The Old Town

The Medieval Town, The Castle of the Knights, The Chora Map of Old Town, Old Town Hotels
The Medieval Town. The visitor should not be misled by the term "Medieval Town" into thinking that what he will see is a ruined and deserted city, such as Mystras in the Southern Peloponnese. The Old Town of Rhodes is a bustling neighborhood of some 6,000 people, who live and work in the same buildings in which the Knights of St. John lived six centuries ago; as a living monument to the past it must be nearly unique in Europe, if not the world. Even the visitor whose stay in Rhodes is for no more than a few hours should not neglect to walk around it. 
The Old Town continues today to be divided into the two parts which made it up in the time of the Knights: the northern part, which was the internal fortress of the Knights, known as the
Castello, and which contained the official buildings; and the larger southern part, called the Chora, where the Greeks, the Europeans who were not members of the Order and the Jews lived. These two parts of the town were separated by a wall running approximately parallel to the line of Sokratous street, the old Bazaar. During the years of Turkish occupation, the Greeks were expelled from the Old Town, which was the exclusive province of Turks and Jews. Greeks were allowed to enter only during daytime and those who were caught in the old town after dark were liable to be beheaded.

The Castle of the Knights. Coming up from Mandraki Harbor, we enter through the Gate of Freedom (Pili Eleftherias), in Simi sq. The Gate was opened in 1924 by the Italians, who looked on themselves as liberators of the island from the Turks.

Immediately opposite are the ruins of a Temple of Aphrodite, dating from the 3rd century BC, one of the few ancient remains to be found in the Old Town. Behind the temple is the Inn of the Tongue of Auvergue, built in 1507. Note the outside staircase leading up the front of the building which is a purely Aegean architectural feature, owing nothing to Western influence. The Inn is used today as government offices. 

To the left, Arsenal Gate leads to the commercial port. Simi sq. is also known as Arsenal sq., as it was believed that the Knights had shipyards there (the word "arsenal" is derived from the Arabic word for a shipyard). The building on the right houses the Ionian and Popular Bank on the ground floor and the Municipal Art Gallery upstairs. From here the street climbs slightly to Argyrokastrou sq., a pretty spot with a fine fountain in its center. Its base, which is an early Christian font, was found by Italian archaeologists in the church of St. Irene near the village of Arnitha. The pile of cannonballs near the fountain, and the other piles to be seen here and there in the Old Town, were collected for the defense of Rhodes during the Turkish siege of 1522. Argyrokastrou sq. also boasts one of the oldest buildings in the Castle - the Armeria, built in the 14th century, probably by Grand Master Roger de Pias, whose escutcheon can be seen on the left hand side of the building. Its similarities to the Hospital of the Knights (now the Museum) lead scholars to believe that this was the first building used as a Hospital. Later, it was used by the Turks as an armory (armeria). To the left as we look at the Armeria, which today houses the Institute of History and Archaeology, is the Museum of Folk Art. 
We continue, under an arch, and come out in front of the church of Our Lady of the Castle, which was the Knights' Cathedral. It stands at the beginning of the Street of the Knights. In 1523, the Turks converted the church into a mosque (the
Enterum Mosque) and the bell-tower, which no longer stands, became a minaret. The interior, however, was left as it was. It is possible that the original structure of the church was Byzantine; estimates of its age range from the 11th to the 13th century. 

Right after the church of Our Lady of the Castle is Museum sq., with the Inn of the Tongue of England and the Knights' Hospital. The Inn of the Tongue of England is on the left, on the corner of the Square and an alley running down to the port. The building was re-constructed in 1919 in its original position and in the same style as the old structure, which dated from 1443 and was destroyed in the mid 19th century. The Knights' Hospital stands on the right as we enter the square. It is in perfect condition, and is obviously suitable for the initial purpose of the Order, which was to give hospitality and care to pilgrims in need of assistance in the Holy Land, and later to the Crusaders. This large and imposing edifice, which houses the Archaeological Museum, is probably the most important monument left by the Knights in the City. Building began in 1440 under Grand Master de Lactic and was finished in 1484 by Grand Master d' Aubusson. Much of the stone and other building materials was taken from the Roman building on the site of which the Hospital stands.

On the ground floor, arched entries to the right and left of the main entrance lead to storehouses, which are now used as shops. A similar entry approximately in the center of the building is the main way into the building and there are carved decorations. Directly above the entrance is a three-sided obtrusion, part of the chapel in the Great Hall on the upper floor. This is the only break in the otherwise unrelieved severity of the frontage of the building. The entrance leads us through an arch into an inner courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a two-store arcade with low arches.
The upper floor is reached by a wide staircase in the south-east corner of the courtyard. The eastern side of this upper floor (facing the square) is occupied by the infirmary ward of the hospital, which was capable of housing about 100 patients. Half-way along the ward is the Gothic chapel, part of which protrudes, as we have seen, over the entrance. The remaining sides of the upper floor were presumably used by the nursing staff. Now we return by
Mousiou sq. and enter the Street of the Knights (Odos Ippoton). This was the main street in the Coliseum, and is perhaps the most outstanding medieval street to be seen anywhere in Europe. Its chief feature is the degree of its preservation and its freedom from elements of a different age. During the early years of the Turkish occupation, the barracks of the occupying forces were brought here. Later, Turkish families were installed, and they added wooden balconies to the front of the buildings, spoiling the harmony of the original architectural conception. The earlier form was later restored by Italian archaeologists. At first sight, the buildings may seem austere and plain; but even a brief walk will suffice to discover the multitude of different forms and styles of detail. The street is approximately 200m long and 6m wide, and it leads up to the Palace of the Grand Masters. To the right and left stand the Inns of the various Tongues.
As we enter the Street of the Knights, the first building on our left is the north side of the Hospital. To the right, a medieval building houses the Commercial Bank of Greece. This is followed by the Inn of the Tongue of Italy, finished in 1519 by the Italian Master
Fabrizio Del Carreto, whose escutcheon can be seen in the center of the frontage. Next to this is a small palace bearing the coats-of-arms of the French Masters Aimerie d' Amboise and Villiers d' Isle Adam. Although it cannot be verified with any certainty, it seems that this was the residence of Villiers, the Master who defended Rhodes during the Turkish siege in 1522 and was entrusted with the grim duty of handing over the city to the Turks.

Opposite this palace is the original main entrance to the Hospital. After this, behind an iron gate, is a shady garden with a Turkish fountain, whose running water is the only sound to break the complete silence which reigns there. The Catalan and Aragonese style of a gateway which has survived among the ruins would seem to indicate that the building which stood there was Spanish. Almost opposite the garden is the Inn of the Tongue of France, the most highly decorated of all the Knightly buildings and among the most attractive. It is definitely worth more than just a hasty visit. It was built by the Grand Masters d' Aubusson and d' Amboise at the end of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th, and bears their coats-of-arms on the front along with the emblem of the Order and the escutcheon of Villiers d' Isle Adam. 
Next to it stands the Chapel of the Tongue of France, with a Gothic statue of the Virgin and Child on its frontage. The interior of the Chapel was much changed by the Turks, who converted it into a mosque. The coat-of-arms of Grand Master Raymond
Beranger (1365 -1374) on the Chapel indicates that it was built during his term of office and consequently that it is one of the oldest buildings in the Street of Knights. The chapel stands next to the residence of the priest, which is now occupied by the Italian Consulate. These three imposing French buildings bear witness to the power and influence of the French within the Order.

After this, an arch with a room above it is the entry to an alley at right angles to the Street of the Knights. We pass this, and immediately to our right is the Inn of the Tongue of Province, with the Inn of the Tongue of Spain to the left. The room above the archway belongs to this. Both Inns were built at the beginning of the 15th century and neither is notable for any particular exterior decoration. 
Shortly after these buildings, which are the last two Inns in the Street of the Knights, a large Gothic loggia provides a monumental end to the street. The loggia dates from the first half of the 15th century and linked the Palace of the Grand Masters and the church of St. John. The church, which was built in the early 14th century, was the official church of the Order. It was in good order until the middle of the last century, despite conversion into a mosque, but in 1856 a bolt of lightning struck the minaret and ignited a quantity of gunpowder which had lain in store probably forgotten - in its cellars for many years. The explosion blew up the church, destroyed the arcade next to it and what had remained of the abandoned Palace of the Grand Masters, killing some 800 people. Fortunately, the drawings of
Rottiers had preserved the design of the church, and the Italians were able to use them to build the church of the same name at Mandraki, near the Governor's Palace, now called the Church of the Annunciation.

Opposite the Church of St. John, at the highest point of the Castle, stood the Palace of the Grand Masters, a structure imposing both for its dimensions (80 meters by 75) and for the strength of its fortifications. These were so strong that even the siege of 1522 hardly damaged them. During the first years of their occupation, the Turks used the Palace as a prison, after which it was allowed to fall into ruin. The final blow was dealt by the explosion which wrecked St. John's Church. However, the Italians, wishing to provide King Victor Emanuel and Mussolini with a worthy residence when they visited the island, rebuilt it along the lines of the old building. It was finished in 1940. 
The floors are notable for their marvelous mosaics, dating from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, which were brought here from
Kos island. The statues which stand in the inner courtyard are also from the same periods. Greek archaeologists were brought to the brink of despair by the rebuilding of the palace, for there is considerable evidence that the famous ancient, temple of Helios (Sun god) lies under the foundations, with its rich decorations, and this may even have been the site of the Colossus. Excavations in depth have never been conducted in this area. 

As we leave the palace, Kleovoulou sq. lies to our right, and beyond this we enter a fine, wide street whose plane trees cast deep shadow even in the heat of the day. This is Orpheos street. To the right, in a wall linking the interior wall of the Castle with the main wall, is the Gate of St. Anthony, and after this, if we turn to the left, the impressive d' Amboise Gate. Iron benches between the two gates afford an opportunity to sit and rest in the shade for a while, and even - why not? - pose for a quick portrait by one of the artists to be found there. If we turn the other way down Orpheos street, we will come to the Clock Tower (built after the earthquake of 1851) which stands on the site of the north - west tower of the interior fortifications of the Coliseum. From here, the wall ran downhill parallel to the Street of the Knights to the point at which it met the outer walls near the harbor. Almost none of this section of the inner wall has survived.

The Chora. When we leave the inner Coliseum wall, we are at the top of Sokratous sq., the 'lug bazaar', as the Turks used to call it. To the left is the Mosque of Suleiman (next to the clock tower), standing in a fine courtyard with plane trees. It was built in 1808 in the place of an older mosque erected in honor of the conqueror of Rhodes, Suleiman the Magnificent. It continues to operate as a mosque, despite the worrying and perfectly visible angle which its minaret now leans at. The Turkish library, founded in 1794 by the Moslem Rhodian Ahmed Hafuz, is on the other side of the street. The library contains a fine collection of Turkish, Arab and Persian manuscripts, among which is an anonymous chronicle of the siege of 1522. Also to be seen are two richly ornamented Korans, one of 1412 and one of 1540.

Apollonion street leads off  West from near the Suleiman Mosque. In it stands the Byzantine-Gothic church of St. George, an elegant structure dating from the 15th century. It was used as a medresse (a Turkish theological school) during Ottoman occupation, and was known as Kurmale-Medresse (the school with the date palm). We return to Sokratous street. The first street to the right after the Turkish library (Ippodamou street) will take us straight into the heart of the old Turkish quarter, which has lost almost nothing of its medieval color. The alleys and the houses are very much as they were in the time of the Knights: The arches beneath which the road passes every so often were added by the Turks to provide protection against earthquakes, and they add to the oriental mystery of the atmosphere. To the right of the street can be seen the chapel of St. Paraskevi, in a free cruciform shape. This, too, became a mosque (Takkeci Cami) during the years of Turkish rule.

The first street to the left after the mosque (Archelaou street) leads to Arionos sq., where stands the Sultan Mustafa Mosque, built in 1765, and the public baths. These are the old Turkish baths (hamam), which have been restored since being destroyed in the last war. The doorman has old Turkish customs to tell of, among which is that associated with weddings: when a couple was to get married, it was the tradition that on the Friday before the wedding (which took place on Sunday) all the relatives and friends of the couple were provided with tickets for the baths, so that all could prepare themselves in a comrade atmosphere - with the two sexes separate, needless to say - for the ceremony to come. A lane runs down from Arionos sq. between the mosque and the baths to the outdoor Theater of the Old City, where performances of folk dancing are held every evening during the summer.

Our street continues, coming out in Agiou Fanouriou street. We turn right (to the South). The small Byzantine church of St. Fanourios (patron saint of those searching for lost persons) is again in free cruciform style. The Turks used it first as a stable and later as a mosque (Peial El Din Cami). Some fine wall-paintings have been preserved under the Turkish plaster on the walls. Immediately behind this, in Dorieos sq., is the abandoned mosque of Redjep-Pasha. This was built in 1588, using materials from Byzantine and Knightly times, and was, in its day, the finest mosque on the island. Its fountain stands in front of it, and behind, in an archway with a vaulted roof, is the sarcophagus of Redjep Pasha himself.

We return to Agiou Fanouriou street, one of the most picturesque in the city, and turn right, leading back to Sokratous street, the busy bazaar area where souvenirs of all descriptions are for sale. On the left as we enter this street is the wooden Aga Cami (Mosque of the Governor). On our way down towards the harbor we pass through Ippokratous sq., in the center of which stands a fine fountain. Also in the square is all that remains of an important building of the Knights known as Castellania, of which only the south-west section stands, with a large outside staircase. The building dates from 1597 and was a commercial center. The ground floor was used for transactions between traders, and the upper floor for the court where their disputes were tried. Only a few yards farther on is the Marine Gate or Harbor Gate, flanked by two bastions. It is perhaps the most spectacular of all the gates to the castle. As can be seen from engravings of past centuries, the sea used to run up to a point directly beneath the gate.

To the south of Ippokratous sq., Pythagoras street leads off to the side of the Ibrahim Pasha Cami. Built in 1531, this is the oldest Turkish religious building to have survived. It was repaired by the Italians, who also added a new minaret. Aristotelous street, which leads out of Ippokratous sq., will take us to the old Jewish quarter and to the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs (Platia Evreon Martiron), with its attractive little fountain, decorated with rows of shells, starfish, octopuses and so on, set on blue tiles and surrounded by three large sea-horses. The name of the square is in memory of the approximately 2000 Jews, who were assembled here before being shipped to Nazi concentration camps, from which only a very few of them ever returned. The building whose front is on the north side of the square is the Palace of the Admirals, which was the residence of the Orthodox Archbishop of Rhodes before the Turkish occupation. Further along Pindarou street (as the continuation of Aristotelous street is called) are the remains of the Gothic church of Our Lady of the City (Saint Marie du Burg), the largest Catholic church in Rhodes (30 meters by 18). One part of the church lies on the left side of the road, and the other on the right.

To the south of the Square of  the Hebrew Martyrs, very close to the walls, is an interesting Byzantine church - the 15th century church of the Holy Trinity, better known by its Turkish name of Dolapli Cami. From this point on, the visitor has a choice; he can continue to wander among the narrow lanes and alleys of the Old Town, with their houses reminiscent of a bygone age and their half-forgotten churches and mosques, or he can return to the crowded commercial streets to increase his collection of souvenirs.



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