Rhodes: A cultural guide
Nicknamed Crusader Island, Rhodes offers visitors a veritable feast of medieval history. Rhodes’ most famous inhabitants, the Order of the Knights of Saint John, built many of the island’s monuments. Follow in their footsteps and become a knight yourself, only trade the four hooves for four wheels and rent a car in Rhodes. Book ahead of time with easyCar for the best rates around.
As Roman Catholics, the Knights were a religious and military order charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land, otherwise known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem. When Jerusalem fell to Islamic forces they sought refuge in Rhodes, then part of the Byzantine Empire. They became the “Knights of Rhodes” and for years, defended the island against invading forces. It was only when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent arrived with over 100,000 men in 1521, that the knights were thrown out and forced to retreat to Sicily.
Their legacy is most obvious in the Knights quarter of the island’s Old Town, where the cobbled Street of the Knights leads up to the Grand Master’s castle. On the walk, you can find the headquarters for each of the “Tongues” of the Order – England, France, Germany, Italy, Auvergne, Aragon, Castile and Provence. Thank Mussolini for their immaculate condition, as he was the man who ordered the dilapidated relics to be re-built in 1935.
Sultan Suleiman also left his mark upon Rhodes – the mosque of Suleiman is a monument of the Ottoman period. Outside, the Turkish bazaar, which surrounds the building, has today been transformed into a medley of tourist shops. Suleiman’s is not the only mosque in Rhodes however, as the skyline of the Old Town is spattered with domes and minarets.
The island’s history is layered. Thousands of years are condensed within mere metres of each other. With so much to see, it’s easy to miss the subtler signs left by periods that were not marked by grand monuments – scars of bullet holes left by the Nazis, for example, can still be seen in the walls of an old church.
Take a break from the strong outdoor sun and dive into a cool museum. On Rhodes, museums are plentiful. See over a 100 rooms of frescoes and mosaics in the permanent exhibition at the Grand Master’s Palace; gaze in awe at marble statues and Hellenistic remnants at Rhodes’ archaeological museum or improve your knowledge of Greek painters at the Modern Art Museum.
Drive from the main city to Lindos, a medieval village scattered with ruins. Strict rules about building means the place has been beautifully preserved with maze-like cobbled streets lined by old sea-masters’ houses. No cars are allowed inside the village so if you’d rather not walk, swap your ride for a donkey or a moped.
The acropolis is the main attraction of Lindos. Towering over town, the imposing ancient citadel offers another insight into the Byzantine period. The site is an archaeological spectacle set against jaw-dropping views. A recent reconstruction helps visitors imagine how grand the Acropolis once was.
Once you’ve exhausted the island’s ancient history, relax on the beach until evening. As the sun sets, the island comes alive with music. Avoid the tourist-packed bars and clubs and instead, have dinner to a soundtrack of live music. For the fast and furious folk music, unique to the Greeks, head to restaurants such as Romeo or Café Chantant.
Make all of this darting around possible with your rental car in Rhodes.