Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Walking the walls of Rhodes

Greek Trip, Day 15, Saturday 2 October 2010, Rhodes continued

Continuing from Breakfast in Rhodes, after breakfast we moved off to find the entry to the walls, asking P1110161 as we went. We still had no idea just what we were doing, although we could see signs of fortifications everywhere.

Now at this stage, I need to introduce a little bit of history.

In 1095 AD (or CE depending upon your preference), the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos sent envoys to Pope Urban II seeking aid against continuing invasion of the Seljuqs (Turks) who had penetrated not far from Constantinople (now Istanbul). The result was the First Crusade, whose primary aim came to be to free the Holy Lands from Muslim (Fatimid) rule.

The North African based Fatimids were in fact divided from and in opposition to the Seljugs on political, dynastic and religious grounds. During uneasy periods of peace and war, the Fatimids had progressively extended their territory at the expense of the Byzantines.  

In July 1099, Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders who instead of returning the territory to Byzantine rule established a series of independent principalities, most importantly the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Now I need to introduce a new player. Australians will know them as the Knights of St John, Maltese as the Knights of Malta.

From 600 there had been a hospital in Jerusalem to care for Christian pilgrims. in 1005 Caliph Al Hakim destroyed the hospital and three thousand other buildings in the city. However, the hospital was given approval to re-open in 1023. After the Crusaders took the city, those involved with the care of pilgrims evolved into religious military orders, the Knights Hospitaller.

P1110172 When the Kingdom of Jerusalem finally fell in 1291, the Knights took refuge in the Kingdom of Cyprus. from there, they decided to seek their own temporal domain, selecting Rhodes, then part of the Byzantine Empire. Still with me? I know that it's complicated, but that's the reality of Greek history.

After over two years of campaigning, the Island fell to the Knights 15 August 1309. Now named the Knights of Rhodes, they rebuilt the city into a model of the medieval ideal. The end result is that the world heritage listed old Rhodes is the largest still inhabited mediaeval centre in Europe.

I said earlier that Rhodes had a very different feel from the other Greek island centres that we had been too. This history is the reason why. If you look up this street, you will see the cobble stones, the medieval buildings.

This was a much tougher world. To hold their new territory, the Knights needed walls to hold of attack in an uncertain world. These were the walls we were going to walk along. Their size is simply unbelievable.  P1010833 

I tried to find a photo that would give you a feel. This one gives at least a feel for scale. 

I said that the world was an uncertain place.

In 1444 and then again in 1480, the Knights withstood attack. However, in December 1522 Rhodes fell to the huge invading  army of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Knights had ruled Rhodes for 213 years, not much less than the time since Governor Phillip first arrived at Botany Bay in 1788. Rhodes would now be part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 hundred years.

The few remaining nights moved first to the Kingdom of Sicily and then to Malta where they set up a new base. The Knights, now known as the Knights of Malta, would rule in Malta until 1798 when Napoleon occupied the Island.  Today the Knights remain with several orders and internationally recognised vestigial powers as a quasi national entity. 

As we walked along the wall in the bright sun, we looked down into the old city on the left, the new city on the right.  Looking now for photos that might best encapsulate the feel, I chose this one from Clare looking down on the old city. It's not the best shot, but it captures some things I want to talk about. Comments follow the photo. P1110202

In terms of the modern, you have the jet trails in the sky, the solar hot water systems. Because of the climate, solar hot water systems are quite noticeable. They are everywhere. Then you have the Greek Orthodox dome and behind it to the right, the mosque. Rhodes is an interesting mix of history and cultures.

The following is another shot. Again, you can see the huddle of buildings and the solar hot water systems. In this case you can also see part of one of the internal gardens that are a feature of Rhodes.P1010849

We walked on through the sun to the end of the wall. Now to find our hotel, But that's for the next post!


Anonymous said...

Lovely post Jim - thank you for the effort. Now to dive off into your links...


Jim Belshaw said...

A pleasure, kvd, and thanks.