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Old Town Rhodes - Ancient and Modern combined

  • Submitted by: John Murphy, United Kingdom
  • Submission Date: 04th Oct 2005

Rhodes old town is very much a mixture of old and new. Established in 408BC it was developed by the Islanders, then by the Romans until the 4th century AD. As part of the Early Christian Empire the island languished somewhat and didn't prosper. The Knights of St John arrived on the island after buying it from the Lord of the Dodocanese, Admiral Vignolo de Vignoli in 1306. It took the knights three years to quell the island inhabitants and once this was achieved they extended the city boundaries further.

It was protected by a wide, deep moat that has now been drained and which provides a walking route around the perimeter.

You can detour into the main town area at several places. As you do you'll come across narrow streets and alleyways that have changed little over the centuries. The closeness of the houses creates a real feeling of community. Shops are squeezed in at ground level with living accommodation above. Also, on the outer edges of the town the number of shops dwindle to be replaced by family homes.

The tight streets and alleyways make it almost impossible for cars to move around freely. Those that try soon find that any free space is a candidate for parking. Much more suitable are the numerous scooters and small motorbikes that weave in and out like bees zigzagging around looking for the best place to find nectar. Riders are use to the many visitors that sojourn through the town and have perfected the noisy art of using their raspy motor horns to warn people of pending collision.

On the boundary of the town the streets are paved with smooth cobblestones that can make walking somewhat uncomfortable, although the effort is worth it. As you get away from the main tourist areas you see the old town as it was originally. The people who live there take pleasure in sitting outside and exchanging a smile as you pass by.

Some of the streets are wider than others and it's enthralling to glance either side as you walk by to see what hidden treasures there might be. An artist's studio, a bijou hotel, workshops, restaurants can all be found on these diversions. You can spend a lot of time exploring off the main routes if you've a mind to.

One of the main streets running south to north is Pythagora. Here you'll find the Timokata cafÉ bar. Not a large place, yet one that has a definite character. Recently refurbished, you feel that the owners have preserved the essential authenticity of the building. Tables are arranged at open thresholds that allow you to enjoy a drink as you watch the procession of visitors and residents pass by.

Once refreshed you'll find the main shopping area (Sokratous) just a few steps away. Here, the number of people increases significantly. They browse their way along the myriad shops that line both sides of the street. Shopkeepers either stand in front of their stores aiming to catch the eye of a likely buyer. Or, they prefer to wait discretely inside the shop leaving visitors to make the first move. Gold, jewellery, ceramics and lace are much in evidence as are the many places displaying souvenirs and clothing that will remind you of your trip to the island.

At the junction of Sokratous and Apellou you should take a detour west where, once you're past the crowded restaurants, you'll find much quieter bars that emanate serenity and peace. Less than a minute from the hustle and bustle of Sokratous you'll feel as though you're in a completely different place.

At the top of Sokratous is the Mosque of Suleiman, built in 1523 after the Knights were defeated by the invading Turks. Work is ongoing in restoring the building to its former glory.

Heading further east you come to the famous Street of the Knights, Ippoton. There are no shops here which may account for the small number of people strolling up and down. This is a pity as the Street has an important historical significance for the island. The 'Inns of the Tongues' built on either side represent the nationalities of the Knights of St John -- France, Italy, England, Germany, Provence, Spain and Auvergne.

It's best to visit the town from mid-afternoon through to the early evening. This means that you can move around when the strength of the sun has abated. In the evening you can have a meal or a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants knowing that people have done the very same thing for hundreds of years in this delightful walled city.