The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes (also known as the Kastello, Palati Megalou Magistrou, or Palace of the Knights) is a brilliant sample of Gothic architecture in Greece and one of the must-see historic monuments in Europe. In fact, the Palace is only a part of the Kastello (or Collachium), together with the inns of the different tongues on the Street of the Knights, the hospital and the other buildings meant to be used solely by the members of the Order of the Knight of St John of Jerusalem.
Who Built This Castle in Rhodes?
Initially, this building was a Byzantine citadel, built on the foundations of the Helios temple. When the Knights Hospitaller set their headquarters in Rhodes, they converted this fortress and used it as the palace of the Grand Master. The knights made major changes to the building and also expanded the fortifications around it.
They also built a wall to separate the Upper Town from the Lower Town. Only the knights were allowed to spend the night in the Upper Town. That wall doesn’t exist any longer. Nevertheless, if you stroll around the Rhodes Old Town, you’ll notice that in the upper part there’s nothing but Gothic buildings.
Two wars and a major earthquake damaged the Palace of the Knights three times. In 1481 an earthquake damaged the castle. That was during the Ottoman siege. After the Ottomans conquered the island of Rhodes, they repaired the palace and used it as their own command center and fortress. Eventually, the palace was severely damaged because of an explosion.
The Italians restored the palace between 1937 and 1940 and made it the holiday residence of Vittorio Emmanuele III, the King of Italy at that time. Later, the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes became the residence of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator. During this restoration, the Italians brought mosaics from the island of Kos and used them to decorate the floors of the palace.
It was only in 1948 that Rhodes and the other Dodecanese islands were transferred to Greece, as consequence of the Treaty of Peace with Italy concluded on February 10th,1947. Greeks converted the place into a museum and opened it to the public.
How To Visit the Palace of the Knights?
You can visit The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes by yourself, with a guide or as part of a larger guided tour with multiple objectives.
Click here to see a tour of the Palace of the Grand Master and to book your spot. The tour starts by St. Anthony’s Gate and it includes the entrance ticket and a professional English language guide. This activity isn’t suitable for people with mobility problems, nor for wheelchair users. Also, if you are entitled to a reduced ticket, beware that you won’t be able to take advantage of this (as tickets are pre-purchased by the tour guide in advance).
If you go by yourself, go early. When I visited it, the palace opened at 8am. I was in the Old City of Rhodes since the sunrise, as I also wanted to take photos of Mandraki Port, St. Nicholas Fortress, the Rhodes windmills and Saint Paul’s Gate.
At 8am, you’re probably going to be the only visitor, so you’ll have the entire castle to yourself.
Take your time, admire the ceilings, the rooms and the mosaics and don’t forget to look outside the windows, as you’ll have some nice photo opportunities.
As you enter, take the stairs to your left to start the visit.
Always remember to look back to see if you can take a better photo.
In the photo above, you can see a statue of Laocoon with the snakes. The photo below represents the room of the Grand Master of the Knights (one of them, anyway), with a portrait of the Grand Master, a wooden bench, a crest and some uniforms.
The palace is built around a square courtyard. It seems that there are some concerts and shows taking place there, as there are lots of chairs and a stage.
Here’s a video that walks you through all the rooms of the palace:
As for the photos of the exterior of the palace, try to return in the afternoon for the Golden Hour. Morning photos aren’t that great once the sun is higher on the sky.
Why Visit this Castle Museum?
Visit the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes because it is impressive. Visit it because it is a gothic building in a country of sun and color. Visit it because it is the most important trace of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem in the Dodecanese.