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Rhodes Island

Written by Tim Ross
What an incredible place. Rhodes offers almost any kind of holiday you could want. If you want peace and quiet, youíll find it on Rhodes. If you want activities and night-life, Rhodes has got it. If you want to explore history and culture, that is there too. The island is clean, the locals are very warm and friendly to tourists. English is spoken everywhere and most signs are in English too.
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5. Medieval Period

After the fall of Jerusalem in 1291, the Knights Hospitallier of St John, dedicated to protecting pilgrims and running hospitals in the Holy Land, took refuge on Cyprus, but by 1306 they had become interested in the wealthier and better positioned Rhodes. The Knights, under Grand Master Foulques de Villaret, purchased the Dodecanese Islands from their current occupants the Genoese merchants. The Rodians weren't impressed, and the Knights had to spend their first three years subduing the natives.

By 1309, with the help of the Pope, the Knights were secure in their possession and began to build their hospital and inns in Rhodes town. They built eight inns or Auberges in all, one for each of the 'languages', or nationalities, in the Order (England, France, Germany, Italy, Castile, Aragon, Auvergne and Provence). Each tongue had a bailiff, and the eight bailiffs elected the Grand Master, who lived in a palace. There were never more than 650 men in the Order, and although as always dedicated to care for pilgrims (their hospital still exists), their focus shifted to their role as free-booting, front-line defenders of Christendom. Already wealthy, they were given a tremendous boost in 1312, when Pope Clement V and Philip the Fair of France dissolved the fabulously wealthy Knights Templars, confiscated their fortune and gave the Hospitalliers a hefty share of the loot. With their new funds, the Knights of St John replaced the fortifications-and continued to replace them up until the 16th century, hiring the best Italian fortification engineers until they could claim The Medieval City to be one of the most splendid defences of the day. These fortifications, together with the bravery shown by the Knights, made Rhodes impregnable for many years. The Masters were conciliatory with the native Orthodox Greeks in order to ensure their support during times of war. They cut, however, all the Greek ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The capture of Smyrni with the support of other Latin powers (1334), the naval battle of Imvros (1347), where the Turkish navy was defeated, the expedition against Alexandria (1365) and the invasions against the coastal areas of Syria and Asia Minor (1376) are only some of the brave exploits of the Knights against the Turks. The Knights of St. John constituted a continual vibrant resistance of the western Christian world against Ottoman expansion. The Knights' struggles saw the form of continual war expeditions, invasions of islands and coastal areas, incendiaries and pirate activities in their attempt to thwart the enemy.

Meanwhile, the Knights had made themselves such a thorn in the side of Muslim shipping that they were besieged by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and by Mohammed II the Conqueror in 1480, with 70,000 men, both times without success, thanks to their tremendous walls.

Rhodes is once again devastated by a great earthquake, which was accompanied by a tidal wave and torrential rains in 1481. A frightful plague hits Rhodes during the years 1498-1500, decimating the population. The Rhodian poet Emmanuel Limenitis-Georgilas described this pestilence in the 'Death of Rhodes'. In the ensuing years, the Rhodian countryside is ever more increasingly hit by invasions and ransacked by the Turkish navy. The Knights counter with pirate invasions against Muslim ships, as well as against islands and coastal areas controlled by the Muslims throughout the entire expanse of the Mediterranean.

Then in 1522 Suleiman the Magnificent moved in with 200,000 troops; the Rhodians (there were 6,000 of them, plus 1,000 Italian mercenaries, and 650 knights). After a frustrating six-month siege, Suleiman was on the point of abandoning Rhodes when a German traitor informed him that of the original Knights, only 180 survived, and they were on their last legs. The Sultan redoubled his efforts and the Knights at last were forced to surrender.

On 22 December, the representatives of the besieged accepted Suleiman's terms, which were surprisingly generous. The Knights were given twelve days to leave the island and would be allowed to take with them their weapons and any valuables or religious icons they desired. Islanders who wished to leave could do so at any time within a three-year period. No church would be desecrated or turned into a mosque. Those remaining on the island would be free of Ottoman taxation for five years.

The siege of Rhodes ended with an Ottoman victory, albeit at high cost: as many as half of the invading force may have perished or been wounded. The conquest of Rhodes was a major step towards Ottoman control over the eastern Mediterranean and greatly eased their maritime communications between Constantinople and Cairo and the Levantine ports.