The Castle of the Knights

A stone bridge—where once there was a wooden draw bridge over a moat filled with sea-water—leads from Hippocrates’s Plane, across the impressive avenue of palm trees to the caste-of-the-knightsCastle of the Knights of St. John of Rhodes , for whom this was the second most important city fortress of their embattled territory (open 8.30–3 (winter) –8 (summer): closed Mon). Its mediaeval name, Nerantzia Castle, comes from the orange-groves which once surrounded it. The outer enceinte is complete, and gives the castle a satisfyingly low and compact profile. Over the south en trance from the bridge is an escutcheon of the quartered arms of the Order with those of its Grand Master, Emery d’Amboise (1505–12). Below it, the builders have inten tionally incorporated an Hellenistic frieze of garlands and grimacing theatrical masks; such faces were long believed to ward off evil. The fixtures for securing the doors are visible and, in the ceiling inside are three monolithic, granite columns incorporated horizontally like rafters.
   The basic development of the site can be seen on entering: in the centre of the area in front is the original rectangular castle of 1450–78, while around it, and separated by a wide fosse on three sides, is a second, more sophisticated, enceinte of walls built almost 50 years later, between 1495 and 1514. This enlargement was decided on after the assault on Rhodes and Kos in 1480 by the forces of Sultan Mehmet II.
   In the open courtyard in front, as well as in the en closed Antiquarium in the south wall, is a seemingly endless quantity of marble objects which come from the ancient buildings of Cos and the Asklepiei­on. Kos is unusually rich in inscriptions which greatly help to de fine its history and topography: many of these are stored here. There are also dozens of altars with garlands and bucrania, fluted columns, inscribed stelai, fragments of honorific statuary etc.; many more are incorporated in the walls; and the ordinary blocks from which the walls are made mostly come from ancient buildings torn down to provide the stone. It soon becomes clear why so little is left at the ancient sites themselves. Many Grand Mas ters’ escutcheons have been amassed here from around the mediaeval town. The most common examples are: the Order’s arms, quartered (top right & lower left) with (1) a simple ‘serifed’ cross—Pierre d’Aubusson (1476–1505); (2)with vertical bars—Emery d’Amboise (1505–12); and(3)with diagonal bars—Fabrizio del Caretto (1513–21).
   The walls of the inner castle, marked at the corners by low, cylindrical towers, are simple and beautiful when viewed from the west—their occasionally precarious angles due to subsidence caused by earthquakes. The arms of their principal builders, Grand Masters Jean de Lastic (1437–54) and Jacques de Milly (1454–61), are placed at regular intervals. A rectangular advance fortification ex tends to the south; just behind it, the southeast bastion later became contiguous and integral with the outer enceinte of 1514: this is decorated with the finest escutcheons in the castle, embellished by a marble lion from an ancient, funerary monument. A sloping ramp leads across to the entrance of the inner fortress, marked by a projecting ravelin to the left. The imposing inner gate (modernised by Edoardo di Carmadino in 1478) is roofed with ten horizontal, monolithic granite columns. Inside the enclosed area are the foundations of the Hospitallers’ Church, with a conspicuous well-head of a cistern in the southeast corner. To the northeast was a water-gate into the enclosure: its stone-paved floor and three arches (now blocked), which gave directly onto the water, are clearly visible. This was incorporated into the later enceinte and subsequently blocked up by the completing of the line of the east wall. Once again, the interior of the sec ond courtyard and the deposits at the north end of the castle’s enclosure, contain countless marble relicts and fragments—ancient, Early Christian and Ottoman, with some polychrome marble fragments from Chios, Teos, Euboea, and red jasper from Iasos. The similarity of so many of the ancient, garlanded altars which are heaped together here, points to a mass-production of almost industrial scale of these artefacts in Ancient Cos.
   The walk around the battlements of the outer enceinte gives access to the two bastions of the castle’s western side—the polygonal d’Aubusson Bastion to the northwest and the slightly later, semicircular del Caretto Bastion of 1514 to the southwest. The latter, with its subtly angled stone surfaces for deflecting cannon-balls and triple rows of cannon emplacements, designed by Italian military engineers, represented the most up-to-date thinking in defensive engineering at the time.
   The exterior of the walls incorporate yet more fragments of Antique friezes, triglyphs, and other architectural elements: others lie heaped along the foot of the northwest stretch of the walls. Of the visible, immured escutcheons, the most revealing faces the sea in the middle of the east wall, a couple of metres up from ground-lev el—a beautifully preserved coat of arms, bearing round les and lilies, with inscription and date of 1445, of Fantino Querini, the Venetian Admiral who was Governor of Kos from 1436 until he was dispossessed and imprisoned by the Grand Master Jean de Lastic in 1453. His disgrace has been given visible permanence by the immuring of his coat of arms upside down.


Kos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
Mediaeval, Ottoman, Italian and Modern Kos. The castle of the Knights.

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