The largest Greek island in the stunning Aegean is the island of Rhodes. Rhodes was once home to the Colossus of Rhodes – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The island has a very long and turbulent history, dating back thousands of years. It was also the main base for the Knights of St. John (aka Knights Hospitaler), and the Crusader architecture is one of the island’s greatest attractions today.
The capital of the island of Rhodes is the city of Rhodes. It’s just a small town of 50,000 people, or 90,000 in the metropolitan area. Despite being a small town, it is one of the best preserved medieval towns and one of the best places to learn about the Crusaders and the knightly orders.
Who was the Knights Hospitaler?
The Knights Hospitaler originated as a military crusader order during the Crusades in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Knights Hospitaler continues today. The most famous Order of Saint John is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It can be found across Europe and around the world as an organization dedicated to charitable works and helping people in need.
After Jerusalem was retaken from the Arabs, they resettled in Rhodes and then in Malta and have been without sovereign territory since their expulsion from Malta by the French in 1798. They are sometimes referred to as the only “country” without a country.
- Rule of Rhodes: From 1309 to 1522
The full name of the Knights Hospitaler is Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.
When the island finally fell to the Ottomans after more than 200 centuries of rule, the Christians were banished from the Old Town while the Knights fled to Malta.
Rhodes Citadel – one of the best preserved medieval fortifications
Visitors today explore the citadel of Rhodes. It is one of the best preserved medieval cities and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. It consists mainly of Crusader fortifications equipped with bastions, a moat, a counter slope, an embankment and a great wall.
- Fixed: UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988
The impressive fortifications were the product of medieval knights using skills learned in France to defend against the mighty Ottoman Empire.
It is possible to walk around the city walls of the old town. These walls are about 4 kilometers long and up to 12 meters thick in places. See the many impressive towers, bastions, gates, artillery firing posts and dry moat.
Walls of Rhodes:
- Length: 4 km or 2.5 miles
- Thickness: Up to 12 meters
The impressive fortifications on Rhodes were built from 1309 by reinforcing the existing Byzantine walls. They took Rhodes from the Christian Byzantines (crusaders didn’t just attack Muslims in Palestine).
The crusaders came from different parts of Europe, and different parts of the castle were held by knights from different locations depending on the language they spoke. The castle had different “Langues” (language areas) – there was the French Langue, the English Langue etc.
While most of the historical fortifications seen on Rhodes today date back to the Crusaders, the city of Rhodes dates back to 408 BC. back.
Main attractions of Rhodes old town
Explore Rhodes Old Town and discover a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and squares. A double set of massive walls separates the modern city of Rhodes from the old town. Here one will see influences from many people who ruled Rhodes at different times (such as the Greeks, the Hospitallers, the Ottoman Turks, the Italians and finally modern Greece).
The castle is considered one of the greatest defensive structures in medieval history.
The main medieval sights include the Street of the Knights, the Palace of the Grand Masters, the city walls and the Archaeological Museum of the Knights’ Hospital.
The Grand Master’s Palace is a massive fortress defended by a triple walled ring. It is located at the highest point of the old town and was built by the Hospitallers.
- Entry: 8 euros (dollars) for Grand Master’s Palace
Today there are many impressive Crusader castles to visit in the eastern Mediterranean (and on Malta). The most impressive Crusader castle today is the Krak des Chevaliers in Syria.