Rhodes (Ródhos) is deservedly among the most visited of all Greek islands. Its star attraction is the beautiful medieval Old Town that lies at the heart of its capital, Rhodes Town – a legacy of the crusading Knights of St John, who used the island as their main base from 1309 until 1522. Elsewhere, the ravishing hillside village of Líndhos, topped by an ancient acropolis, should not be missed. It marks the midpoint of the island’s long eastern shoreline, adorned with numerous sandy beaches that have attracted considerable resort development. At the southern cape, Prassoníssi is one of the best windsurfing spots in Europe. If you want to escape the summer crowds, take a road trip into the island’s craggy and partly forested interior: worthwhile targets include the castles near Monólithos and Kritinía, and frescoed churches at Thárri, Asklipió and Áyios Yeóryios Várdhas.
Blessed with an equable climate and strategic position, Rhodes, despite its lack of good harbours, was important from the very earliest times. The finest natural port served the ancient town of Lindos which, together with the other Dorian city-states Kameiros and Ialyssos, united in 408 BC to found a new capital, Rodos (Rhodes), at the windswept northern tip of the island. The cities allied themselves with Alexander, the Persians, Athenians or Spartans as conditions suited them, generally escaping retribution for backing the wrong side by a combination of seafaring audacity, sycophancy and burgeoning wealth as a trade centre. Following the failed siege of Macedonian general Demetrios Polyorketes in 305 BC, Rhodes prospered even further, displacing Athens as the major venue for rhetoric and the arts in the east Mediterranean.
Decline set in when the island became involved in the Roman civil wars and was sacked by Cassius; by late imperial times, it was a backwater. The Byzantines ceded Rhodes to the Genoese, who in turn surrendered it to the Knights of St John. After the second great siege of Rhodes, in 1522–23, when Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent ousted the stubborn knights, the island once again lapsed into relative obscurity, though heavily colonized and garrisoned, until its seizure by the Italians in 1912.