Walking through the city of Rhodes is like peeling off layers of history. With its cobbled streets, tales of knights hospitaller and grand masters and its hundreds of little restaurants and shops, it’s just as great for a day of sightseeing than for just strolling around the old town. We chose to do a bit of both and it was perfect.
Having booked our trip to Rhodes only 4 days before departure, after a last-minute craving for some sun, there was no time for lots of preparations. We just picked up a map at the hotel but soon understood the only right way to discover the maze of picturesque alleys was to get lost in them. To stop rushing and just wander around, taking in every little detail. So that’s what we did.
The old town is surrounded by high medieval walls and a – now dry – moat. Walking through it from Liberty Gate towards St Anthony’s gate, we start to discover the architectural richness and charm of the town.
Rhodes is one of those places I didn’t expect that much from. It has this image of superficial all-in tourism I’m not really crazy about. Maybe that’s the reason why it surprised me like it did. Yes, there’s a lot of crowded places and shops with kitch souvenirs, but it’s also very easy to leave those behind and feel as if you had the town all to yourself.
We enter the old town and walk passed the Mosque of Suleyman and through Sokratous to Ippokratous square. Seduced by the smell of fresh iced coffee, we decide to sit down for a while on a tiny terrace above the square. A pleasant liveliness reigns over the place. People come and go while restaurant owners try to draw them to their place with promises of juicy souvlaki and delicious Greek salads. Tourists seek some freshness at the central fountain, a stray cat’s enjoying the sun on a window-sill.
We continue walking and halt at the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh, near Virgin Mary’s Gate. This church was built in the 14th Century and is probably one of the first buildings that were constructed by the Knights Hospitaller. Only 3 beautiful arches of the church are still standing.
After a short visit, we walk towards what seems to be a calmer part of the city. We leave the crowds behind and only minutes later, we get the feeling we’re almost all alone. We pass by the Hospice of Saint Catherine and have a look inside. The hospice was built around 1391 and served exclusively to welcome eminent Knights Hospitaller of the Order of the Knights of St. John. Parts of it were destroyed at different times, but the main building has been restored and is worth a visit.
We leave the hospice and let the tiny alleys guide us. The road turns and we arrive back at the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh and Virgin Mary’s Gate. We walk through it and towards the commercial harbor.
The walk alongside the water is pleasant and we keep on walking until we see a sign that says ‘archeological museum’. We decide to follow the sign and visit the museum. Before we enter, we stroll along the alleys in the neighbourhood and sit down again to get ourselves one of those delicious Greek salads. Jummie!
Coming out of the museum it’s started to get dark but the shops are stil open, so we decide to go and do some souvenir shopping. We just want some small presents for our family and to enlarge our collection of fridge magnets from all the places we’ve been to. I have to admit we found a lot of… euhm… let’s say not-so-interesting-stuff but what’s fun about boring fridge magnets anyway? We decide to go with the most kitch one we find: an imitation of a Greek column! So refined!
The next day we continue our visit where we ended it the day before: at the archeological museum. Right nextdoor is the Avenue of the Knights or Ippoton, where the Knights lived in different buildings according to their language. The avenue is well conserved and surprisingly straight in the middle of the maze that forms the city.
We stroll from the archeological museum towards the Palace of the Grand Master, home to the Grand Master of the Knights and the place where the order of the Knights assembled. The Palace is grand and impressive and definitely worth a visit.
After our visit, we take out our map for the first time, to make sure we don’t miss the Mandraki Harbor, the most important harbor in Rhodes for over 2500 years and the alleged home to the Colossus of Rhodes. Today, 2 deers take its place.
We dedicate the rest of the afternoon to more strolling around the old city center, eating another Greek salad and walking in and out the souvenir shops. We don’t care that they all sell the same stuff, it’s part of the experience.
When the night falls and there’s nobody left in the tiny alleys but us and a couple of stray cats, we look back at the 2 days we spent in this surprising little city. We’re happy we didn’t have time to prepare our trip, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Come back later to read all about our 3-day road trip around the rest of the island!