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An Ancient History

The island was inhabited as early as the late Neolithic period (4000 B.C.). In 408 B.C. the three major cities of the island (Ialyssos, Kamiros and Lindos) founded the city of Rhodes. The three centuries that followed were the golden age of Rhodes. Sea trade, skilled shipbuilders,and the careful and open-minded political and diplomatic manoeuvres of the city kept it strong and prosperous until Roman times.
In the same period, Rhodes produced excellent artistic work. The most celebrated of all was the Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, made between 304 and 293 B.C. by the Lyndian sculptor Hares. The construction of the Colossus took 12 years and was finished in 282 B.C. For years, the statue, representing their sun god Helios, stood at the harbour entrance, until a strong earthquake hit Rhodes about 226 B.C. The city was badly damaged, and the Colossus was demolished.

The ancient city of Rhodes was designed using the grid system of city planning devised by the greatest city planner of antiquity, Hippodamus of Miletus. It was considered one of the most beautiful and best-organized cities of antiquity, of which we know the exact placing of streets, squares and buildings.
The independence of the city came to an end in 164 B.C. when Rhodes became a Province of the Roman Empire. As a province in the Roman Empire, Rhodes never lost its strategic importance for the culture and economy of the region, but was not the great and powerful city it had been in Hellenistic times.

During the early Christian period (330-650 A.D.) Rhodes belonged to the eastern part of the Christianised Roman Empire, which is known in history as the Byzantine Empire. Though less significant and prosperous than before, the city was the See of a Bishop and had a great number of churches, among them some basilicas of impressive dimensions. It was also an important military base.
The Arabs, who appeared or the first time in the Mediterranean in the 7th century, attacked Rhodes and occupied it for some decades. The city shrank during the following centuries and was fortified with new walls. At the same time it was divided into two zones, one reserved for the political and military leadership and the other where the laymen lived, a division that reflects the social reality of medieval times.

Rhodes city, around 1490.
Below Fort Saint Nicolas

The Knights Period

In 1309 A.D. the Order of the Hospitaller Knights of St John of Jerusalem settled on the island, using it as their headquarters for Europe, as well as one of the basic intermediary stations for the pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land.
The Hospitallers fortified the capital of the island, incorporating the Byzantine fortifications, enclosing an area larger than the Byzantine town by two-fifths and smaller than the Hellenistic city by one-fourth.
An interior wall running east to west divided the city into two parts.
The northern quarter, the Collachium, was the administrative centre and contained among other buildings, the Palace of the Grand Master and the Hospital. The larger, southern quarter, called the Burgum, was the heart of the town, inhabited by a blend of races - Westerners, Jews and mainly, Christian Orthodox Greeks.

In 1522 the Ottoman Turks conquered the city after a second long siege. New buildings were constructed: mosques, public baths and mansions for the new patrons. The Greeks were forced to abandon the fortified city and move to new suburbs outside its walls.
In the Ottoman era Rhodes lost its international character. The city maintained its main economic function as a market for the agricultural products of the interior of the island and the surrounding small islands. After the establishment of their sovereignty on the island, the Ottoman Turks repaired the damaged fortifications, converted most of the churches into mosques and transformed the major houses into private mansions or public buildings.
In the 19th century the decline of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the general neglect of the town and its buildings, which further deteriorated due to the strong earthquakes that often plague the area.

Italian troops took over the island and the rest of the Dodecanese in 1912 and in 1923 Italy established a colony Isole Italiane del Egeo.
The Italians demolished the houses that had been built on and beside the walls during the Ottoman era and turned the Jewish and Ottoman cemeteries into a "green zone" surrounding the Medieval Town. They preserved the remains of the Knights period and removed all the Ottoman additions and also reconstructed the Grand Master's Palace.

In 1948 the Dodecanese Islands were reunited with the rest of Greece. After 1960, when the town was declared a monument of cultural heritage by the Greek Ministry of Culture, restorations in the medieval town began to be undertaken by the Ministry of Culture through the Archaeological Service.

In 1988 the Medieval City of Rhodes was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in acknowledgment of the uniqueness of the trans-cultural architectural wealth it is known to represent. Moreover, the City of Rhodes has been a member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, since the Organization was founded in 1993, under the auspices of UNESCO.

Links of Interest

Rhodes City Official Web Site
Rhodes Tourist Information
Greek National Tourism Official Web Site

Contents from the Department of Tourism of the Municipality of Rhodes

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