Rhodes Town museums include an archaeological museum, Byzantine museum, a museum of decorative arts, and exceptional collections of modern Greek art.
Rhodes’s Archaeological Museum is located in the old Hospital of the Knights, a rather severe, but impressive, 15th-century Gothic building. A steep staircase leads to the magnificent infirmary hall with its central colonnade, the capitals of which are carved with heraldic devices.
The smaller side chambers of the upper gallery contain some fine artefacts including the celebrated, yet unglamorous, Marine Venus, a sea-eroded 4th-century BC statue of Aphrodite, which inspired the writer Lawrence Durrell to call his book about Rhodes, Reflections on a Marine Venus.
In other chambers are superb Rhodian amphorae, some fine Attic pottery pieces, and Mycenaean jewellery. Look for the 4th-century gravestone of Kalliarista and its touching epigram inscribed by her husband, as well as the tiny vases and bowls that formed a child’s funerary gifts. Beyond the upper gallery is a sunlit sculpture garden.
Rhodes is the proud guardian of one of the finest collections of modern Greek art in existence. The collections are housed in separate galleries. Two are in the Old Town: the Municipal Art Gallery, which contains a collection of fine engravings, while the second, the smaller Centre of Contemporary Art, exhibits and promotes work by contemporary artists.
Pride of place goes to the splendid Nestoridion Melathron, housed in the one-time Olympic Hotel at the heart of New Town’s hotel district. The building has been thoroughly modernised and contains superb collections from the 1860s to the present day. The displays include an extensive number of paintings and prints, together with sculptures and drawings by celebrated Greek artists.
Nestoridion Melathron, 1 Haritou Square.
Centre of Contemporary Art, 179 Sokratous Street.
The Museum of Decorative Arts is housed in a ground floor room that was once part of the armoury of the Knights of St John. It is more of a folk art museum than its name implies, and has a charming and colourful collection of domestic goods from the 16th to the early 20th century.
These include folk costumes from the islands of Symi and Astypalaia, carved and painted chests and bedsteads, carved wall cupboards and other furnishings. There is a large collection of ceramics and fabrics, including carpets and such distinctive items as embroidered bed tents.
The Byzantine Museum is housed in the splendid Church of Panagia Kastrou, the Virgin of the Castle. This 11th-century building has had a remarkable history. Originally it was the Byzantine Cathedral of Rhodes and had a classic Byzantine ‘cross-in-square’ form, with a central dome. The church was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral by the Knights of St John, who replaced the dome with a barrel vault and cross vaults.
During the Turkish occupation of Rhodes the building was
converted into a mosque complete with minaret, removed during the Italian
reconstruction. Today, the church contains a few Byzantine and post-Byzantine
icons and wall-paintings, sculptures and mosaic fragments.
Located within the Palace of the Grand Masters, this is an outstanding collection of artefacts that leads you through a series of displays from the Stone Age settlement of Rhodes through the classical to the Roman period. Among the many exhibits is a fine head of the Sun God Helios, Rhodes’ mythic founder.
A mosaic floor of the Middle Hellenistic period displays a superb ‘New Comedy Mask’ that you would swear was a painting rather than an intricate mosaic. Look out for the little bronze figures of bulls and grasshoppers. There are splendid collections of pottery and household goods from all periods displayed in an imaginative way.