Fortifications of Rhodes
Rhodes Town
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Rhodes Town

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The ancient city of Rhodes is encircled by impressive defensive walls, initially speculated to have been built in the 4th century. Over the centuries, up until the mid-16th century, these walls were reinforced and expanded, featuring 11 gates along with numerous bastions and towers.


Today, the formidable bastions of medieval Rhodes stand resilient, a testament to their historical role in protecting the city and island from various invaders throughout Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages.

During the late 4th century BCE, Rhodes stood as a powerhouse, affluent and coveted due to its strategic Aegean Sea location. This made it a prize for conquerors keen to penetrate the island’s interior. Moreover, Rhodes' control was synonymous with dominion over the lucrative trade between the East and West. In 305 BCE, Greek resilience shone when they withstood Demetrius Poliorcetes' siege, celebrating victory by erecting the Colossus of Rhodes. However, in 226 BCE, a devastating earthquake damaged the city and its fortifications, which were later rebuilt.

Before the 14th century, details about the city and its defenses are scarce. It was the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John who conquered the island in 1312 and revitalized Rhodes both economically and structurally. The flourishing economy caught the attention of the nearby Ottomans. Anticipating conflict, the Knights fortified the city walls. Grand Master Antonio Fluvian de Rivier initiated an expansion project that considerably enlarged the fortress to cover an impressive 42 hectares, with construction concluding between 1457 and 1465.

In the mid-15th century, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt laid siege to the fortress of Rhodes for 40 days but failed to breach its defenses. Four decades later, Mehmed II also faced defeat there despite commanding a vast force and a fleet of ships. A significant earthquake in 1481 damaged the medieval walls of Rhodes, prompting the Knights Hospitaller to quickly raise funds for repairs. By the following year, under the guidance of Grand Masters including Pierre d’Aubusson and others, the knights fortified the walls with the help of Italian military engineers, readying them against cannon fire.

In 1522, the Ottomans successfully captured Rhodes and its ancient city after a six-month siege. The conflict heavily damaged the fortifications, especially the weaker sections. Despite this, the Ottomans showed reverence for the robust defenses, not only sparing them from destruction but also actively allocating funds for the repair and restoration of the battered areas. This commitment to preservation continued for four centuries until the Greeks reclaimed their land from modern-day Turkey.

Medieval Rhodes Fortifications

The formidable walls of medieval Rhodes boast 11 gates, though not all are accessible to visitors. Among the most notable is the Gate of Amboise, situated near the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes and the Bastion of St. George, featuring two round towers and an arched entryway. Equally historic are the St. Athanasius Gates, built between 1441–1442, which were famously breached by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s forces.

Rhodes boasts not only modern entries but also five ancient gates with rich histories. Among them are the Gates of St. John and St. Catherine, the principal Marine Gate leading from the harbor, and the Gates of the Arsenal and St. Paul. A newer addition includes the Gate of the Virgin Mary, inaugurated in 1955 for vehicular access. The city’s fortifications are also marked by notable towers. The Windmills Tower, for instance, guides visitors towards the old mills. The Tower and Fort of St. Nicholas are equally renowned, with the main tower erected between 1464 and 1467 under Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson of the Knights of St. John and later fortified with a bastion in 1480, forming a defensive stronghold.

Be sure to explore the artillery platforms within the fortification, particularly those near the gates of St. Athanasius and St. John (the Spanish and English bastions). Pay special attention to the massive moat surrounding the fortress walls. Adjacent are the low-lying gun chambers, strategically positioned for cannon fire, allowing knights to effectively engage their foes. In the center of the moat lies a substantial embankment, which knights accessed via secret tunnels for rapid movement. In times of need, these passages could be destroyed, trapping the enemy within. Moreover, the knights had tactics to hurl heavy boulders at the attackers instead of conventional cannonballs.

Travel to the City

From neighboring settlements, you have the option of catching a bus or driving a personal vehicle to reach the city. Once you find yourself in Rhodes, make your way to the Mandraki harbor, situated at the foot of the fortifications of Rhodes.