In ancient Greek mythology, when Zeus had defeated the Giants he decided to divide the earth among the other gods, but overlooked the sun god Helios. The latter then asked that when he rose the next day the land which emerged from the waters should be his. And the land that came up from the sea was the island of Rhodes – the island of the sun god Helios!
A magical place, with every possible attraction – it is hard to know what aspect of Rhodes deserves our appreciation most! Is it the enchanting Old City? The golden beaches? The Valley of Butterflies? The picturesque villages in the lush mountain landscape? The rivers and lakes? The superb tourist infrastructure? The truth is that on Rhodes every visitor will find what he is looking for – and this is why they return year after year!
Sightseeing in Rhodes
A fascinating amalgam of different historical periods, cultures, aesthetics and architecture, the entire Old City of Rhodes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ancient city was founded in 408 BC and laid out by the famous town planner Hippodamus. It acquired its more mediaeval character in the 13th century, when the Knights of St. John arrived on the island after their expulsion from the Holy Land. Visitors should cross the great moat and enter the Old City by one of its ten gateways, and then walk along the historic Street of the Knights leading up to the Palace of the Grand Master. Then make your way down Sokratous St. and seek out the mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent, with its lofty minaret (34.5m), one of the most important mosques in the western world, built in 1523. Around another corner you will see the gothic Panagia tou Kastrou Church, or the delightful Arionos Square, and close to it the Mosque of Mustapha Pasha and the 16th century Turkish baths. The journey through time continues…
As you ascend the Street of the Knights you will see before you the imposing and architecturally impressive Palace of the Grand Master, also known as the Castello. It was built in the 7th century AD and served as the citadel of the city’s first fortress. Local legend has it that the palace was erected on the foundations of the ancient Temple of Helios. The building was destroyed in 1865, by an explosion in a neighbouring church, but restored by the Italians who took over the island in 1912. It is now open to visitors, who can admire inside a magnificent setting the island’s Byzantine collection and the other temporary exhibitions housed within it.
This mediaeval building within the Old City was once the Knights’ Hospital and is now home to archaeological finds from the Mycenean period to the Middle Ages, among them the statue of Crouching Aphrodite, larger than life-size, the colossal head of Helios and many other treasures.
This museum is a marvellous showcase for Greek art, with extensive collections of paintings and engravings, as well as many sculptures, drawings and documents. The museum was set up to illustrate the history and social evolution of Greece though the eyes of great artists like Maleas, Parthenis, Theofilos, Gounaropoulos, Lytras, Bouzianis, Engonopoulos, Moralis, Tsarouchis, Kessanlis and Tetsis.
There is a lovely walk to be had outside the city walls, which will take you to Mandraki with its three mediaeval stone mills. One of them is open to the public and houses offices of the Hellenic Navy Hydrographic Service. There is also an exhibition space with exhibits from the worlds of music, hydrography and oceanography, and a wealth of photographs from hydrographic expeditions over the last 100 years
Here on the northern edge of Rhodes, in the historic building of the Hydrobiological Station and Aquarium, the magic of the seabed is recreated on dry land. The building, completed in 1936, has an impressive basement level configured to represent an underwater cave, with rocks, shells and low lighting, where various species of marine life are kept in large tanks.
Offering amazing views of the city and the sea, the hill takes its name from an Englishman, Captain Smith, who recorded the movements of French ships in the straits at the time of Napoleon. The hill was also the site of the acropolis of the ancient city of Rhodes. At the summit there are the remains of the Hellenistic Temple of Apollo, with its impressive columns. Immediately below one can see the ancient Stadium of Rhodes, dating from the 3rd century BC. Next to it is the restored Roman Odeon, used today to stage concerts and plays.
Just three kilometres outside the city, on the road to Lindos, you will find yourself in an unexpected paradise – the Rodini Park, with paths, babbling streams, romantic wooden bridges, kiosks, ponds with lilies and little waterfalls. And everywhere the delicious cooling shade of dense foliage. An idyllic place, said to be one of the oldest parks anywhere in the world.
Kallithea: Another lovely walk is to the charming little cove of Kallithea, with the remarkable art deco spa building constructed by the Italians in 1929. It has an impressive rotunda, and very elegant decoration featuring pebbled designs and crystal-clear waters.
Together with Lindos and Ialysos, Kameiros was one of the island’s three ancient cities and an important trading centre from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period. Laid out like an amphitheatre overlooking the sea, it was excavated in 1929 and parts of dwellings and public buildings came to light. It is located just 30km south-west of Rhodes.
The picturesque village of Lindos lies on the south-eastern coast of the island, 55 miles from the city of Rhodes. It has narrow, cobbled streets, white houses which are reminiscent of the Cyclades, and paved courtyards with elaborate motifs laid out in pebbles. Apart from the beautiful little shops, bars and small cafes, your imagination will also be fired by the fine old houses of the sea traders of the 16th-18th centuries, with their high surrounding walls and arched entrances. You should visit the Panagia of Lindos Church, with its amazing 15th century frescoes. The rocky hill rising above the village is the site of the imposing Lindos Acropolis, with the Sanctuary of Lindian Athene (4th century BC), the Propylaia, the great Hellenistic stoa, the little Byzantine church of St. John and the Governor’s Residence dating from the time of the Knight Crusaders. A unique feature you should seek out is the relief of a trireme from the 2nd century BC, carved into the base of the rock.
Just 12km from the town of Rhodes this verdant ravine with its dense vegetation and the forest with the oriental sweetgum trees, unique in Greece, provide a sanctuary for millions of butterflies, appearing between mid-June and late September.
Access: 25km from the town of Rhodes. You can get here by bus, taxi or private car.
There really is an embarrassment of plenty! From the town of Rhodes and all along the eastern coast of the island there are beautifully clean beaches, some with organized amenities, some not, to suit all tastes. The beaches with organized amenities and easy access are Megalos Yialos, Agios Pavlos, Pefkoi, Lardos, Yennadi, Faliraki and Trianda. Among the quieter beaches are Stegna, Massari, Plimmyri, Kalavardas, Apolakkia, Havai and Monolithos.