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July 21, 2007
From journal Roaming in Rhodes Old Town
by GB from Devizes
Devizes, United Kingdom
July 26, 2005
After they lost their foothold in Palestine in 1291 to the Saracens and the Knights Templar, they sought a new home in Rhodes in 1306 after a three year battle with the Genoese.
Existing Byzantine fortifications were remodelled after their arrival, and the knights became a seafaring order who thought nothing of raiding non-Christian ships. To this end, they assembled a large fleet which served to raise their profile enormously.
The Order consisted of three classes, all sworn to the monastic vows. There were 650 knights from the nobility, whilst the "brothers" were commoners and served as soldiers. The last class were the Chaplains, assigned to each "tongue" or "inn" of the knights, according to origin and language, and led by a prior who reported directly to the grand masters of each tongue who were elected for life.
There were originally seven "inns" from Italy, England, Spain, Germany, France, Provence, and Auvergne. Spain later divided her inn between Castile and Aragon, making eight in total. These Inns were predominantly situated in Odos Ippoton, "the Street of the Knights", a quiet, narrow road that runs from the Plateia Alexandreou up towards the Kanonia Gate at the entrance to the Palace of the Grand Masters. There were facilities within these inns to stable horses, store weaponry, dine and sleep. Many of the inns were ornately decorated, including the French inn, which features carved crocodiles as drainage channels.
By 1443, the Ottomans saw the knights as the only hindrance to their expansion in the Aegean and mounted two unsuccessful sieges upon Rhodes in 1444 and 1480. Two grand masters of the time, Pierre d’Aubusson and Aimerie d’Amboise, decided to refortify the town to fend off future attacks but in 1522, Suleiman landed on Rhodes with a huge army and engaged the knights in battle for more than 6 months.
Eventually, due to overwhelming numbers and a treacherous member of the knights’ own order, the Turks overran the city and the 200 or so surviving knights were allowed safe passage along with all civilians.
The knights eventually found a new home on Malta in 1530 where they were attacked again by the Turks. They managed to hold out but in 1534, the English tongue was dissolved. The French tongue went the same way during the Revolution, and with trade routes between the Far East and the New World opening up, Mediterranean trade was dying the death, with the resulting impact upon the knights’ fortunes.
The coup-de-grace was delivered by Napoleon in 1798 when he annexed Malta and sent the remaining knights packing for good.
The English tongue was revived in 1831 and became the St John Ambulance Brigade in 1888. The Order is still active today in several countries, with its spiritual home remaining in Rhodes Old Town.
From journal Rhodes Old Town - The Knights' Architectural Masterpiece