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Travel

Knights, Castles, and Nights in the Dodecanese

ATHENS – The Greek world is one of history’s most spectacular crossroads, with many cultures leaving their deposits in the artistic, musical, and especially the culinary treasure houses of the people of Greece. Few of Greece’s regions display that more strongly than the Dodecanese island group.

Some of the circumstances of the arrival of people from different cultures were benign – trade, and movements of people around the empires established by Hellenes or eventually,  like Rome’s, culturally dominated by them. But Greece is also a magnet for would be conquerors, as was the case with the Crusaders – who were initially Byzantium’s allies again Moslem aggression.

The region’s most prolific and renowned builders were the Venetians, but others also left architectural marvels, especially castles, as their mark in history. Christian and Moslems sometimes bought, usually just grabbed islands from the Byzantines and Venetians.

The Castle of Rhodes – Old Town. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Argyro Anastasiou)

The most impressive remains of this era are on the largest and perhaps the most beautiful island in the group, Rhodes. Most of the impressive buildings visitors see today were established by the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller, while the separate Knights Templar also built fortifications. The former arrived as unwelcome guests on Rhodes while it was under the authority of Byzantium when Andronikos II Palaiologos was emperor.

The Palace of the Grand Master in Rhodes Town is a must see, with commanding views of the island. Kritinia Castle, built in 1472, overlooks the Aegean Sea, and Lindos Castle is also an inviting locale, with two of its three original buildings erected in the 14 century still standing.

Feraklos Castle was originally Byzantine and it was the Knights Hospitaller’s first possession on Rhodes, eventually becoming the Order’s base. After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the growing Ottoman menace compelled the Knights to build a castle at the town of Archangelos.

The proliferation of castles is testimony to the economic and emotional value of the island, truly one of the most beautiful places in the Mediterranean Sea – the idea of being conquered or expelled was completely unbearable.

The Castle of Rhodes – Old Town. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Argyro Anastasiou)

Rhodes Town has shops that feature mementos of the Middles Ages, including full-scale reproductions of the ‘shining armor’ of those ancient knights.

And speaking of nights… the town is filled with wonderful tavernas, delightful bars – like the renowned Sticky Fingers, where the owner himself, Costa Iraclides, holds court – as bard, if not bartender – during his live performances of Classic Rock.

Venice was all about protecting its trade routes, and powerful castles to go along with their great rowed warships were the key, so all the islands they controlled had a castle or ‘kastro’.

The Castle of Patmos, which towers over all of Patmos and is the first thing visitors see when they arrive at Chora, shares its renown on the island with the Monastery of Saint John.

The Castle in Pandeli on Leros looks over the capital and is also known as the Castle of the Virgin Mary or Castle of our Lady. Dating to in the 10th century, it was gifted to the reigning Byzantine Emperor. The views of the island and the surrounding see are well worth the 400 guests must climb.

On the Island of Kos is Kos Town Castle, AKA Neratzia, built in its present form by the Knights of St. John, who ruled the island from 1314 to 1522. Located at the entrance of Kos harbor, the castle faces Halikarnassos Castle, AKA the Saint Peter Fortress, across the water in Turkey. Kos Town Castle was originally built on an islet that blocked the entrance to the harbor. Around the end of the 14th the island was planted with lemon and bitter or sour oranges called Nerantzia, hence the fort’s second name.

The Castle of Rhodes – Old Town. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Argyro Anastasiou)

On Kos there are also Kefalos Castle, AKA the Burgruine von Kefalos, and The Castle of Antimachia near the village by the same name, south of Kos Town. It was built in the early 14th century by the Order of the Knights of Saint John. It was first built during  Byzantine rule – the oldest reference goes back to 1271 – and over time it suffered from erosion and an earthquake in 1493. The Knights of St. John tried to restore it, but the castle was abandoned in 1505.

The Venetian Castle of Querini on Astypalaia in Chora town sports dramatic lighting at night. The island is also known for its walking paths and its beaches.

Modern Don Quixotes in their quests for beauty, history, great food, and fun will find many other castles along with fine hotels for them to stay and beaches to enjoy. The Dodecanese island group is the land of history, myth, spirituality, and mirth – and each one (there are actually 15, not 12) is waiting for you.

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