Walking Tour: Rhodes Old Town
● Start Liberty Gate
● End Mosque of Süleyman
● Length 2.6km; one hour
Enter the Old Town by crossing the moat, where the lawns below are usually engulfed by spectacular flowers, to reach Liberty Gate.
Immediately ahead, the pedestals and stone foundations of the fenced-off Temple of Aphrodite, one of the few identifiable ancient ruins in the Old Town, date from the 3rd century BC.
Continue straight ahead to encounter the monumental majesty of the Knights’ Quarter. A 15th-century hospital now holds the superb Archaeological Museum, which spreads through sumptuous gardens and chronicles 7000 years of Rhodes' history. Highlights include the statue of Aphrodite Bathing, from the 1st century BC, which Lawrence Durrell celebrated in his book Reflections on a Marine Venus.
Across the street, the small 11th-century church of Panagia tou Kastro is in great shape, considering it served as a mosque during four centuries of Ottoman rule, and was also devastated by an earthquake.
Sloping upwards from the square outside, the Street of the Knights (Ippoton) is a remarkable relic of Rhodes’ occupation by the Knights of St John. Established during the Crusades, the knights ruled the island from 1309 until 1522. Drawn from all over Europe, they shared the defence of the town between eight ‘tongues’, according to their countries of origin. Each had its own ‘Inn’, or palace-like headquarters, and these imposing edifices now form a stern, continuous wall up the die-straight street. The Inn of France – or to give it its full official name, the 'Inn of the Tongue of France' – is the grandest, but the only building you can actually enter is the so-called House of Djem, where glass panels set into the floor expose layers of occupation stretching back to the Roman era.
At the top of the street, a gateway to the right opens into a courtyard dominated by the huge facade of the Palace of the Grand Master. Home to the elected leader of the knights, this was restored a century ago under Italian rule. It now holds museums devoted to successive historical eras; the Ancient section, downstairs, is especially interesting.
Now seize the chance to explore Rhodes’ magnificent medieval walls, all but intact, and unique in still enclosing such an unspoiled enclave. A gate from the courtyard in front of the palace, open limited hours on weekdays only, leads out onto the broad, grassy ramparts. The sheer intricacy of the fortifications is quite astonishing, incorporating scarps and casemates galore as well as vast strongholds like the Bastion of St George. The walk along the top offers great views over the moat and back across the domes and minarets of the Old Town, as well as fascinating glimpses of gardens and domestic life in its quieter neighbourhoods. It can be a hot, exposed hike in summer, though – and watch out if you have kids with you, as it’s seldom railed.
Alternatively, if the ramparts are closed, you can walk in the moat itself, by continuing to the end of the Street of the Knights, turning right onto Orfeos, and dropping down from St Anthony’s Gate. Now a peaceful, park-like retreat, the moat makes a great vantage point for admiring the scale and strength of the walls, while trees offer plentiful shade.
The ramparts walk ends after 1.2km, when you’re directed down a staircase just inside St John’s Gate. Also known as Red Gate, this was supposedly dyed red with blood during the siege of 1522. Make your way back to the Knights’ Quarter by following some of the most appealing alleyways of the Hora, or Turkish Quarter, for five centuries the Old Town’s main commercial and residential district. From the intersection 25m beyond the stairs, walk left for 50m, then right for another 60m, to reach a little square. The hauntingly quiet pebble-paved lane that heads left from here, Omirou, narrows to seem like a tunnel as it burrows beneath curving arches, overhanging wooden balconies, and awnings stretched to shade little shops and cafes.
After 300m, Omirou bends sharply left, to reach locals' favourite Old Town Corner Bakery 60m further on, perfect for a pastry pitstop. This stands just inside St Athanasios Gate (which is where you’ll re-enter the Old Town if you walk in the moat rather than on the ramparts). The bakery marks the southern end of Ipodamou, which runs briefly west from here before turning north at a high wall. Follow it for another 400m, passing all sorts of intriguing shops and cafes, to reach the landmark, pastel-pink Mosque of Süleyman, at the top of the Old Town’s busiest street, Socratous.