Saturday, September 03, 2011

Popes, Knights, Mussolini & Rhodes

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

P1010852 Continuing the story of our Greek trip from Walking the walls of Rhodes, climbing down from the walls, we founds ourselves back in the mediaeval world of Rhodes.

Our challenge now was to find our hotel in the narrow mediaeval streets!

My wife had checked the map, and knew where we were going, so I followed along behind. We followed the wall back, and finally found the hotel.

This proved to be a nice place with an internal courtyard. Taking one look at the courtyard, the group sent me out to buy things for our usual picnic lunch.

Do you know, I couldn't find a supermarket or small store?

I followed the street we had come back, and then went in the opposite direction. While old Rhodes is still small, it was far larger than the Greek Island towns that I was used too. There were, in fact, far fewer eating places of all types relative to geography. Finally, I came back and admitted defeat. Then, with my wife's assistance (!), we finally found a supermarket.

We settled down in the courtyard with our bread, cheese, wine and a variety of nibbles to plan the rest of the day. We wanted to see the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes and the archaeological museum.

In introduced the Knights and mediaeval Rhodes in my last post because the physical architecture of Rhodes is dominated by the mediaeval period. It seemed easiest to come in this way. However, like other parts of the Greek Islands, history is not straight forward, but overlaps, leaving an overlapping pattern on the human and physical landscape.

The Eastern Roman Empire, what we now generally call the Byzantine Empire, may have become Greek in cultural terms, but did not forget that it was the Roman Empire. As the Western Empire declined, the East made continuing attempts to preserve the west, to recreate the Empire. The Pope in Rome continued to assert a claim to primacy, but also had to manage the shifting balances of political and military power in the west, including the continuing Byzantine presence in Italy as well as Norman incursions into Byzantine territory in Italy and beyond. 

During the long centuries, the eastern and western wings of the Catholic Church drifted apart beset by politics as well as theological differences. In 1054 AD a great schism occurred leading to real separation.

When in 1095 the Byzantine Emperor sought help from Pope Urban II to defend his Empire against the invading Turks, one of the things motivating Pope Urban to offer support was his desire to reunite the Church. This was to fall foul of politics, theology and dynastic ambitions. 

The modern dividing lines between the distribution of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic adherents as well as Christian and Muslim adherents all reflect the shifting balances of power in these previous periods.     

P1010887 The Knights of Rhodes were today what would be called a multinational organisation. They owed formal allegiance to the Pope and combined people from many language groups. To manage this, they were organised into tongues whose masters reported to the order's grand master.

The newly constructed Palace of the Grand Masters allowed for this division into tongues. However, it appears that the Palace today is not the same as the original Palace. Oh no, that would be far to easy!

The Palace was built on the site of the previous Byzantine citadel. Then, when Rhodes fell to the Ottomans in 1522, it became an Ottoman fortress.

In 1856, a huge ammunition explosion destroyed part of the palace. When the Kingdom of Italy seized Rhodes in 1912 from the Ottoman Empire, the Italians rebuilt the palace in a grandiose pseudo-medieval style as a holiday residence for Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and later for Benito Mussolini. Rhodes would be formally part of Italy until 1947 when it was transferred to Greece for the first time. 

Now all these mind glazing dates are quite significant. I will talk about the Italian period in more detail later when we come to visit the Mussolini built resort of Kalithera Themi. For the moment, I just want to note that the history of Rhodes and the broader Dodecanese Islands has its own unique features.

P1010864 I keep saying that history and individual visions of history exercise a deep influence on Greek history. To many Greek nationalists, the Byzantine influence, the dream of recreating the great Greek empire, has had powerful appeal. Mussolini, too, suffered from the same disease with his dream of recreating the (Western) Roman Empire.

In 1919, war broke out between Greece and Turkey. The end result was was what would be called today ethnic cleansing. More than a million Greek speakers, half a million Turkish speakers, were relocated.

Rhodes under Italian control was spared this bloodshed and forced dispossession. As a consequence, the Island retained a significant Muslim minority population.

The photo shows the Mosque of Suleiman which is currently being restored. The mosque of Suleiman was built soon after the Turks occupied the city of Rhodes in 1522 on the site of the destroyed Christian Church of the Apostles.

As we walked up the hill from our hotel towards the museum, we passed the site of the huge explosion of 1856 and then walked down the street to the museum.

Now here I want to introduce a practical hint, one that I have referred to before. When travelling in a group in which different people have different interests and go at different paces, do set reunion points and times. Otherwise, you will end up with some waiting for very long periods!

In my next post I want to go back much further into the past, to Rhodes well before the period of the Knights. But that will have to wait until tomorrow. 

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