One Day in Rhodes, Greece: Visiting the Palace of the Grand Master
Located in the medieval city of Rhodes, on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes, is the stunning Palace of the Grand Master. This imposing castle sits prominently on the highest point in medieval Rhodes and has a fascinating history to it. Appropriately situated on the Avenue of the Knights, today the palace serves as the home of the Byzantine Museum. Our visit to Rhodes was a brief one-day port of call as part of a Mediterranean cruise, and our priority for the day was to see the medieval walled section of Old Rhodes Town and the Palace of the Grand Master.
The history of this grand palace dates back to the end of the 7th century when it was constructed as a fortress during the Byzantine period. Later, when the Knights of St. John established themselves on Rhodes, the structure was modified and converted into the residence for the Grand Master of the Knights. The palace remained in this function from the early 14th century until about 1522 when the Siege of Rhodes by the Ottomans successfully expelled the Knights from the island. The Knights moved on to establish themselves on the island of Malta while the Ottomans secured their grip on the Eastern Mediterranean.
Jump ahead to the 19th century when Rhodes was still part of the Turkish Empire and disaster unfortunately struck the palace. By this time the building was already in a severe state of disrepair but in 1856 a huge gunpowder explosion ripped through the palace causing extensive damage. Ammunition was being stored in the basement of the adjacent Church of St. John and was ignited by a lightning strike.
For the next fifty years or so the castle remained in ruins. The turning point in the history of this once Grand Palace took place in 1912 when Italy took control of Rhodes from the Ottoman Empire during the Italo-Turkish War. With the Italians now in control of the island of Rhodes they set about in the 1930s to restore the palace to its former grand state. Using the original drawings of the building the Italians returned the Palace of the Grand Master to it once lofty and grandiose condition. With the work complete the building became the vacation residence of the likes of King Victor Emmanuel III and Benito Mussolini.
By the end of World War II the fate of Rhodes would once again change and the island was re-united with Greece in 1947. Today, Rhodes is no longer wondering what its future will hold as the island has settled into a popular Greek tourist destination. There is no denying that Rhodes has seen its fair share of conflict over the years and visitors today will have the opportunity to see glimpses of its storied past. The Medieval Old Town of Rhodes was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and no visit to Rhodes would be complete without walking the cobblestone paths of this medieval town.
Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese Islands of Greece and has a population of about 116,000 people.
Visiting the Palace of the Grand Master
If you are visiting Rhodes for just a day and only have time to visit one historic site then by all means consider making the Palace of the Grand Master your destination. The main entrance to the palace is located right off of the Avenue of the Knights and you can’t miss the two imposing towers that guard the entrance.
Once inside the palace you will find yourself in the large courtyard around which the palace was built. From here you get a sense of just how large and grand this place is. Seemingly guarding the courtyard are numerous statues of Roman Emperors, which were excavated from the Odeon of Kos (theatre) on the nearby Greek Island of Kos. The statues are located in ten silos that are on the north side of the courtyard. The silos were used to hold grain to help feed defenders of the palace during sieges.
Upon entering the palace itself you will notice that there is a small chapel located just to the right of the grand staircase. This Chapel was not a part of the original design of the palace and was added by the Italians during their reconstruction of the palace.
As you ascend the grand marble staircase that takes visitors up to the first floor of the palace you get a heightened sense of what lies ahead. Everything in here is large and you quickly gain a keen appreciation for the opulence and detail of work that went into the restoration of the palace. As you work your away around the palace from one grand room to the next I think you will be impressed with the numerous floor mosaics that seem to get more impressive as you get further into the palace. Each room seems to outdo the previous and the period furnishings, artifacts, and sculptures really help to transport you back in time. Be sure to read the floor captions that tell you where each of the mosaics came from. Many of them are Roman and also came from the island of Kos.
When you have completed a tour of the palace rooms, be sure to visit the small museum located in the far right corner of the courtyard that has a 2,400 years of Ancient Rhodes exhibition. Here you will find an interesting collection of pottery and historic artifacts from ancient Rhodes.
While walking around old large castles may not be for everyone we were certainly impressed with the scale and detail of the palace. If you enjoy history you will certainly appreciate the Palace of the Grand Master and its storied past. The building itself is massive and from the outside you really get a sense that it was built to protect whoever and whatever was inside. You can almost envision the Ottomans attacking this fortress with their catapults and other weapons of the day.
Another Interesting Fact
The Stag Statues represent the Rhodes Deer, which is an endangered species of deer that is unique to Rhodes.
With our visit to Rhodes limited to just one day we spent a good portion of the morning and early afternoon visiting the Grand Masters Palace and walking the medieval section of Old Rhodes. It’s a fascinating collection of medieval buildings, mosques, cafes and street vendors trying to sell their wares. In the afternoon we did venture off to a local beach on the northern tip of Rhodes that was walking distance from the dock. It was an interesting walk and it took us by the site where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood. The Colossus of Rhodes is one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and the giant bronze statue once stood at the entrance to Mandraki Harbor where the statues of the Stags stand today. Legend and historical records tell us that the statue, which was over thirty meters tall, was erected in 280 BC and destroyed by an earthquake 56 years later in 224 BC.
If you decide to visit the Palace of the Grand Master, it is open from April through October:
- Monday 9 am - 4 pm
- Tuesday to Friday, 8 am - 10 pm
- Saturday to Sunday 9 am - 4 pm
In the off–season, November through March, they are open from 8:30 am to 3 pm and are closed on Mondays.
There is a 6-euro entrance fee for adults, which is very reasonable. Those age 65 and over get a reduced fee of 3 euro and kids under age 18 are admitted free. In addition to the Palace and the Ancient Rhodes Museum there is also a small gift shop and coffee shop located just off of the courtyard.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the Palace of the Grand Master, located within Medieval Old Rhodes Town. There is an abundance of amazing history here and this beautiful palace has many stories to tell.
© 2014 Bill De Giulio