Tracing medieval footsteps down the the ‘Odos Ippoton’ on our way to dinner, it was easy to imagine whispers in the dark. The swishing of silk trains, the clang of armour, the neighing of horses, the clink of sword and spear.
Less eerie in the glare of daylight, but just as atmospheric, the ‘Road of the Knights‘ is a 200 meter remnant of the original cobbled road that once stretched from Rhodes harbour to the acropolis.
Lined on either side by the Inns of the Tongues (subgroupings by nationality), from the Grand Masters Palace to the Knights hospital, this is considered one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe. Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, the inns are mainly identifiable by the coats of arms inscribed on stone above their portals, many of which have been carted off to museums in Istanbul and elsewhere.
Founded in the 11th century by Gerard Thom also known as “Blessed Thom” to provide care to sick and injured pilgrims to the holy lands, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John evolved into a religious and military order that was evicted from the very land they were meant to defend after the Islamic invasion.
The Knights (not to be confused with the Knights Templar) retreated to Rhodes in 1309 (captured in turn from the Genoese) and their heroic defense of this last bastion of Christianity in the increasingly Islamic region is the stuff of legends. After the final siege* led by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522, the Knights were forced to surrender and were offered safe passage to western Europe along with the surviving christian residents.
They drifted around Europe for a while before settling in Malta and came to be known as the Knights of Malta. The French invasion of Malta dispersed them yet again until the early 19th century, when rechristened as the Sovereign Military Order Of Malta, they set up base in Rome and dedicated themselves to humanitarian causes, that continues to this date, with associations in over 120 countries. The English tongue evolved into the St John Ambulance Brigade in 1887.
- The human cost of the siege – 2000 (out of a population of 7000) Christians and 50000 Ottomans!.