Another perfect day dawned in the Dodecanese and we were up early in Kos to go down to the Mandraki (Harbour) for the 07.00 hrs Blue Star Ferry which takes three hours sailing south through the islands and along the Turkish coast to reach the capital of the Dodecanese, the fabled and ancient city of Rodos, or Rhodes in English. Our ferry’s arrival was eagerly awaited on the quayside and soon it appeared on the hazy horizon. In Greece these ferries are like bus services and the services to Rhodes generally leave the Port of Piraeus outside Athens the previous evening and travel to Rhodes through the night repeating the reverse journey that evening from Rhodes to Athens. There has been a major overhaul of Greek Ferry routes in recent years as EU regulations on safety and competition have taken effect. This has resulted in brand new fleets of “fast ferries”, much industry consolidation and more rational timetables which are even understandable to Xenos like me.
So the Blue Star ferry we found ourselves on this morning was a swish ship, disabled access was good with escalators and lifts but as everywhere in Greece disability awareness and training amongst staff is poor. Once on the accommodation desks we found ourselves on a well appointed ship with comfortable lounges, bars and good catering facilities. All in all a good way to travel and a good experience as we passed down the Aegean following the routes well known to Greek, Carian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman galleys sailing to and from the Levant and Egypt. For the ancient trade routes always skirted the coast as open seas were dangerous with the lack of navigation aids and the limitations of sail power not to mention slave power on the galley’s oars.
But these days nothing so ill becomes Rhodes as its arrival for you exit the ferry at a ramp in the commercial harbour and enter a wasteland. No doubt there is an elaborate scheme somewhere for a prestigious ferry terminal (such as the Italians would have built?) but today we were met by a dusty unpaved wasteland with zero, zilch, none, facilities or assistance. Into this wasteland cars, trucks, bikes and hapless pedestrians arriving and leaving are jumbled together in the type of confusion which reminds us that “chaos” is a Greek concept. One day a pedestrian is going to be killed in this unequal combat with articulated trucks in this wasteland. The whole setup is a disgrace and an affront to the competence of the administration of Rhodes who no doubt are totally happy to levy port taxes under false pretences for providing nothing. After the wonder of the journey from Kos, the views of Symi and the Turkish coast and the fertile isle of Rhodes so beloved of the Ancients and the Knights of St. John and the wonderous spectacle of the walled city of Rhodes at the island’s tip this is an anti-climax indeed. Nothing so little becomes Rhodes as arriving by sea at the Commercial Port.
At the far end of this wasteland you come to a ramp and head on to a scruffy road with typical portside maintenance businesses. Even here there are no signposts or tourists maps but we probably don’t need them for we can see where we are heading, the remarkable walled city of Rhodes built by the Order of the Knights of The Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the citation speaks for itself;
“The Order of St John of Jerusalem occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523 and set about transforming the city into a stronghold. It subsequently came under Turkish and Italian rule. With the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Great Hospital and the Street of the Knights, the Upper Town is one of the most beautiful urban ensembles of the Gothic period. In the Lower Town, Gothic architecture coexists with mosques, public baths and other buildings dating from the Ottoman period.”
Rhodes (Rhodos or Rodos in Greek) is the largest of the Dodecanese islands and one of the largest in the Aegean Sea. With its subtropical climate, Rhodes is known as the “the island of light”, with over 345 sunny days per year. Rhodes has known many civilizations throughout its 2,400 years of history, from the ancient Greeks and the Romans, followed by the Byzantines, the Knights of St. John, the Ottomans and the Italians. The construction of the ancient city of Rhodes began in 408-407 BC. At that time Rhodes developed into one of the most important maritime and commercial centres in the Eastern Mediterranean. Rhodes Town is today an amalgam of medieval and modern architecture. A stroll around the Old Town of Rhodes immerses the visitor into a very special atmosphere, created by a fascinating diversity of cultures from the past with medieval fortress, narrow alleys, cobbled streets, minarets and old houses with balconies. The Medieval Town of Rhodes, fortified by impressive walls, is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1988.
The Greek island of Rhodes is rich in history that is reflected not only in its monuments, but also in its people, who are in many ways a ‘living treasure.’ Christians, Muslims and Jews have co-existed on this south-eastern Aegean island for centuries. The remarkably preserved medieval city of Rhodes has a population of 60,000, out of the 98,000 on the island in total. It is the largest town in the Dodecanese as well as the largest capital. The new town surrounds the old walled one on three sides and was founded in the form of new suburbs during Ottoman times by Greek Orthodox Christians forbidden to live in the old town (and required to leave it by sundown or lose their heads). Since then, the suburbs (called ‘marasia’) have merged. The walled town, as one would expect, has become very commercialised, as well as the modern district of ‘Neohori’ to the west of Mandraki yacht harbour, which has a beach with all of the tourist paraphernalia one might also expect.
Rhodes town has two main harbours, Mandraki harbour with deer statues at the entrance and a larger commercial harbour where the cruise ships and ferries stop. The approach from the sea is best, with its massive walls rising up from the water, the Palace of the Grand Master, the minarets and the waterfront with its arcades.
Windmills from the 14th century add to the picture. There are three harbours (the smallest of which is Mandraki, which caters to yachts, excursion boats and smaller ferries) and eleven gates into the city, one of the most impressive being the Gate of Emery d’Amboise/Pili Ambouaz near the Palace of the Grand Masters, built in 1512. A lighthouse guards the entrance, along with the fort of Ahios Nikolaos, built 1460s against Ottoman Turkish attacks. It has now been converted into a naval museum. Where the famous Colossus may have stood are now a bronze stag and doe. A chain crossed here (blocking the entrance) during the time of the Knights, with ships paying a 2% tax (based on the value of their cargoes) to help the war effort. The walls are magnificent, but accessible only via guided tours (people usually meet for this in front of the Palace of the Grand Masters). You can most likely find a schedule easily). Four Grand Masters constructed the walls on top of the older Byzantine walls. They extend 4km and are on the average 38 feet thick. In addition, they were curved to deflect missiles aimed at them, and surrounded by a dry moat 100 feet wide. The Knights were assigned the defence of their respective bastions and towers according to nationality, with the exception of the Italians, who were put in charge of the Knights’ fleet.
The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of the Greek god Helios, erected in the city of Rhodes on the Greek island of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos between 292 and 280 BC. It is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Before its destruction, the Colossus of Rhodes stood over 30 meters (107 ft) high, making it one of the tallest statues of the ancient world. No trace of the statue remains today.
Rhodes town was originally built in 408 BC and was surrounded by a city wall. Rhodians are proud to note their city was the first ever built on an urban plan. In fact, 2.400(!) years ago, the famous architect of the ancient times, Ippodamus, designed and applied the first ever urban plan based on a perpendicular system. It had five harbours, magnificent roads, parks, temples, public houses and many monuments.
By contrast the Old (Medieval) Town of Rhodes (Rhodos): It’s not laid out on a grid -not even close. When you approach the walls of the Old Town of Rhodes, you are about to enter the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe. It’s a thrill to behold. Medieval buildings, mosques, traditional fountains, oriental motifs, Byzantine and Gothic churches, shops and cafeterias are scattered throughout the Old Town of Rhodes, all blending together to create a unique and picturesque whole. There are roughly 200 streets or lanes that simply have no name.
When the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land fell in 1291, the Order of St. John settled first in Cyprus and then, in 1310, led by Grand Master Fra’ Foulques de Villaret, on the island of Rhodes. In fact the order took a number of the Dodecanese Islands by force from the Byzantine Emperor. Whilst the Latin and Byzantine Church split in the schism of 1054 (over disagreement about one word in the Nicean Creed!) the real bitterness between the churches relates to crusaders who came to the east to defend Christianity going on to spill Christian blood at the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and afterwards the Empire was divided up between the Venetians and Normans. The Byzantines would have seen the taking of Rhodes and the Dodecanese in the same light which is why the Knights of Malta are not well regarded by the Orthodox to this day. From then, the defence of the Christian world required the organisation of a naval force. Thus the Order built a powerful fleet and sailed the Eastern Mediterranean, fighting many famous battles for the sake of Christendom – for example, the Crusades in Syria and Egypt.
When the Knights ruled Rhodes, the island became the most powerful in Eastern Mediterranean. They left imposing evidence of their presence on Rhodes, and gave the city the particular character it retains to this day, with its impregnable walls, gates, churches, hospitals, Inns and palaces. During occupation by the Knights, Rhodes surfaced from the obscurity into which it had sunk after the 7th Century, and acquired considerable strategic and economic importance. It was transformed into a bastion of the West, and an important port of call in trade between Europe and the East.
Caviar, textiles of wool and silk, oil, wine, sugar and perfumes, saffron, wax, pepper – Rhodes was the paradise for merchants! Wheat was brought to Rhodes from Cyprus, Asia Minor and, later, Sicily; wine was brought from Crete and Italy. Disputes among merchants were settled in the Mercantile Court of Rhodes, and three galleys protected the sea-lanes on which the island lay.
The Knights left imposing evidence of their presence in Rhodes, and gave to island the particular character it retains to this day, with its impregnable walls, gates, churches, hospitals, Inns and palaces. In 1522 Suleiman had just finished his conquest of the Balkans with a victory over Hungary at the terrible siege of Belgrade. Now, at last, he would destroy Rhodes. Suleiman sent a letter to the Grand Master urging his friendship (meaning submission or surrender), and with intimidation cited the Sultan’s “…triumph over the Hungarian King, whom we have stripped of the strong fortress of Belgrade, after having wasted his territories with fire and sword, and carried away many of his people.” The Grand Master replied courteously, but noted the Order’s determination to always defend its homeland. The Sultan’s reply was a declaration of war.
By the early sixteenth century, Rhodes, the “Isle of Blossoming Roses,” had become a thorn in the Ottoman Empire’s side. Located only eleven miles from the coast of Asia Minor, the island was controlled by the Order of the Knights of St. John (later known as the Knights of Malta), former crusaders who by then had two specialties: tending to ailing Christians and pirating Muslim ships.
In 1522, Sultan Suleiman I resolved to put an end to it and unleashed a force of a hundred thousand troops to beseige the island. Rhodes’s proximity to Ottoman territory ensured that the Turkish soldiers would be well armed, well fed, and quickly replaced if killed or injured. Facing them was a force of only six hundred knights, fifteen hundred mercanaries and three thousand native Rhodians.
There were several thousand inhabitants of Rhodes who at the arrival of the Turks entered the walled city for protection. Most lacked military training, and many were women and children. They could, however, help rebuild the walls, carry water, deliver supplies, and pray. This was, indeed, a small force to oppose the gathered might of the greatest Empire in the history of Islam. In fact, the forces of the Order at this time were slightly smaller than in the previous siege of 1480. The city, however, was at its strongest, encompassed by a double wall with thirteen towers, numerous bastions and special fortifications, a deep wide ditch around all, and the entire area commanded by cannon positioned for both frontal assault and crossfire. Every possible preparation and precaution was taken. Even the Latin and Greek Archbishops were instructed to give sermons regarding the necessity and merit of courageous resistance. Public prayers were offered imploring victory for the champions of the Cross.
Typical of the warfare throughout this siege was the repeated heavy assault on the bulwark of the English Knights, which was several times mined. On September 4th, this wall was successfully mined and exploded, destroying 36 feet of the wall. The Turks soon gained control of this position and planted their standard. The Grand Master, praying prostrate before the altar of Saint Mary of Victory, hearing the explosion, rushed to the wall, led a furious fight to the top, and personally tore down the Turk banner. In the battle that continued for hours, more than two thousand Turks were killed. Rhodian musketeers along the wall shot down hundreds, while Knights in armour met steel with steel in hand-to-hand combat. In this engagement alone, forty-eight Knights fell. It was a heavy loss for the Turks and an irreplaceable loss for the Order, but again the Cross had held against the Crescent. A few days later a similar assault was launched against the bulwark of Italy, with almost identical results. Four days later, Mustapha Pasha with four battalions again assaulted the English bastion, and then the bastion of Spain. The fighting defies description, and this time the Turks lost more than three thousand brave Janissaries.
But the prolonged siege took its toll. By mid December, only a few Knights were still alive. Tens of thousands of Turks were dead. The stench of rotting bodies of men and animals hung all over the inland. Unsanitary conditions contributed to much disease. The suffering and dying of the thousands of wounded was almost unbearable. Finally, with winter approaching, the Sultan offered a truce. He had no idea how many Knights remained, and if a considerable number were still alive, and they continued to fight as they had done, the siege would be too costly for him to continue. Similarly, the Grand Master was faced with rebellion by the civilian Rhodians and Greek citizens, and demands by the clergy for a truce. With few Knights still able to resist, L’Isle Adam agreed to negotiations. Filled with awe for the Knights, and in sharp contrast to the usual 3 days of pillage and killing, Suleiman was magnanimous. If the Order would surrender Rhodes, the Sultan promised that the churches would not be profaned, no children would be taken from their parents, all citizens would be allowed free exercise of their religion, any and all residents of Rhodes would be free to leave the island with the Knights, those who remained would pay no tribute for five years, the Knights would depart in their own galleys and be supplied by the Turks with additional ships if needed, the Order could embark with all its property relics, consecrated vessels, records, and the artillery on board its warships, and the Turk army would retire several miles from the city while this evacuation took place. Suleiman himself came into the city to salute the Grand Master and addressed him by the title of “Father.”
So the stay of the Knights of St. John in Rhodes lasted 213 years, until 1522, when, on December 29, the last of the Grand Masters, Villiers de L’Isle Adam, was compelled to surrender the island to Suleiman the Magnificent. On the first day of January 1523, L’Isle Adam and his intrepid Knights put to sea on fifty ships loaded with the Order’s property, together with all those who fought with the Order, and all Christians who wished to accompany them. After the fall of Rhodes, Charles V. and the Pope were instrumental in finding the knights a new home in Malta. After that time they were known as the Knights of Malta.
The Muslims, Turks or Ottomans, as the Turkish-speaking Muslims are called by their co-islanders, number around 3,000. Most are descendants of the Ottomans who settled here after Suleiman the Lawgiver’s defeat of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in 1522. Some of them are descended from Muslims who fled Crete between 1898 and 1913 (during that last period of the Greek War of Independence). Today, they live all over the city of Rhodes, some concentrated in the Old City, where many of the city’s mosques and medieval monuments still stand. Members of this distinct community can also be found in other areas of the villages of Rhodes such as Iksia, Asgourou, Lindos and Salakos. Most are employed in the service sector, such as tourism, and are an integral part of Rhodian society.
When the Ottomans conquered Rhodes in 1522, and converted many Byzantine shrines to mosques (first evicting the Christians from the Old Town). The Suleymaniye mosque built around 1522 on the site of a Church of the Apostles, and rebuilt during the 19th century, has the usual courtyard and fountain. It also has a double portico, a Venetian Renaissance style portal, and a beautiful minaret with a double balcony. Up till recently this mosque was off bounds and surrounded by scaffolding. There are many mosques in the Old Town, as well as ‘mescids’ (Islamic chapels). Behind the Suleymaniye mosque is the Byzantine clock tower, the Roloi, from which you can get wonderful views of the city.
The Ottomans settled in the walled town while the Greek inhabitants had to move to Neo Chorio (new town) the site of today’s modern Rhodes. The churches were turned into mosques: the main street of Burgo became the heart of the town; typical Ottoman balconies were added to the houses. The Turkish Quarter is south of Sokratous Street, with wooden balconies up over the street and stone arches, open shops and cafes. The atmosphere is still very Turkish. The Mustafa Mosque and the Mustafa Hamman/Turkish Bath are both on Platia Arionos in southwest part of Old Town. (Opens various hours; get a schedule;.90 euros). The bathhouse was built in 1558 and remodelled in 1765, when rooms were added for resting. Still heated by a ton of olive wood a day, it is an atmospheric place, with mosaic floors, marble fountains, and an ornate ceiling, and is divided into men’s and women’s sections.
One most special Islamic features of Rhodes is the Muslim Library. It belongs to the Fethi Paşa Foundation, founded by Hafız Ahmet Ağa in 1792. The library contains more than 2,000 Turkish, Arabic and Persian manuscripts. The foundation has been popular with tourists. Showing off the invaluable manuscripts, the head of the foundation, Yusuf Kıbrıslı, says they try to do their best to preserve the manuscripts, keeping a close watch on humidity and temperature. Sadi Nasuhoğlu, author of the book “Rhodes: Memoirs and History,” says restoration studies on the island are promising. He cites various examples of successful restorations on the islands, such as the Murat Reis Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque’s minarets, the Hamza Bey Mosque and the Ali Hilmi Pağa Mosque.
In September 1911 the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire with the objective of conquering the three remaining provinces that empire had in Africa and which today are known as the Republic of Libya. Italy hoped to find an alternative destination for its excess population (in the period 1906-10 3,256,000 Italians had left their country).
The conquest of Libya turned out to be more difficult than expected: the Turks had just small garrisons and the towns along the coast were easily occupied, but the local Arab leaders maintained control of the interior. In May 1912 in order to stop supplies of weapons to Libya and to force the Ottoman Empire to ask for peace, the Italians, who had total naval supremacy, landed on Rhodes and in a matter of days occupied the island: they then landed on Kos and ten other nearby islands: these islands which were called southern Sporades were renamed Dodecanese (twelve islands), their current name.
The Italo-Turkish War ended in October 1912 mainly because Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro, having seen the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, attacked it (First Balkan War): the state of war in the area continued with a second Balkan War in 1913, World War I (1914-18) and eventually the war between the Republic of Turkey and Greece.
A final settlement was not reached until July 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne: Rhodes and the Dodecanese became an Italian possession, which included also a thirteenth island: Castelrosso (Kastelorizo), a tiny island very near the mainland. So the Dodecanese was no longer an accurate name to indicate the islands, but because number 13 according to most Italians brings bad luck, the 13 islands continued to be called the Dodecanese.
Italy poured resources into “Its” Aegean Province leaving behind many modernist buildings and a hugely enhanced infrastructure after the benign neglect of the Ottomans. In Rhodes Town this had two main effects; A determined attempt to restore the Old Town and remove the Ottoman accretions and the endowing of the New Town with impressive modernist buildings.
Rationalist-Fascist architecture was an Italian architectural style of the late 1920’s promoted and practiced initially by the Gruppo 7 group, whose architects included Luigi Figini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco, Gino Pollini, Carlo Enrico Rava, Giuseppe Terragni, Ubaldo Castagnola and Adalberto Libera. Two branches have been identified, a modernist branch with Giuseppe Terragni being the most prominent exponent, and a conservative branch of which Marcello Piacentini and the La Burbera group were most influential. Throughout the Fascist era in Italy architecture was used as a rhetorical device; it became the preferred vehicle for launching Fascist propaganda. It most forcefully portrayed, in the solidity of its materials and the vastness of its measures, the sublimity of imperial power.
Buildings, piazzas, and ruins were privileged backdrops for public demonstrations, ritual re-enactments, and oratorical theatrics; spectacles aimed at cultivating a Fascist body politic. Neo Chorio where the Greeks lived was turned into a modern town, while the buildings of historical Rhodes were restored and the Hospital housed an archaeological museum. Among the Italian architects who designed modern Rhodes, the Roman architect Florestano di Fausto played a major role. He designed buildings which were in line with the governor’s objective of attracting a rich clientele. A very large hotel was built on the sandy beach at the very tip of the island. It was named Albergo delle Rose because the advertising campaign claimed that roses in Rhodes were in blossom ten months a year and the island was also called Isola delle Rose.
Mario Lago was governor of Rhodes until 1934; during that period relations with the largely prevailing Greek community were relatively good, taking into account that the governor was the representative of a very authoritarian and nationalist regime. Children had to attend schools where they were taught Italian, but they could learn Greek at religious institutions. At the cafés pricelists were affixed both in Italian and Greek.
In December 1936 Mario Lago was replaced by Cesare De Vecchi, a very early leader of the Fascist party. He found the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Rhodes too far from the nationalist one prevailing in Italy. De Vecchi abolished the tribunals which following the Ottoman tradition ruled over matters related to the various religious communities; Greek newspapers were closed; Italian was imposed as the only authorised language. The new governor was not pleased with the appearance of many modern buildings and he ordered Albergo delle Rose stripped of the ornate decorations designed by Di Fausto. It is today the Casino of Rhodes.
On the site of the Palace of the Grand Masters he built a gigantic mansion, meant to be used by the King or by il Duce (the title given to Mussolini) during their visits to the island (they never went there). He placed his own coat of arms next to that of the Grand Masters and set his residence in the new palace.
Palace of the Grand Masters (summer Mon 12:30-3pm, Tues-Fri 8:30am-9pm, winter Mon 12:30-3pm;Tues-Sun 8:30-3pm;6euros).was built over a temple of Helios (in Greek, ‘Ilios’the Sun god); and some archaeologists believe that the famed Colossus stood here, overlooking the harbour. The Palace, completed in 1346, was modelled after the Pope’s palace in Avignon, fourteen of the Grand Masters being French, and French being the official spoken language of the Knights’ Order.
The underground storerooms of the Palace were intended as a place of refuge for the entire local population during enemy attacks or sieges. During Ottoman rule, the entire palace was used as a prison, even after the Gunpowder Explosion of 1856 when it was almost destroyed by an explosion of ammunition set off by lightning, and the first floor caved in. The Italians did the same but then rebuilt it as a summer home for Mussolini (at his command) and for Victor Emmanuel III (King of Italy and Albania, Emperor of Ethiopia) though neither of them, however, ever came to the island, the outbreak of war preventing them from enjoying its 158 rooms. The Italians laid Roman mosaics from Kos on the floors, and Renaissance furniture. They also put in a lift (elevator) and modern plumbing. This fact alone makes it all the more remarkable that under the Modern Greek state there is no access to the Palace for mobility impaired visitors.
The inside is a bit of a Fascist fantasy of grand palaces with heavy furnishings and marble stairways and the like, though the outside is closer to the real thing, based on medieval engravings and accounts. On the ground floor is the Medieval Exhibit and Ancient Rhodes, 2400 Years , the first displaying fascinating trade items during the time that Christian Rhodes was a major trade center. There is a display of the sugar-refining industry which was an enterprise of the Knights and a Grand Master’s gravestone, manuscripts and books, icons. The second floor deals with objects that reflect the daily life of the ancients. Exhibits are presented with information in both Greek and English.
Street of the Knights (Odos Ippoton) is east from the Platia Kleovoulou in front of the Palace. Before they were ousted by the Ottoman Turks, the Knights of St. John stayed in inns lining this boulevard which were designated according the ethnic and linguistic origins of the Knights, each with the coat of arms of the Grand Master who was in charge at the time that they were built. The Inn of France (1509) has crocodile gargoyles and escutcheons adorning it. The French Knights predominated among the nationalities represented. Next to the inn is a townhouse that belonged to Villier de l’Isle Adam. Close by are also the Inn of Spain, the Inn of Provence, the Inn of Italy, and, beyond two squares, the restored Inn of England, which was first abandoned in 1534 when the Pope excommunicated Henry VIII. It was struck by an earthquake in 1851, rebuilt by the British, bombed and rebuilt again in 1947. The old inn buildings are for the most part now occupied by government offices and cultural institutions, but the Inn of Auvergne, built in the 15th century, houses a cultural center. It is located past the arch, in the Plateia Argyrokastro, and is one of the most beautiful of the inns, with a fountain from a Byzantine baptismal font. Near it is the first hospital on Rhodes, which later became the Palace of the Armeria, built by Grand Master Roger de Pins.
The Knights lived in the northern section of the town in an area reserved to them which was called Collachio: the rest of the town was called Burgo (by the Knights) or Hora (by the Greeks). The Knights did not forget the original purpose of their Order and so one of the most imposing buildings of Collachio is the Hospital which was built by Grand Master Jean de Lastic in 1440 and enlarged by Grand Master d’Aubusson in 1481-89. It was restored by the Italian administration in 1913-18 and later on used to house the Rhodes Archaeological Museum. The ward for the sick was located in the upper floor, while warehouses and stables were at the ground level. The hospital had a large courtyard surrounded by a double portico built using a design typical of Gothic architecture. In the early days of the Order in Rhodes the written language was French; towards the first half of the XVth century there was a move to Latin and after 1454 also to Italian. The spoken language in late XVth century was most likely lingua franca, a sort of Esperanto with many Italo-Venetian features.
The main street of Collachio started from the square where the Hospital, the Cathedral and the Hotel de la Langue d’Auvergne were located and led to the Citadel, a fortified building where the Grand Masters had their residence. Several Langues had their palaces along the street: they had decorated portals and windows in addition to many coats of arms. Our Lady of the Bourg was once the largest Catholic Church on Rhodes, built by the Knights to commemorate their defeat of the Turks in 1480. It was hit by a British bomb during the war. Only ruins of this church remain.
However not everything we see today is original: walking through Knights’ street gives the feeling of being in another Carcassonne (the town in southern France which was so largely restored by architect Viollet-le-Duc to become more a symbol of XIXth century extravagance, than evidence of a medieval fortified town).
The Citadel was almost entirely destroyed in 1856 when a forgotten underground powder-house was struck by lightning. The Turks built on the site a military hospital, using the ruins of the Citadel. Today’s Palace of the Grand Masters is a modern building. Burgo was the part of town where the merchants lived and had their warehouses; the suits arising from their trade were settled in this elegant palace which was built by Grand Master d’Amboise at the beginning of the XVIth century. Another fine building of Burgo, notwithstanding its name, was most likely the residence of the Orthodox Bishop; the Knights were faithful to their promise to allow the Greeks to retain their allegiance to the Orthodox Church and in Burgo there were many churches in the traditional Byzantine style. The Old Town is a remarkable survival of the middle Ages and it is also instructive to compare it to the other remarkable city the Knights built next which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site – the fortified City of Valletta in Malta.
Very near the entrance to the ancient harbour is the Church of the Annunciation, the orthodox cathedral, in the gothic style, with wall-paintings by Fotis Kontoglou. This is in fact a replica of the cathedral of the Knights which used to stand inside the walled town and was blown up when used as a munitions store by the Ottomans. In the whole of this area in front of Mandraki, as elsewhere, the Italians put up various buildings with large spaces between them. Among them is the Governor’s Residence, a building with gothic arches all round, which stands a little to the north of the Church of the Annunciation. Today it houses the headquarters of the Prefecture. The other buildings include the Town Hall, the National Theatre (opposite the Governor’s Residence), and the law courts, south of the church of the Annunciation. Next to the Governor’s Residence is the Mosque of Murat Reis with the old the ottoman notables’ cemetery. If you follow from here the main road which goes to the west coast, you pass the luxurious Hotel of the Roses which is also a casino.
The Jewish community of Rhodes goes back to the 1st century CE. In 1480, the Jews actively defended the walled city against the Turks. At its peak in the 1920s, the Jewish community was one-third of the total population. The community was mostly wiped out in the Holocaust. Kahal Shalom, established in 1557, is the oldest synagogue in Greece. It is still standing in the Jewish quarter of the Old Town of Rhodes. It has been renovated with the help of foreign donors but very few Jews live year-round in Rhodes today, and services are not held on a regular basis. This synagogue is maintained basically as a memorial to the 1800 Jews from Rhodes and Kos deported to the concentration camps from here, with plaques in French (the language of educated Ottoman period Jews in the Aegean). There’s a museum in the back with photos of the Jewish community and its life on Rhodes and also in its widespread Diaspora in both the United States and in Africa. The museum was set up by a Los Angeles attorney of Jewish Rhodian descent.
The Platia ton Evreon Martyron/Square of the Jewish Martyrs was named to honour the large Jewish community of Rhodes almost completely wiped out by the Nazis during the summer of 1944. A 1929 Italian tourist guide so described the Jewish quarter of Rhodes: Beyond the Admiralty we enter the Jewish quarter where the atmosphere is so different from that of the Muslim quarter: the latter is very silent with family life going on behind closed doors, the Jewish quarter is happily noisy with children screaming and the open doors allow to see women doing their chores in rooms and courtyards. That is now all gone; On July 19, 1944 the island’s 1700 Jewish inhabitants were rounded up by the Gestapo and sent to extermination camps, of whom only some 151 survived.
The “Square of the Martyred Jews” (known in Greek as “Martyron Evreon”), is located in the heart of the former Jewish Quarter of Rhodes Town. The present park area of the square was originally an area of Jewish homes and small shops. However, the area was bombed during World War II, and in its place was established a small park and square. The present fountain ornamented with three seahorses replaced a previous fountain that was destroyed during World War II.
For more on the Holocaust & the Jewish Community of Kos & Rhodes see;
The Turkish Consul Selahattin Ülkümen succeeded, at considerable risk to himself and his family, in saving 42 Jews who had Turkish citizenship or were family members of Turkish citizens.
The 30-year-old Turkish Consul Selahattin Ülkümen approached the German general in charge and demanded that all Turkish subjects be released. He went further, demanding the spouses of Turkish citizens be released, invoking Turkish law that anyone married to a Turk is a Turk. The Germans assented. Ülkümen was playing a dangerous game. He bluffed the Germans — there was no such law.
Ülkümen’s bold personal action is credited with saving 42 families. But his bluff didn’t go unanswered. The Germans bombed his home in retaliation. His wife, nine months’ pregnant, was seriously injured and died of her wounds while giving birth to the couple’s son, Mehmet. 643 of Rhodes’ Jews were deported to Auschwitz; all but 151 were exterminated or died in the labour camps.
In June 1990, Ülkümen was installed on the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel. What used to be known as the Righteous Christians has been changed to the Righteous Gentiles because as a Muslim Mr. Ülkümen was the first non-Christian to receive the award.
The quarter was bombed during the last months of WWII which in Rhodes ended only in May 1945. The Kahal (Kadosh) Shalom Synagogue (Holy Congregation of Peace) is the oldest in Greece and the last remaining in Rhodes. It has been standing on central Dossiadou and Simiou Streets since the 1570s. It is still used by visiting groups of former residents for special occasions, High Holiday and Sabbath services. It follows the traditional Sephardic style with the tevah or prayer reading table in the center of the sanctuary, facing southeast toward Jerusalem.
Rhodes Town also has the unusual distinction of being a UNESCO World heritage site with a working Red Light District ( a sort of mini Wolverhampton) dating back hundreds of years. The still extant red light district has been catering (including On a Sunday despite what Melina Mercouri said) for clientele since before the First Crusade. This is legal in Greece and each house had the calling cards outside which gives us the expression “call girl.”
South of the New Town in a wooded area is Hellenistic Rhodes (southwest of Mandraki) on the hill of Aghios Stefanos. The ancient acropolis is rather comically named Monte Smith after Admiral Sydney Smith who was posted here in 1802 to keep an eye on Napoleon’s Egyptian forays. It was identified in 1916 and partially excavated during the 1920s.
Tourists come here for the spectacular sunsets and the vista over the city and harbour. A 2nd century BC Doric Temple of Pythian Apollo was reconstructed on top of Monte Smith by the Italians, as well as the 3rd century BC Stadium, where classical plays are sometimes staged in the summer. There are also some columns from temples of Zeus and Athena. The Ancient Theatre is the only square theatre found on the islands. Sitting there overlooking the Aegean and the mountains the uniqueness of this place becomes apparent – A land formed by Ancient Greeks and Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, The remarkable Knights of St. John, Italian Fascists and in 1948, for the first time in its history, united with Greece. Like all these islands it has a great story to tell.