Bridge Between Europe and the East
Thanks to its strategic location on ancient trade routes, Rhodes’s economy was always a prosperous one. Little remains of the ancient past (the 100- foot bronze Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was sold off as scrap metal in the 7th century A.D. after being toppled by an earthquake).
But the Middle Ages—a period on the island dominated by the crusading Order of the Knights of St. John—remain very much in evidence in the Old Town, the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe. The wonderfully preserved walls are one of the great medieval monuments in the Mediterranean, illustrating the engineering capabilities and financial and human resources available to the knights to keep out the infidels.
Three miles long, up to 40 feet thick in some places, and encircled by a double moat, the walls encapsulate the Old Town, an evocative framework for what is, in itself, a historical monument. The knights were divided into seven “tongues” or countries of origin, by which their “inns” were known— and still are, with plaques identifying such former lodges as the “Inn of the Tongue of Provence” and “Spanish House.”
Rhodes sits just 11 miles off the coast of Turkey, and even the mighty walls could not protect the knights from Suleiman the Magnificent and the Ottomans in 1522. The aesthetic influence of the 300-year Turkish presence can still be seen throughout the Old Town. The most delightful place to stay within the walls is the atmospheric, family-run San Nikolis, housed in a medieval building whose rooftop garden offers a fine breakfast with fantastic views.