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The Crusader Castles of Rhodes

Grand Palace fortress within a fortress
Monolithos Castle was never conquered
Lindos Castle towers over the bay
Only ruins remain at Feraklos Castle

Strategically placed where East meets West, the holiday island of Rhodes has some of the biggest and best Crusader castles in the Mediterranean.

Visitors to Rhodes will be impressed by the large number of medieval castles perched on the summits of steep hills and rocky outcrops all over the island.

Built as bastions of power, Crusader castles are found throughout Western Europe and the Middle East. The strongholds acted as military and administrative centres for the Christian invaders.

The castles of Rhodes were mostly built by the Crusaders of the Hospitaliers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. They came to Rhodes after being forced by the Ottoman Turks to retreat from Jerusalem and Cyprus.

After establishing their headquarters in Rhodes City, which at the time was one of the most important trading ports of the whole of the Mediterranean, they occupied or built more than 30 castles on the island. Only a dozen or so survive and some are complete ruins. Others have been extensively renovated.

The Palace of the Grand Master

The Grandmaster's Palace is located in the centre of Rhodes City and it dates from the 14th century. This was the main Crusader base in the Mediterranean until it was captured by the Ottomans in 1522.

Today, the palace-fortress is a museum covering the period up to the Ottoman conquest while the medieval city of Rhodes is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The palace was built on the ruins of a smaller Byzantine castle. A fortress within the fortress city of Rhodes this has been the headquarters of 19 Grand Masters of the Order, as well as several other conquerors.

The original building remained virtually intact until 1856 when lightning hit a gunpowder magazine killing more than 900 people and destroying most of the castle.

It remained in ruins until Italian occupiers started rebuilding in 1937 to create a summer retreat for the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Although the interior was altered to reflect grandiose Italian tastes, the exterior was mostly remodelled in the original medieval style.

Monolithos Castle

The Crusader castle at Monolithos was built around 1480 on the summit of a sheer rock outcrop. It erection was a colossal job given the rocky terrain and the incredibly steep ascent.

When finished Monolithos became the most important stronghold on Rhodes with a clear view over Mediterranean sea routes. No army was ever able to conquer it.

Little has survived of the original but what remains is now well preserved. Inside are two medieval chapels; with the one dedicated to Agios Panteleimon noted for its fine frescoes.

Visitors who tackle the steep climb can enjoy astonishing views from the battlements over the sea to Halki island, north to Mount Akramytis and east to the beach at Fourni.

Lindos Castle

This Crusader castle sits above the popular holiday resort of Lindos and was once three buildings, but only two remain. It covers the summit of a craggy headland above Lindos bay and within the fortified walls of the ancient Acropolis.

The Knights of St John built the original castle from scratch in the 14th century, erecting three guard towers and an inner line of protective fortifications.

When it fell to the Ottomans in 1522, bastions were built by the Turkish occupiers in the 16th and 17th centuries to house the newly invented cannons.

Feraklos fortress

The ruins of Feraklos Castle look imposing from afar but the fort is now in a very sorry state. This citadel sits 150 metres up a steep and very rocky hill above the east coast beach resort at Heraki.

Once one of the best fortified on Rhodes, the fortress is now a sad picture of neglect, overgrown with weeds and scrub. In its heyday, the Crusaders used it both as a look-out post and to lock up their captives.

It fell to an attack by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1523 and all its residents were slaughtered. The castle was left to rot and surrounding villages remained empty for generations.