“Master Mason’s” Gate and west knight blockhouse

The gate, which opens to the west side of the bastion and today is the independent entrance to the event area which has been created at the historical grand master’s garden space, was known as the “Master Mason’s” gate, one of the most important gates of the fortified city of the Knights. It is a gate configuration typical to the 14th c. – early 15th, which seems that initially was like a tower and intervened between the byzantine moat and offered access to the Palace advance wall and the city, as well as the bastion with the grand master garden. The gate had an ogival opening and a movable drawbridge, which spanned the outer moat, the rectangular frame of which is still visible. The gate design was completed in early 15th c. with a barbacane of the early period, which bears the coats of arms of the Grand Master Fluvian (1421-1437), the construction of which interrupted the moat continuation and the road to St Antonios at the north of Mantraki harbour.

The oldest part of the fortifications is the west and a part of the northern side, while to the north-east, it probably consisted of a natural inclined area which ended up to Mantraki harbour, in proportion to the known as “Orsini rampart”, to the east, which remains the same to this day.

The west side blockhouse had the purpose of covering the initial access from Mantraki port and St Antonios church. During the building phase following the 1480 siege, the Grand Master D’ Aubusson, according to the inset coats of arms, ordered a radical restructuring of the west and north sides of the bastion, by organising elevated artillery points and strong railings.

Italian period additions

The palace bastion’s contemporary form is greatly defined by the large scale interventions that took place during the Italian period, and that dominated the design of the north façade of the palace as well as to all the extent of the bastion upper level. This is mostly walls with openings, which mimic cannon posts and dovetail crenelations in the knights’ architectural style, the eastern sides of which have collapsed, carried away by the large scale collapse of the original knight walls and artillery domes.

The creation of a sheltered and semi-sheltered compound is distinctive, along the west and north side of the bastion, which had collapsed and was rebuilt during the Italian rule.

Their interior set-up leads us to believe that they were used as auxiliary areas and horse stables.

Higher artillery bastion platform – Grand Master garden

The historical Grand Master garden, a graphic depiction of which dates back to 1520, had already been developed before the 1480 siege, on the flat area of the upper bastion artillery platform, with a supreme view to the city ports. Unfortunately, due to the Municipal Hospital construction in 1889, all the remains of the medieval garden initial design disappeared, even though it seems they had remained up to the disastrous explosion of the gunpowder magazine at the St John of the Knights temple in 1856. The only element which remains to this day is the double medieval well of the distinctive for medieval gardens in Rhodes wind pump, which was used for the garrison supply with water as well as for watering the garden.

The lively description by C. Rottiers (1825) gives the atmosphere of the artillery and the garden: “…Another stairwell led to a deep passage way, where there still were cannons, which reminded me of the monstrous cannons used at the Scutari siege. Some similar could be found near D’ Amboise gate, anyways. The toptchi (gunner) who led us to those ruins opened a small iron gate and we entered in a part of the Auverne garden which reached to the fort surrounding the palace. As I was awestruck by the vastness of the garden, Dimitris explained to me that every “tongue” had a similar garden, which knights used for recreation and that they were all full of wonderful orange trees and other fruit bearing trees. Alas, however, as everything that once belonged to the famous Order of the Knights, all these places became private properties of Muslims…

When I left the garden behind, I was awed by the beauty of two ancient bodies which had once been the decorations for a fountain. The clarity of shape and the majesty of style reminded me of the famous Rhodian sculptors…”

According also to the description of the eye-witness, Merri Dupui, the massive bastion proved to be impregnable during the siege of 1480, when its role to the city defence, and especially the St Nicholas fort was proven:

“The modern firearms of the Ottomans were mercilessly pounding the tower or St Nicholas. At the same time they were also hammering the Grand Master Palace bastion because they intended to attack and destroy the city with all their might and to return to the Tower via another way.

However, as that bastion was completely solid, filled with earth up to the crenelages, and had a whole field or recreation garden on top, the stone bullets of the firearms, however hard and powerful, did not inflict the slightest damage to the wall, while some of them were even left encased in the stones.

The pasha, seeing this development, considered moving his cannon ships and attacking the city wall elsewhere…”

Eastern bulwark “casemate” and Artilllery wall

Along the eastern side, a powerful, domed casemate bulwark remains, where it is mentioned that an artillery controlling the inlet of Mantraki harbor was positioned. Especially after 1467, the artillery was covering St Nicholas fort at the north end of the mole with the same name, which was considered a “key-point” for the city defense as it was unmistakably demonstrated in 1480 at the first Ottoman siege, in which the Knights of St John prevailed.

In the north-eastern corner of the bastion, the elegant early “artillery tower” looms, a distinctive example of 15th century bastion-tower, which was massive in its initial form, up to the crenelations. At the beginning of the 20th century, it seems that the base of the cylindrical tower constructed by the Italians and which was probably used as an observatory (lookout) in this particularly important strategic position.

Byzantine moat

A remain of an older moat structure, late byzantine or early knight period, prior to the construction of the bastion, it has been preserved as an element distinguishing the north wing of the Grand master palace with the massive fortification which was gradually developed at the north side. This moat, narrow and shallow, is shown in a miniature in the Caoursin handwritten codex, which was published by A. Gabriel, where a drawbridge is also depicted.

Palace North Wing

During the excavation research, which took place at the same time as the support and restoration works for the dangerously cracking walls at the advance wall in the north of the grand master palace compound, important remains of a north wing, which had disappeared, were revealed and enhanced in the new area configuration. That wing, which include a monumental vault in proportion with the interior patio vaults, preserves elements of at least two building phases of the sheltered and semi-sheltered spaces of the Grand Master’s chambers. This extension was completed after the disasters induced by the 1480 siege and the catastrophic earthquake of 1481, when the middle tower –spiral stairwell bearing the Grand Master D’ Aubusson coat of arms- was added. This stairwell was connecting the palace level chambers to a high balcony where a butterfly shape staircase, which was revealed at the recent excavation research, led to the “grand master garden” level.

Byzantine “Keep”

The northwestern keep of the early byzantine fort of the 7th c., became at the end of the 12th – early 13th c. the hegemonic fort Keep, which was integrated in the natural uphill of the ground and towered over the two main ports of the city.

The rectangular, extremely powerful tower’s dimensions were about 13,00 x 17,00 m.

In the palace’s contemporary form, this tower, which was the core for the bastion development to the north, is integrated in the post 1480 structures of the north side, with the Grand Master’s chambers. Only the western façade of the tower towards the advance wall is visible, to the north of the palace byzantine gate. The distinctive sloping tower wall is constructed with large carved tufa boulders in second use.