Medieval Town, The Castle of the
Knights, The Chora
of Old Town, Old Town Hotels
The Castle of the Knights. Coming up from Mandraki Harbor, we enter through the Gate of Freedom (Pili Eleftherias), in Simi sq. The Gate was opened in 1924 by the Italians, who looked on themselves as liberators of the island from the Turks.
Immediately opposite are the ruins of a Temple of Aphrodite, dating from the 3rd century BC, one of the few ancient remains to be found in the Old Town. Behind the temple is the Inn of the Tongue of Auvergue, built in 1507. Note the outside staircase leading up the front of the building which is a purely Aegean architectural feature, owing nothing to Western influence. The Inn is used today as government offices.
the left, Arsenal Gate leads to the commercial port. Simi sq. is
also known as Arsenal sq., as it was believed that the Knights had
shipyards there (the word "arsenal" is derived from the
Arabic word for a shipyard). The building on the right houses the
Ionian and Popular Bank on the ground floor and the Municipal Art
Gallery upstairs. From here the street climbs slightly to
Argyrokastrou sq., a pretty spot with a fine fountain in its center.
Its base, which is an early Christian font, was found by Italian
archaeologists in the church of St. Irene near the village of
Arnitha. The pile of cannonballs near the fountain, and the other
piles to be seen here and there in the Old Town, were collected for
the defense of Rhodes during the Turkish siege of 1522.
Argyrokastrou sq. also boasts one of the oldest buildings in the
Castle - the Armeria, built in the 14th century, probably by Grand
Master Roger de Pias, whose escutcheon can be seen on the left hand
side of the building. Its similarities to the Hospital of the
Knights (now the Museum) lead scholars to believe that this was the
first building used as a Hospital. Later, it was used by the Turks
as an armory (armeria). To the left as we look at the
today houses the Institute of History and Archaeology, is the Museum
of Folk Art.
Right after the church of Our Lady of the Castle is Museum sq., with the Inn of the Tongue of England and the Knights' Hospital. The Inn of the Tongue of England is on the left, on the corner of the Square and an alley running down to the port. The building was re-constructed in 1919 in its original position and in the same style as the old structure, which dated from 1443 and was destroyed in the mid 19th century. The Knights' Hospital stands on the right as we enter the square. It is in perfect condition, and is obviously suitable for the initial purpose of the Order, which was to give hospitality and care to pilgrims in need of assistance in the Holy Land, and later to the Crusaders. This large and imposing edifice, which houses the Archaeological Museum, is probably the most important monument left by the Knights in the City. Building began in 1440 under Grand Master de Lactic and was finished in 1484 by Grand Master d' Aubusson. Much of the stone and other building materials was taken from the Roman building on the site of which the Hospital stands.
On the ground floor, arched entries to the
right and left of the main entrance lead to storehouses, which are
now used as shops. A similar entry approximately in the center of
the building is the main way into the building and there are carved
decorations. Directly above the entrance is a three-sided obtrusion,
part of the chapel in the Great Hall on the upper floor. This is the
only break in the otherwise unrelieved severity of the frontage of
the building. The entrance leads us through an arch into an inner
courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a two-store arcade with low
this palace is the original main entrance to the Hospital. After
this, behind an iron gate, is a shady garden with a Turkish
fountain, whose running water is the only sound to break the
complete silence which reigns there. The Catalan and Aragonese style
of a gateway which has survived among the ruins would seem to
indicate that the building which stood there was Spanish. Almost
opposite the garden is the Inn of the Tongue of France, the most
highly decorated of all the Knightly buildings and among the most
attractive. It is definitely worth more than just a hasty visit. It
was built by the Grand Masters d' Aubusson
Amboise at the end
of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th, and bears their
coats-of-arms on the front along with the emblem of the Order and
the escutcheon of Villiers d' Isle Adam.
this, an arch with a room above it is the entry to an alley at right
angles to the Street of the Knights. We pass this, and immediately
to our right is the Inn of the Tongue of Province, with the Inn of
the Tongue of Spain to the left. The room above the archway belongs
to this. Both Inns were built at the beginning of the 15th century
and neither is notable for any particular exterior decoration.
Opposite the Church of St. John, at the
highest point of the Castle, stood the Palace of the Grand Masters,
a structure imposing both for its dimensions (80 meters by 75) and
for the strength of its fortifications. These were so strong that
even the siege of 1522 hardly damaged them. During the first years
of their occupation, the Turks used the Palace as a prison, after
which it was allowed to fall into ruin. The final blow was dealt by
the explosion which wrecked St. John's Church. However, the
Italians, wishing to provide King Victor Emanuel and Mussolini with
a worthy residence when they visited the island, rebuilt it along
the lines of the old building. It was finished in 1940.
As we leave the palace, Kleovoulou sq. lies to our right, and beyond this we enter a fine, wide street whose plane trees cast deep shadow even in the heat of the day. This is Orpheos street. To the right, in a wall linking the interior wall of the Castle with the main wall, is the Gate of St. Anthony, and after this, if we turn to the left, the impressive d' Amboise Gate. Iron benches between the two gates afford an opportunity to sit and rest in the shade for a while, and even - why not? - pose for a quick portrait by one of the artists to be found there. If we turn the other way down Orpheos street, we will come to the Clock Tower (built after the earthquake of 1851) which stands on the site of the north - west tower of the interior fortifications of the Coliseum. From here, the wall ran downhill parallel to the Street of the Knights to the point at which it met the outer walls near the harbor. Almost none of this section of the inner wall has survived.
The Chora. When we leave the inner Coliseum wall, we are at the top of Sokratous sq., the 'lug bazaar', as the Turks used to call it. To the left is the Mosque of Suleiman (next to the clock tower), standing in a fine courtyard with plane trees. It was built in 1808 in the place of an older mosque erected in honor of the conqueror of Rhodes, Suleiman the Magnificent. It continues to operate as a mosque, despite the worrying and perfectly visible angle which its minaret now leans at. The Turkish library, founded in 1794 by the Moslem Rhodian Ahmed Hafuz, is on the other side of the street. The library contains a fine collection of Turkish, Arab and Persian manuscripts, among which is an anonymous chronicle of the siege of 1522. Also to be seen are two richly ornamented Korans, one of 1412 and one of 1540.
Apollonion street leads off West from near the Suleiman Mosque. In it stands the Byzantine-Gothic church of St. George, an elegant structure dating from the 15th century. It was used as a medresse (a Turkish theological school) during Ottoman occupation, and was known as Kurmale-Medresse (the school with the date palm). We return to Sokratous street. The first street to the right after the Turkish library (Ippodamou street) will take us straight into the heart of the old Turkish quarter, which has lost almost nothing of its medieval color. The alleys and the houses are very much as they were in the time of the Knights: The arches beneath which the road passes every so often were added by the Turks to provide protection against earthquakes, and they add to the oriental mystery of the atmosphere. To the right of the street can be seen the chapel of St. Paraskevi, in a free cruciform shape. This, too, became a mosque (Takkeci Cami) during the years of Turkish rule.
The first street to the left after the mosque (Archelaou street) leads to Arionos sq., where stands the Sultan Mustafa Mosque, built in 1765, and the public baths. These are the old Turkish baths (hamam), which have been restored since being destroyed in the last war. The doorman has old Turkish customs to tell of, among which is that associated with weddings: when a couple was to get married, it was the tradition that on the Friday before the wedding (which took place on Sunday) all the relatives and friends of the couple were provided with tickets for the baths, so that all could prepare themselves in a comrade atmosphere - with the two sexes separate, needless to say - for the ceremony to come. A lane runs down from Arionos sq. between the mosque and the baths to the outdoor Theater of the Old City, where performances of folk dancing are held every evening during the summer.
Our street continues, coming out in Agiou Fanouriou street. We turn right (to the South). The small Byzantine church of St. Fanourios (patron saint of those searching for lost persons) is again in free cruciform style. The Turks used it first as a stable and later as a mosque (Peial El Din Cami). Some fine wall-paintings have been preserved under the Turkish plaster on the walls. Immediately behind this, in Dorieos sq., is the abandoned mosque of Redjep-Pasha. This was built in 1588, using materials from Byzantine and Knightly times, and was, in its day, the finest mosque on the island. Its fountain stands in front of it, and behind, in an archway with a vaulted roof, is the sarcophagus of Redjep Pasha himself.
We return to Agiou Fanouriou street, one of the most picturesque in the city, and turn right, leading back to Sokratous street, the busy bazaar area where souvenirs of all descriptions are for sale. On the left as we enter this street is the wooden Aga Cami (Mosque of the Governor). On our way down towards the harbor we pass through Ippokratous sq., in the center of which stands a fine fountain. Also in the square is all that remains of an important building of the Knights known as Castellania, of which only the south-west section stands, with a large outside staircase. The building dates from 1597 and was a commercial center. The ground floor was used for transactions between traders, and the upper floor for the court where their disputes were tried. Only a few yards farther on is the Marine Gate or Harbor Gate, flanked by two bastions. It is perhaps the most spectacular of all the gates to the castle. As can be seen from engravings of past centuries, the sea used to run up to a point directly beneath the gate.
To the south of Ippokratous sq., Pythagoras street leads off to the side of the Ibrahim Pasha Cami. Built in 1531, this is the oldest Turkish religious building to have survived. It was repaired by the Italians, who also added a new minaret. Aristotelous street, which leads out of Ippokratous sq., will take us to the old Jewish quarter and to the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs (Platia Evreon Martiron), with its attractive little fountain, decorated with rows of shells, starfish, octopuses and so on, set on blue tiles and surrounded by three large sea-horses. The name of the square is in memory of the approximately 2000 Jews, who were assembled here before being shipped to Nazi concentration camps, from which only a very few of them ever returned. The building whose front is on the north side of the square is the Palace of the Admirals, which was the residence of the Orthodox Archbishop of Rhodes before the Turkish occupation. Further along Pindarou street (as the continuation of Aristotelous street is called) are the remains of the Gothic church of Our Lady of the City (Saint Marie du Burg), the largest Catholic church in Rhodes (30 meters by 18). One part of the church lies on the left side of the road, and the other on the right.
To the south of the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs, very close to the walls, is an interesting Byzantine church - the 15th century church of the Holy Trinity, better known by its Turkish name of Dolapli Cami. From this point on, the visitor has a choice; he can continue to wander among the narrow lanes and alleys of the Old Town, with their houses reminiscent of a bygone age and their half-forgotten churches and mosques, or he can return to the crowded commercial streets to increase his collection of souvenirs.
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