Two cities in one
The island of Rhodes is just waiting for you when your MSC cruise takes you to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Its northernmost headland is straddled by Rhodes Town, by far the largest town on the island, in full view of Turkey less than 20km north.
The ancient city that occupied this site, laid out during the fifth century BC by Hippodamos of Miletos, was almost twice the size of its modern counterpart, and at over 100,000 held more than double its population. While the fortified enclave now known as the Old Town is of more recent construction, created by the Knights Hospitaller in the fourteenth century, it’s one of the finest medieval walled cities you could ever hope to see.
An MSC Mediterranean cruise excursion to Rhodes will recall one of the lost Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Colossus, an ancient statue of Apollo erected to commemorate the 305 BC siege, which supposedly straddled the entrance to Mandhráki harbour.
Rhodes Old Town is an absolute gem, a superbly preserved medieval ensemble that’s all but unique in retaining the feel of a genuine lived-in village, having neither grown to become a city nor been overly prettified for visitors. While it does hold some fascinating sights and museums, however, what makes the Old Town so special is the sheer vibrancy of the place as a whole.
Its busiest commercial lanes, packed with restaurants, cafés, and souvenir stores selling anything from T-shirts to fur coats, and ice-creams to jewellery, can be overpoweringly congested in summer – the street of Sokrátous is the worst culprit – but it’s always possible to escape into the time-forgotten tangle of cobbled alleyways that lie further south, away from the sea.