Images of the Medieval city of Rhodes
Mika Michalaki, architect

The Medieval city of Rhodes is a monumental architectural settlement with universal historical importance. Ιts history has been recorded as beginning during the years of the Minoan and the Mycenaean periods, when Rhodes used to be a dominating political and military force.

In 408 B.C. the ancient city of Rhodes was founded at ‘Panos akra’, the Northern area of the island. The city was built according to the Ippodamio urban planning system, with parallel and vertical streets that created a system of regular building squares. According to scholars of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Colossus of Rhodes, which was dedicated to the Greek God of the Sun, was located at one of the five harbors of the island.

As years passed, human needs and the violation of streets by the inhabitants transformed the city by forming it into a circular arrangement around the main port of the island.

During the 213 year period of the Knights (1309-1522), the knights of St. John divided the walled settlement, with a total area of 800,000m2, into two parts. The northern part which was the smallest one, was called the Collachium (or Kollakio) and it included the Knights’ houses, the Hospital, the Church of St. John, the Palace of the Grand Master and the lodgings of the 7 different ‘tongues’ quarters. The southern part was known as burgum or Hora and the people that used to live there where the Greeks and the Latins. The Jews were expelled from everywhere and they had their own neighborhood in the eastern part of the city.

The architectural style of the period of the Knights belongs to the late western European gothic style, while at the end of the 15th century elements of the Italian renaissance artistic style appear. Later, this style was enriched with elements of the local architecture. The main elements of the architecture of the period’s buildings were semicircular or pointed/gothic arches, enclosed yards, flat roofs, arcades and arched two light and slit loopholes or rectangular windows.

During the Ottoman period (1522-1912), the city of Rhodes developed into a medium provincial city of the Ottomanian Empire. The fortifications and most of the medieval buildings were preserved, but most of their previous uses were changed. The Palace of the Grand Master was transformed into prisons, the hospital into barracks, most of the churches were converted into mosques and also many baths were built. Greeks were able to own shops and work in the walled city, but by sunset, a big sound meant that they should abandon the city. Characteristic building elements during this period were the enclosed wooden balconies οn the facades over the narrow streets, arches, arcades and the addition of arches over the streets in order to support the houses. In 1912, Italian troops took over the island of Rhodes.

During the Italian period (1912-1948) Rhodes developed and transformed. By using local stone, the Italians constructed imposing buildings both in Rhodes and in Dodecanese and they created a built environment which offered high quality and aesthetic to its inhabitants and visitors. The Italians moved the administrative centre out of the walled city, formed free spaces, improved the archeological spaces, incorporated new land uses to the preserved medieval buildings and they proclaimed a monumental zone- green belt all around the walled city, of a total extent of 150 quarters of an acre.

At the time of Second World War, the Medieval city of Rhodes was unfortunately deserted and many buildings were destroyed due to the bombing.

On 7 March 1948, the incorporation of Dodecanese into Greece took place.

During the first years of the Greek administration, the basic goal was to restore the destructions which had occurred. The miserable conditions of life and the downgrading of the built environment had unfortunately transformed the city into a place for roaming, homeless and poor people.

The importance and the need to preserve the Medieval City of Rhodes was acknowledged by the decision of the Greek Ministry of Culture in 1948 to declare its protection. Furthermore, in 1960 the Ministry designated the entire city as a historical protected monument.

In 1988 the Old town of Rhodes was designated as a World Heritage city by Unesco, since its fortifications, the downgraded built environment, the knight and gothic architecture, the Islamic monuments and the history of the city were challenged and judged.

Nowadays, the total area of the Medieval city of Rhodes is 57,25 hectares, while it’s area without the fortifications reaches 39,8 hectares. The town planning of the walled ensemble is characterized by narrow streets with many cul de sacs, lack of free and green spaces, while the living conditions and the quality of life remains downgraded, although many attempts are being done by qualified people in order to remodel specific areas and preserve or restore monuments with a special value.

One of the major problems for integrated planning is the vague ownership property, as the 2500 pieces of land are divided among public properties, Vakuf, Israelian and private properties as well as abandoned spaces.

The organized intervention to the settlement started in 1985 when a contract was signed between the Ministry of Culture, the Municipality of Rhodes and the Archeological Receipts fund in order to enhance the city’s historic and cultural character, to carry on surveys and excavations, to preserve and protect the settlement and to upgrade the living standards.

During the last years, the rate of intervention and restoration of the settlement continuously accelerates, while during the period of 2000-2006 new programmes have started which were incorporated into the third European programme. This included the restoration of the city’s monuments and fortifications, not only as separate monuments but as a whole architectural, historic and urban environment. Through these pilot interventions, the main goal is to bring and incorporate the monuments from all the different period into the contemporary city. With these actions, the visible elements of the past are going to be preserved and they will become dynamic elements of the future.

The transformation of the Medieval city of Rhodes and its incorporation into the contemporary city is difficult work. After 22 years of organized interventions, the results and the changes can be easily seen. However, the problems and the human needs always increase, while the people’s movement into the Medieval city defines its future.

Ministry of Culture. The Medieval city of Rhodes. Restoration works 1985-2000. Ministry of Culture, Rhodes, 2001
Kollias E. The Medieval city of Rhodes and the Palace of Grand Master, Ministry of Culture – Archeological Receipts Fund, 2nd edition, Rhodes 2000
Kollias E. The knights of Rhodes, The palace and the city, Publishing house of Athens, 1991
Ntellas G. Rhode’s town planning in the 20th century. Local union of Municipalities and communes of the Prefecture of Dodecanese
ICOMOS. New cities over old ones. The example of Rhodes, Minutes of a scientific meeting, Rhodes 27-30 September 1993, Eptalofos A.E.B.E. Athens, 1993


The Ippodamio urban planning system

Credit: The Medieval city of Rhodes. Restoration works 1985-2000
The Ippodamio urban planning system

Credit: The Medieval city of Rhodes. Restoration works 1985-2000
The Medieval city of Rhodes at the beginning of the 16th century
Credit: The knights of Rhodes. The palace and the city
The palace of the Grand Master
Credit: The knights of Rhodes. The palace and the city
Agiou Fanouriou Street
Credit: The knights of Rhodes. The palace and the city
The monumental green zone around the city
Credit: The Medieval city of Rhodes. Restoration works 1985-2000
Italian aerial photo in 1927
Credit: The Medieval city of Rhodes. Restoration works 1985-2000
Aerial photo of the central entrance gate to the Medieval city
Credit: The Medieval city of Rhodes. Restoration works 1985-2000
Arcade of the palace of the Grand Master
Credit: The Medieval city of Rhodes and the palace of the Grand Master