- Published: Friday, 27 June 2014 10:21
The Medieval town of Rhodes is inscribed in the list World Heritage Sites of the Convention for the Protection of World Heritage of the UNESCO. Inclusion in this list recognizes the exceptional value of a cultural site so that it may be protected for the benefit of all Humanity. A short version of the history of Rhodes medieval town, as recorded by UNESCO, is shown below.
Rhodes is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble illustrating the significant period of history in which a military hospital order founded during the crusades and survived in the eastern Mediterranean area in a context characterized by an obsessive fear of siege. 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.
With its Frankish and Ottoman buildings the old town of Rhodes is an important ensemble of traditional human settlement, characterized by successive and complex phenomena of acculturation. Contact with the traditions of the Dodecanese changed the forms of gothic architecture, and building after 1523 combined vernacular forms resulting from the meeting of two worlds with decorative elements of Ottoman origin. All the built-up elements dating before 1912 have become vulnerable because of the evolution in living conditions and they must be protected as much as the great religious, civil and military monuments, the churches, monasteries, mosques, baths, palaces, forts, gates and ramparts.
From 1309 to 1523 Rhodes was occupied by the Knightly Order of St John of Jerusalem, who had lost their last stronghold in Palestine, St John of Acre, in 1291. They proceeded to transform the island capital into a fortified city able to withstand sieges as terrible as those led by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and Mehmet II in 1480. An anachronic vestige of the Crusades, Rhodes finally fell in 1522 after a six-month siege carried out by Suleiman II, heading forces reportedly numbering 100,000 men.
The medieval city is located within a wall 4 km long. It is divided according to the Western classical style, with the high town to the north and the lower town south to southwest. Originally separated from the town by a fortified wall, the high town (Collachium) was entirely built by the Knights Hospitallers who, following the dissolution of the Templars in 1312, became the strongest military order in all Christendom. The order was organized into seven 'Tongues', each having its own seat. The inns of the
Tongues of Italy, France, Spain and Provence lined both sides of the principal east-west axis, the famous Street of the Knights, one of the finest testimonies to Gothic urbanism. Somewhat relocated to the north, close to the site of the Knights' first hospice, stands the Inn of Auvergne, whose facade bears the arms of Guy de Blanchefort, Grand Master from 1512 to 1513.
The original hospice was replaced in the 15th century by the Great Hospital, built between 1440 and 1489, on the south side of the Street of the Knights; today the building is used as the archaeological museum. Located north-west of the Collachium are the Grand Masters' Palace and St John's Church. At the far eastern end of the Street of the Knights, built against the wall, is St Mary's Church, which the Knights transformed into a cathedral in the 15th century. The lower town is almost as dense with monuments as the Collachium. In 1522, with a population of 5,000, it was replete with churches, some of Byzantine construction.
After 1523, most were converted into Islamic mosques, like the Mosques of Soliman, Kavakli Mestchiti, Demirli Djami, Peial ed Din Djami, Abdul Djelil Djami, and Dolapli Mestchiti. Throughout the years, the number of palaces and charitable foundations multiplied in the south-south-east area: the Court of Commerce, the Archbishop's Palace, the Hospice of St Catherine, and others.
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 Giovanni Battista degli Orsini (1467-76), Pierre d'Aubusson (1476-1505), Aiméry d'Amboise (1505-12), and Fabrizio del Carretto (1513-21). Artillery firing posts were the final features to be added. At the beginning of the 16th century, in the section of the Amboise Gate, which was built on the north-western angle in 1512, the curtain wall was 12 m thick with a 4 m high parapet pierced with gun holes.
Layout / Organization of the town: The old town is encircled by strong medieval walls. The walls of Rhodes are unique in Europe in their state of preservation and their form. The Medieval town of Rhodes is divided into the following sections: 1) the walls, 2) the gates, 3) the castle (collachio), and finally 4) the burgo (town). The wall is as massive as is imposing. It is a continuous construction of 4Km / 2,5mi long, which surrounds and protects the old town.
A typical example of fortification techniques from the 14th and 15th century. Massive towers and bastions project from several place and they are decorated with elaborate stonework, while a wide dry moat provided the first line of defense. To ensure the enemy could not easily fill it, the ground on the opposite side was contained by a massive wall, which was difficult to dismantle.
The town consists of seven gates in total. The gates are spread along the walls of the town, all around it. St Catherine's gate (or sea gate) was the main gate of the town. It was built in 1478 by Grand Master Pierre d'Aubusson. D'Amboise gate is the most impressive gate of Rhodes from a military viewpoint, built by Grand Master Emery d'Amboise, it was completed in 1512. St Anthony's gate was the old western gate of Rhodes, which with the redesign of the walls became the last gate of d'Amboise's gates. Outer St John's gate is recognized by Grand Master d' Aubusson’s coat of arms. In 1912 Italian troops made their entrance into Rhodes through this gate. St Paul's gate is surrounded by a low wall and is protected by a high tower where Grand Master d'Aubusson placed a relief portraying St Paul. St Athanasius' gate is surrounded by fortified walls and is located near St Mary's Tower. The gate was closed in 1501 by Grand Master d'Aubusson. Finally, the Mills gate was the gate that provided access to the Emporium from the Jewish quarter.
An interior wall running east-west divides the city into two unequal parts. The more northerly, and smaller, of these parts is called the Collachium, or Castle. The main street of the Castle, also known as "Street of The Knights" is the most beautiful part of the old town, which has been preserved on its medieval grandeur and has survived throughout the centuries. Several Langues had their palaces along the street. They had decorated portals and windows in addition to many coats of arms. The street links the "Hospital of the Knights" to the "Palace of the Grand Master". The Hospital 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 was used to house the Rhodes Archaeological Museum.
The larger southern quarter was the town itself, known as the Burgo, Burgus, Burgum or Hora. It was inhabited by a wide blend of races, with the Greeks as the majority. Here you can find the famous Castellania fountain located on Ippocratous square. The “Old Lady of the Burg” church can also be found in this area, plus the Hospice of St. Catherine.