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Rhodes Town, Greece: A cultural guide

August 17th, 2011 by

From the Telegraph: Robin Gauldie offers an essential cultural guide to Rhodes, a Greek city once ruled by the Knights of St John.

The old hammam on Plateia Arionos is a relic of Ottoman rule and part of a group of buildings that makes Rhodes’s medieval town unique. Dotted with the domes and minarets of more than a dozen mosques, within a ring of ramparts built by the Knights of St John, this is one of Europe’s great surviving walled towns.

The Knights ruled Rhodes with a mailed fist for more than two centuries until Suleiman the Magnificent turfed them out in 1521.

Modern residential suburbs sprawl on the outskirts, but farther in, the “New Town” is a grid of shopping and restaurant streets, behind an esplanade of Art Deco-meets-fake-Moorish buildings dating from the Italian occupation of 1912-43.

Walk up Odos Ippoton (the Street of the Knights) to the Palace of the Grand Masters, past the elegant stone inns where each of the “Tongues” of the Order – England, France, Germany, Italy, Auvergne, Aragon, Castile and Provence – had its headquarters. If these, and the palace, seem to be in suspiciously good shape, blame Mussolini, who ordered the rebuilding of the dilapidated relics in 1935. Today, the palace’s echoing halls house two permanent exhibitions (dedicated to medieval and ancient Rhodes), and it’s easy to imagine how imposing they must have been when the Knights were at the height of their power.

Fifty yards south of the palace, the Roloi towers above the grey domes, pink walls and cypress-shaded precinct of the Mosque of Suleiman, the Old Town’s most splendid Ottoman relic. If you have a head for heights (I don’t), make your way to the top of the clock tower (built after a mid-19th-century earthquake). From the top, red-tiled roofs, domes and minarets, palm-shaded squares and battlements are laid out below you.

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