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At the crossroads of two major sea routes of the Mediterranean between the Aegean Sea and the coast of the Middle East, as well as Cyprus and Egypt, the island of Rhodes is situated. Being the meeting point of three continents, Rhodes
has known many civilizations.
The island's culture (art, language and architecture) was influenced from the different people who settled on the island. Its strategic position resulted in the amazing growth of the island and the leading position of the city of Rhodes in the ancient Greek world.
Rhodes belongs to the island complex of Dodecanese and is the largest island. At its northern tip lies its capital city, which is the capital of the Prefecture, and is built, around the Medieval Town. The architectural
characteristics of the medieval town belong to various historical periods, but mainly to the Knights of St. John period.
In 1944 many human lives were lost and many buildings were destroyed from the English bombs, resulting in the destruction of the urban tissue. Many destroyed edifices and areas in the urban tissue are protected from the Greek administration so that excavations can take place in the future.
A new city plan was approved in 1957 and in 1960 the entire medieval town was characterized as a protected monument by the Ministry of Culture. New additions to the first city plan were made in 1961 and 1963 in order to wide the existing streets and open new ones, but the Archaeological Service disagreed, so the additions were never implemented. The old town of Rhodes was designated as a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1988.
The medieval city still functions as the administrative centre of the city of Rhodes since nearly 6,000 people live and work in the same buildings in which the Knights of St. John lived six centuries ago. The medieval city of
Rhodes is unique in Europe, maybe in the world, since it’s a living monument to the past.
Nowadays, the old town is divided into two sections like in the times of the Knights: the northern part, which was the fortress of the Knights, known as Castello, where you can find the official buildings; and the larger southern part, called Chora, where Greeks, Europeans who were not members of the Order and Jews lived.
A wall built approximately parallel to Sokratous street, the old Bazaar, divided these two sections of the town. The Greeks were forced out of the old town during the Turkish occupation and only Turks and Jews could live there. Greeks were free to enter only during the day and whoever was caught in the night could be beheaded.
The Italians built the Gate of Freedom (Pili Eleftherias) in Simi sq. after the liberation of the island from the Turks, and that’s the gate you enter through when you arrive from Mandraki Harbor.
The ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite, which is dated from the 3rd century BC, can be found exactly opposite to the Gate of Freedom. At the back of the temple there is the Inn of the Tongue of Auvergue, which was built in 1507.
What’s worth noticing is the outside staircase, of Aegean architecture, which leads up the front of the building. Nowadays, the Inn is used as government offices.
The Arsenal Gate on the left leads to the commercial port. It is believed that the Knights had shipyards in Simi sq., that’s why the square is also known as Arsenal sq. (Arsenal comes from the Arabic word for shipyard).
The Ionian and Popular Bank and the Municipal Art Gallery are housed in the building on the right, the first on the ground floor and the second upstairs. In the centre of Argyrikastrou square there is a fountain, with an early Christian font, which was found in the church of St. Irene near the village of Arnitha.
In order to defend during the Turkish siege of 1522 a lot of cannonballs were gathered and these days you can find piles of them all over the Old Town. In the same square there is one of the oldest buildings in the Castle - the Armeria, which was probably built Grand Master Roger de Pias in the 14th century.
On the left of the building you can see Grand Master Roger de Pias’ escutcheon. It is believed that this building was the first hospital of the Knights since it has many similarities to the Hospital of the Knights (now the
It’s named Armeria because later, it was used by the Turks as an armory and today houses the Institute of History and Archaeology. The Museum of Folk Art is to the left as we look at the Armeria.