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Around Argyrokastrou Square
To the north of the church of St Mary of the Castle, the street passes underneath an arch into Argyrokastrou Square with the 16th century Inn of the Tongue of Auvergne to the right. The building was heavily restored in 1919, although the fine portal on the south façade is mostly original and bears an inscription with the date 1507. Through the arch and to the left, the western side of the cobbled square is bounded by a pleasing assemblage of buildings which comprised the First Hospital of the Knights, built under Grand Master Roger de Pins (arms on façade) between 1355 and 1365—one of the few buildings to survive intact from before the siege of 1480. The building is often referred to as the ‘Armoury’, since it was used as such by the Turks and probably also by the Knights after the commissioning of the new hospital building. Its most beautiful element is the main entrance façade which, although it has lost elements of its project stone porch, has a fine arched portal flanked by elegant lancet windows and surmounted by a moulded string course and crenellations. It was formerly the apse of the hospital chapel, and its present appearance is the result of modifications carried out under Fabrizio del Carretto at the beginning of the 16th century. In the reconstructed (1920) arcade to its south is the entrance to the Historical Institute and Library of the Dodecanese. In the centre of the square is a fountain composed of Byzantine marble elements, most of which constituted a 6th century baptismal font, decorated with crosses, which was found near the village of Arniha in the south of the island. It is surrounded by sizeable stone balls from the 1522 siege. The south wing of the building is occupied by the delightful *Museum of Decorative Arts of the Dodecanese which contains little that is not of first-class quality (open daily, except Mon, 8.30–3). The objects displayed come from a wide variety of the islands and are exhibited not in rigid classifications but in decorative arrangements loosely in spired by the interiors which they once adorned.
Three categories in particular are well represented: ceramics, wooden furniture and embroidered textiles. There is an ample collection of Turkish *Iznik ceramics, ranging from early 16th century pieces in blue and green only, to the beautiful variety of colours used in the 17th century for tableware, tankards and decorative elements for the interior of mosques. This is complemented by the more earthy col ours and figurative folk-motifs of ceramics from Kutahya and i‡anakkale. The pieces are exhibited together with later (Rhodian) ‘Lindos ware’ which maintained the motifs and designs of Iznik ceramic into the 18th century. Much of the woodwork is finely carved and painted: the 18th century doors and bed-heads from Patmos, and an early 19th century carved moussandra (a large, raised platform used as a bed and storage space) from Symi, stand out. The embroidery of the textiles has the tender colours (especially reds and pale-greens) associated with vegetable dyes; the examples exhibited are not purely ceremonial items, but such everyday necessities as towels and sheets which were nonetheless of exquisite manufacture. By the entrance door is the front of a wooden chest painted with what appears to be an inebriated recollection of the Piazzetta of San Marco in Venice.
The continuation of the Armoury buildings to the north houses the (Old) Municipal Art Gallery (open daily, except Sun, 8–2).
Since the opening of the New Rhodes Art Gallery in G. Haritos Square in the New Town (see p. 129) this space is dedicated to rotating displays of works by local Rhodian artists. It also contains the Noel Rees Collection of prints and maps of Rhodes and the Dodecanese which provides an interesting picture of Rhodes and the Islands before the 20th century. Commander Noel Rees (who died in 1947) was a Hellenophile and Consul in Smyrna, who served the cause of Greek nationalism by helping many (amongst them several notable politicians) escape from occupied Greece through a network of secret routes through the Aegean. He was half-Greek on the side of his mother whose family was from Chios.
The temple of Aphrodite and symis square
To the east, in the open area in front of the building, are the remains of the 3rd century bc Temple of Aphrodite, uncovered by Italian archaeologists in 1922. The temple—as was customary with shrines to Aphrodite who was a patron divinity of sailors—occupied a prime location between the commercial and military ports.
It was perhaps the lack of space in this crowded area of Ancient Rhodes which gave rise to the unusual form of the temple—pro-style in antis, with a colonnade of half-engaged columns on the longer sides, designed so as not to take up any more space than necessary. The poor quality of the stone used meant that it would originally have been dressed with stucco. The fact that different elements from the temple and the surrounding area have been stored and erected on top of the foundations without respect to the building’s original design, does not permit a clear reading of the site. The build was oriented east–west; the long sides had the engaged colonnade, and the two column stumps now placed along their length, may originally have served to support the east portico. Much of the heavily decorated entablature, now lying in sections on the ground along the north side, is Roman work and dates from restoration carried out in the 3rd century ad, under Diocletian. It is possibly from this temple that the statue of Aphrodite ‘Pudica’ (Durrell’s ‘Marine Venus’) now in the Archaeology Museum, came.
To the south of the temple excavations are currently continuing: these extend into the area in front of the early 19th century, Ottoman residence which closes Argyrokastrou Square to the east, known as the ‘mansion of Hassan Bey’—with its characteristic stone-carved lattice windows for ventilation in the attic of the building.
To the north of the temple is the large open space of Symis Square, bounded to north and east by the city walls. At this point, they are built over the ancient, Hellenistic walls and fortifications, which are clearly visible at a lower level between the St Paul and Liberty Gates. Above, at ground level, in the corner is an armaments store bearing the (still coloured) arms of Grand Master Jacques de Milly (1454–61). The vaulted interior is unrelieved except for the low slits for essential ventilation. Opposite is a small, decorative Ottoman fountain.
Of the three gates in this area; the main ‘Liberty Gate’ is a modern breach in the walls created for motorised traffic by the Italians in 1924. To its east is the Gate of St Paul, erected in the mid 15th century under Jacques de Milly, which was the main communication between the two harbours. To the south, and giving onto the Commercial Harbour is the Arsenal (‘Tarsana’) Gate, whose broad, low form was originally designed to permit boats to slip from a boatyard in this area into the water. It was sealed up before the 1480 siege, and only opened again under Turkish dominion.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.