a result of an explosion in a forgotten powder store in its basement, in 1856), stands out because of its imposing entrance and exquisitely well-preserved towers and battlements. The interiors of the buildings, decorated with priceless ornamental objects, are equally impressive.
The Archaeological Museum is housed in the Gothic building of the Great Hospital of the Knights and preserves masterpieces of art on Rhodes, finds from ancient lalysos and Kamiros and mosaic paintings from the city of Rhodes.
The Knight's Street, the imposing street that leads to the Palace of the Grand Master, keeps alive the accommodations of the "language" of the Order of Knights.
It is worth visiting the Panagia tou Kastrou, the Panagia tou Bourgkou, the clocktower, the synagogue and the mosques of the Suleyman and Recep Pasha.
The medieval city of Rhodes is one of the few remaining medieval cities in the world that is still inhabited and alive.
Outstanding Universal Value
From 1309 to 1523 Rhodes, the largest island of the Dodecanese, was occupied by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem who had lost their last stronghold in Palestine, in Acre, in 1291. They transformed the island capital into a fortified city able to withstand sieges as terrible as those led by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and Mehmet II in 1480. Rhodes finally fell in 1522 after a six-month siege carried out by Suleyman II.
The medieval city is located within a 4 km-long wall. It is divided with the high town to the north and the lower town south-southwest. Originally separated from the lower town by a fortified wall, the high town was entirely built by the Knights. The Order was organized into seven “tongues”, each having its own seat, or “inn”. The inns of the tongues of Italy, France, Spain and Provence lined the principal east-west axis, the famous Street of the Knights, on both sides, one of the finest testimonies to Gothic urbanism. To the north, close to the site of the Knights’ first hospice, stands the Inn of Auvergne, whose facade bears the arms of Guy de Blanchefort, Grand Master from 1512 to 1513. The original hospice was replaced in the 15th century by the Great Hospital, built between 1440 and 1489, on the south side of the Street of the Knights.
The lower town is almost as dense with monuments as the high town. In 1522, with a population of 5000, it had many churches, some of Byzantine construction. Throughout the years, the number of palaces and charitable foundations multiplied in the south-southeast area: the Court of Commerce, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Hospice of St. Catherine, and others.
Its history and development up to 1912 has resulted in the addition of valuable Islamic monuments, such as mosques, baths and houses. After 1523, most churches were converted into Islamic mosques, like the Mosque of Soliman, Kavakli Mestchiti, Demirli Djami, Peial ed Din Djami, Abdul Djelil Djami, Dolapli Mestchiti.
The ramparts of the medieval city, partially erected on the foundations of the Byzantine enclosure, were constantly maintained and remodelled between the 14th and 16th centuries under the Grand Masters. Artillery firing posts were the final features to be added. At the beginning of the 16th century, in the section of the Amboise Gate, which was built on the northwest angle in 1512, the curtain wall was 12 m thick with a 4 m-high parapet pierced with gun holes. The fortifications of Rhodes exerted an influence throughout the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Middle Ages.
Criterion (ii): The fortifications of Rhodes, a “Frankish” town long considered to be impregnable, exerted an influence throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin at the end of the Middle Ages.
Criterion (iv): This cultural property is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates the significant period of history in which a military/hospital order founded during the Crusades survived in the eastern Mediterranean area in a context characterised by an obsessive fear of siege. Rhodes is one of the most beautiful urban ensembles of the Gothic period. The fact that this medieval city is located on an island in the Aegean Sea, that it was on the site of an ancient Greek city, and that it commands a port formerly embellished by the Colossus erected by Chares of Lindos, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, only adds to its interest. Finally, it must be noted that the chain of history was not broken in 1523 but rather continued up to 1912 with the additions of valuable Islamic monuments, such as mosques, baths and houses.
Criterion (v): With its Frankish and Ottoman buildings the old town of Rhodes is an important ensemble of traditional human settlement, characterized by successive and complex phenomena of acculturation. Contact with the traditions of the Dodecanese changed the forms of Gothic architecture and building after 1523 combined vernacular forms resulting from the meeting of two worlds with decorative elements of Ottoman origin. All the built-up elements dating before 1912 have become vulnerable because of the evolution in living conditions and they must be protected as much as the great religious, civil and military monuments, the churches, monasteries, mosques, baths, palaces, forts, gates and ramparts.
The increasing dangers due to the tourist development and the commercial overexploitation of the property, the modification of land use and of building regulations require that the strategic management of the property be continuously strengthened, so that the pressure exerted on the environment and the urban fabric, including all elements from before 1912, will be minimized.
The medieval city of Rhodes maintains the architectural character and the urban organization of a medieval city as well as its primary building materials. The alterations to the fortification walls and the monuments within the city during the Ottoman period did not harm at all the character of the historical settlement, and are unique and integral evidence of the historic layering of the property. The Italian occupation after 1912 left a strong imprint on the urban landscape of Rhodes, with reconstructions of some of the major buildings. They must be considered, nonetheless, as a permanent integral part of the urban history of Rhodes.
Protection and management requirements
The property is protected by the provisions of the Archaeological Law 3028/2002 “On the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in general”, and by separate ministerial decrees, published in the Official Government Gazette. Protection and management are carried out by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs through the responsible regional service (Ephorate of Antiquities of the Dodecanese). The Scientific Committee responsible for the execution of restoration projects in the Medieval City of Rhodes is supervised by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs. Since Rhodes is a living city, the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs cooperates with the responsible bodies (Public, Regional and Municipal), so that the medieval city of Rhodes can maintain its qualitative features as a perpetually evolving historical settlement.
The protection and management of the medieval city of Rhodes is implemented through continuous and systematic controls of the town-planning framework and of building activity as well as the updating of the institutional and legislative regulations.
Conservation works on the fortifications, monuments, communal spaces and private buildings are still in progress and are funded by the European Union, the state and private resources. Both state and municipal authorities are in charge of issues regarding the day-to-day function of the residential area with the view to preserving more effectively the values of the property.
The Palace of the Grand Masters and the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes have been upgraded in order to promote the property and offer better facilities to visitors (new exhibitions, infrastructures).
The first phase of the urban planning study for the medieval city of Rhodes – which will define specific boundaries for building and use of land within the limits of the property aiming to its preservation and which was elaborated by the Municipality of Rhodes in cooperation with the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Dodecanese – has been approved under conditions which will be incorporated in the second phase. The final study – a Presidential Decree – will become the basis of the management plan.