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The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes: A medieval castle turned into a museum

David Goran

Located at the end of the Street of the Knights, at the highest point of the Greek medieval city, the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is a 14th-century castle standing on the site of a 7th-century Byzantine fortress. It is a square building designed around a large courtyard with impressive towers, massive walls, and elaborate decorative elements, and it is one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece.

From 1309 to 1522, the Knights of St. John (a.k.a. Knights Hospitaller), a Christian military organization, ruled the island of Rhodes. In the early 14th century, they made numerous modifications and converted the Byzantine citadel into an administrative center and the residence of their Grand Master.

The palace in 1844.   Photo Credit

The palace in 1844.   Photo Credit

 

A massive stronghold defended by a triple circuit of walls. The main entrance.   Photo Credit

A massive stronghold defended by a triple circuit of walls. The main entrance.   Photo Credit

 

An exceptional example of Gothic architecture. During the Ottoman occupation, the building was also used as a prison.   Photo Credit

An exceptional example of Gothic architecture. During the Ottoman occupation, the building was also used as a prison.   Photo Credit

 

Built in the early 14th century by the Knights of Rhodes.   Photo Credit

Built in the early 14th century by the Knights of Rhodes.   Photo Credit

 

During medieval times, the palace served as an administrative center and residence of the Grand Masters.   Photo Credit

During medieval times, the palace served as an administrative center and residence of the Grand Masters.   Photo Credit

 

Originally built on the foundations of the Temple of Sun God (Helios). The Courtyard.  Photo Credit

Originally built on the foundations of the Temple of Sun God (Helios). The Courtyard.  Photo Credit

Arcades at the courtyard.   Photo Credit

Arcades at the courtyard.   Photo Credit

 

Cannons in the bastion on the West side of the Palace.   Photo Credit

Cannons in the bastion on the West side of the Palace.   Photo Credit

 

From 1912 to 1947, the Italians made extensive restorations.   Photo Credit

From 1912 to 1947, the Italians made extensive restorations.   Photo Credit

The Ottomans, who captured Rhodes in the 16th century, used the castle as a fortress and a command center. It remained unscathed until 1856 when a gunpowder explosion in the basement of the nearby Church of St. John almost destroyed the palace.

At the beginning of the 20th century, during the Italian occupation of the Dodecanese Islands, the palace saw extensive restoration work. Between 1937 and 1940, the Italian architect Vittorio Mesturino rebuilt it to become a holiday residence for King Victor Emmanuel III, and later for the dictator Benito Mussolini.

The building was largely destroyed by a gunpowder explosion 300 years after the Turkish siege of Rhodes in 1522. The Chamber of the Nine Muses.   Photo Credit

The building was largely destroyed by a gunpowder explosion 300 years after the Turkish siege of Rhodes in 1522. The Chamber of the Nine Muses.   Photo Credit

 

The wooden ceiling of the Chamber of Colonnades.   Photo Credit

The wooden ceiling of the Chamber of Colonnades.   Photo Credit

 

Left – Gothic portal.  Photo Credit                                      Right – Sculpture of Virgin Mary. Photo Credit

Left – Gothic portal.  Photo Credit                                      Right – Sculpture of Virgin Mary. Photo Credit

 

Choir stalls.   Photo Credit

Choir stalls.   Photo Credit

 

The palace was converted into a museum by the Greek government.   Photo Credit

The palace was converted into a museum by the Greek government.   Photo Credit

In the 1950s, when Rhodes was unified with Greece, the Greek government turned the palace into a museum. There are over 150 rooms inside, of which only 24 are open to visitors. Many of these rooms feature exhibitions which display the history of Rhodes, as well as a rich collection of 16th and 17th-century jewels, handicrafts, weapons, books, and paintings.

The floors are decorated with mosaics of late Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian times, excavated on the island of Kos. One of the most famous is the mosaic of Medusa from the 2nd century BC.

Only 24 of the 158 rooms inside the palace are open to visitors.    Photo Credit

Only 24 of the 158 rooms inside the palace are open to visitors.    Photo Credit

 

The staircase to the upper floor.    Photo Credit

The staircase to the upper floor.    Photo Credit

 

Byzantine mosaic from Kos.    Photo Credit

Byzantine mosaic from Kos.    Photo Credit

 

Medusa mosaic (2nd century BC) from Kos.    Photo Credit

Medusa mosaic (2nd century BC) from Kos.    Photo Credit

On the ground floor, visitors can tour the Grand Reception Hall and the Music Room.

Read another story from us: Some of the most beautiful & well-preserved Medieval Cities in Europe

There’s a large staircase which leads to the second floor, where various rooms can be found, such as the Hall of the Council and the Knights’ dining hall. Visitors can also glimpse inside the private chambers of the Grand Master, commonly known as Margaritae.