Rhodes has seen many civil changes over the centuries. Its location was always attractive as an important maritime and army point. One of the most significant changes was the arrival of the Knights from Jerusalem, at the end of the 13th century. Their presence on the island renowned as a pirate stronghold, saw building on a scale that had not been seen for 1000 years, as well as major changes to the island’s governance.

Early History of the Knights

The Knights of Rhodes, also known as the Order of St John, the Knights Hospitaller and as the Knights of St John.

In the Middle Ages, they were among the most famous Christian Military Orders of the then known world.

In the year 632, Pope Gregory ordered the building of a hospital in Jerusalem, to care for pilgrims, travelling to the Holy Land. A monastic order and foundation was then established.  Three centuries later, the hospital was destroyed by Caliph Al Hakim along with thousands of other buildings & Churches in Jerusalem, and rebuilt later by Benedictine monks. During the Crusades, the Order of St John provided protection and care to pilgrims. When the Islamists entered Jerusalem in 1300 the Knights Hospitaller were sent away and setteled to Rhodes. A new chapter was about to be created.

The Knights arrived on Rhodes in 1306 and thus began an era of development and innovation on the island. They cared a lot for the security of the island as well as for the neighboring ports of Bodrum and Kastelorizo.

Under the rule of the newly named “Knights of Rhodes”, the city was rebuilt into a model of the European medieval ideal. Many of the city’s famous monuments, including the Palace of the Grand Master, were built during this period.

The rival order to the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights Templar, was dissolved by Pope Clement in 1312 with a series of Papal Bulls. This included transfer of property to the Knights of Rhodes. The properties were held in eight tongues with included Provence, England, Germany, Italy, Castle, Crown of Avignon, and Auvergne. Each tongue was headed by a prior. In Rhodes the resident knights of each tongue were ruled by a bailiff.

The Knights of Rhodes was a strong military machine and most of their time was spent fighting the Barbary pirates that sailed in the Aegean Sea.

In later years, in 1444, they had to resist against the attacks of the Sultan of Egypt and in 1480, against a siege by the Ottomans, under Mehmed II. Eventually, the Brave Knights had to face and fight against the large army of Suleiman the Magnificent, in late 1522. The Sultan deployed 400 ships, delivering a minimum of 100,000 sailors and soldiers to the island. Against this force the Knights, under Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, had only 7,000 men-at-arms and their fortifications. The siege lasted six months, at the end of which the surviving defeated Hospitallers were allowed to withdraw to the Kingdom of Sicily.

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