It had been thirteen years, but it might as well have been a week ago. Rhodes is one of those places that doesn’t change very much, its winding medieval streets beautifully preserved behind the walls of Old Town, its majestic deer-topped columns guarding the harbor where the Colossus once stood.

We had traveled to the Greek island those many years ago as part of an Eastern Mediterranean cruise with our then teenaged children. It was an exhaustingly hot August day, and after a short walk to Old Town, Herb and our son Andrew decided to head to the beach. But for some reason, our daughter Emily and I wanted to stay inside the old walled city.

We spent hours wandering the medieval streets that day, getting lost, finding our way and getting lost again. Emily bought a silver necklace made with lava rocks at a small shop run by the man who created each piece himself. We had tea at an outdoor café, sitting in a peaceful apricot-colored courtyard under the canopy of a beautiful shade tree. It was an unexpectedly wonderful day, and all these years later, Emily and I still smile when we think of Rhodes.

Mandraki Harbour and The Colossus of Rhodes

On this visit, I wanted Herb to experience the Rhodes that I remembered. I was curious to see whether Old Town would live up to the images so clearly etched in my mind. The October morning was sunny and clear as we set out from the port along the waterfront. But before we entered the Old Town gates, we walked to the end of the harbor to find something we’d missed the first time around – the spot where the Colossus of Rhodes had once stood.

I loved this trio of medieval windmills that stands along Mandraki Harbour. They were used to ground the grains unloaded from merchant ships coming into Rhodes.
A dolphin sculpture and view of the city walls.
In the distance, the Fort of St. Nicholas, built by the Knights of St. John in the 15th century.
A closer view of the Fort of St. Nicholas and its lighthouse.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes was constructed in 280 B.C. and collapsed during an earthquake in 226 B.C. Although no one knows exactly what the statue looked like or how it was positioned in Mandraki Harbour, it is believed to have been the tallest statue in the ancient world, about the size of the modern-day Statue of Liberty. Today a male and female bronze deer – the symbol of Rhodes – stand atop columns marking the entrance to the harbor.

© United States public domain. The Colossus of Rhodes, from the French book “Voyage Aux Sept Merveilles Du Monde” by Lucien Augé de Lassus.
Two bronze deer mark the entrance to Mandraki Harbour, where the Colossus once stood.

Mandraki Harbour, Rhodes, Greece - the modern postcard

Walking to Old Town

We retraced our steps and walked back along the waterfront to Old Town. The area has the ambiance of a promenade, with trees cascading over walkways and lampposts lining the route. Shopkeepers and vendors were beginning to open their doors, and fishermen were attending to their nets. It was a quiet, peaceful walk, an early autumn morning at its finest.

A medieval-looking fountain anchors the walkway.
A serene-looking pathway through the trees. 
Selfie on the Rhodes waterfront.
Passing by a “moat,” and St. Paul’s Gate in the distance.

Old Town Highlights

Inside the gates, Herb and I did just what Emily and I had done: We got lost. Old Town isn’t as much a list of stops along the way as it is the way itself. There were a few buildings I had hoped to track down, and we eventually happened upon them, not quite knowing how we got there! We stepped inside places when we could, but we didn’t take any tours. The tourist information office that we passed might see things a little differently, but I think Old Town is best experienced on your own.

Here are a few highlights from our walk (listed alphabetically):

Church of Our Lady of the Castle

The Byzantine church dates from the 11th century, and during Turkish rule it was turned into a mosque.

Gate of St. Anthony

The rose-hued relief above the narrow Gate of St. Anthony…
…and the city walls outside.

Hafiz Ahmed Agha Library

Founded in 1793, the Ottoman library – named after its founder – is tucked away on a quiet courtyard near the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent…
…and contains several thousand Arabic, Turkish and Persian manuscripts and books.

Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent

Built in 1552 after the Ottoman conquest of Rhodes, the rose-pink plaster mosque was reconstructed in 1808.

Palace of the Grand Master

The medieval castle of the Knights of Rhodes was previously the palace, headquarters and fortress for the Knights Hospitaller – the Order of St. John.

Street of the Knights

Old Town’s main street begins in front of the Archeological Museum (the original Knights of St. John Hospital) and leads to the Grand Master’s Palace.

Temple of Aphrodite

Dating to the 3rd century B.C., the temple to the goddess Aphrodite was built of sandstone and covered in stucco. These ruins, along with a statue of Aphrodite now in the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, are all that remain.

Taking A Break

We stopped for lunch at one of the tavernas that seems to appear around every corner in Old Town. Café owners stand beside their outdoor patios and offer menus that feature color photos of every possible traditional Greek entrée. The food is tasty, but it was what we discovered after lunch that is really worth seeking out.

An intoxicating cinnamon-like aroma was wafting around the area near Sokratous Street, but we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. We literally followed our noses until we came upon Fournariko Bakery, home of an impressive-looking wood-fired oven and an extraordinary selection of baked goods.

Fournariko Bakery, a favorite find in Old Town.
The wood-fired oven sits prominently behind the main counter.

We selected a twisty seed-covered pastry that we understood to be the source of our cinnamon search and a triangular phyllo dough treat called a mini “something” that was the bakery’s specialty. I asked the extremely patient woman behind the counter if she could write the pastry’s name for me – and she did, all fifteen letters of it. But it was, as they say, Greek to me.

Our coffees and Greek treats!

The Streets of Rhodes

After our coffee break, we returned to the main activity of the day – wandering. We walked through moody medieval-looking streets and bright flower-filled courtyards. We passed by walls and under arches with bougainvillea, angel’s trumpets and morning glories spilling like waterfalls over their edges. Round blue and brown-toned stones, sometimes lined with smooth pavers, sometimes designed in ornate patterns, decorated the pathways. Rhodes is one of those places where you never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

By mid-afternoon it was time to head back to the ship. We passed through one of the city gates and returned to the waterfront promenade, where our day had begun.

It had been a delightful return visit to this land from our long-ago travels. I didn’t find the jewelry shop that created silver necklaces made with lava rocks or the café with the apricot-colored courtyard. But I did discover that my memories of Rhodes were still very much intact. And I fell in love with this enchanting little city all over again.

2 Comments

  • Hello Mary –

    This adventure sounds wonderful. Very mellow, with hand holding.

    How easy is it to find one’s way out of Old Town and back to the ship? My worry is that we’d get lost once too often and the ship would leave without us.

    Was it because you’d been to Rhodes before that you skipped any ship’s excursions at this port?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Maria, Old Town is very close to the port and an easy walk from the ship. Although it’s easy to lose your way wandering the winding streets and alleyways, finding your way out through one of the gates shouldn’t be a problem. We like to visit places independently when possible – when a guide or transportation isn’t critical – and Rhodes Old Town is definitely one of those places. But if a specific excursion interests you, I would book it. Either way, you will have a great day!

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