Old Town Rhodes

Rhodes Old Town

Old Town Rhodes

Old Town Rhodes: A Gothic Stronghold of the Knights of St. John

Old Town Rhodes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the largest island of the Dodecanese. From 1309 to 1523, it was occupied by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who transformed the island capital into a fortified city capable of withstanding sieges as terrible as those led by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and Mehmet II in 1480.

The medieval city is divided into the high town to the north and the lower town to the south-southwest, enclosed within a 4km-long wall. The high town was entirely built by the Knights, organized into seven “tongues,” each with its own seat, or “inn.” The inns of the tongues of Italy, France, Spain, and Provence lined the principal east-west axis, the famous Street of the Knights, one of the finest testimonies to Gothic urbanism.

To the north of the high town stands the Inn of Auvergne, whose facade bears the arms of Guy de Blanchefort, Grand Master from 1512 to 1513. The Great Hospital, built between 1440 and 1489, stands on the south side of the Street of the Knights, close to the site of the Knights’ first hospice.

The lower town is almost as dense with monuments as the high town, with many churches dating back to the Byzantine period. Throughout the years, the number of palaces and charitable foundations multiplied in the south-southeast area: the Court of Commerce, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Hospice of St. Catherine, and others.

After 1523, most churches were converted into Islamic mosques, such as the Mosque of Soliman, Kavakli Mestchiti, Demirli Djami, Peial ed Din Djami, Abdul Djelil Djami, and Dolapli Mestchiti. The ramparts of the medieval city, partially erected on the foundations of the Byzantine enclosure, were constantly maintained and remodeled between the 14th and 16th centuries under the Grand Masters.

Old Town Rhodes is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that illustrates the significant period of history in which a military/hospital order founded during the Crusades survived in the eastern Mediterranean area in a context characterized by an obsessive fear of siege. With its Frankish and Ottoman buildings, the old town is an important ensemble of traditional human settlement, characterized by successive and complex phenomena of acculturation.

The fortifications of Rhodes, a “Frankish” town long considered to be impregnable, exerted an influence throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin at the end of the Middle Ages. The fact that this medieval city is located on an island in the Aegean Sea, that it was on the site of an ancient Greek city, and that it commands a port formerly embellished by the Colossus erected by Chares of Lindos, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, only adds to its interest.

The increasing dangers due to tourist development and commercial overexploitation of the property, the modification of land use and building regulations require that the strategic management of the property be continuously strengthened, so that the pressure exerted on the environment and the urban fabric, including all elements from before 1912, will be minimized.

Overall, Old Town Rhodes is an outstanding example of a Gothic stronghold that is not only historically significant but also culturally rich and diverse.

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