Ηistory of the building
The Palace stands on a natural rise within the area of the ancient city on which the patronal Temple of Helios may once have stood: Lysippus’s famous ‘Quadriga (four-horse chariot) with the Sun’ mentioned by Pliny (Hist. Nat., XXXIV, 63), and—according to some proponents—the Colossus of Rhodes also may have stood here. The hill was used as an acropolis by the Byzantine city, which was of greatly reduced size by comparison with the ancient city. Some of the foundation walls of the Byzantine citadel were uncovered in the basement (north side) of the present building in 1988. The construction of a brand new, independent fortress of rectangular plan on the site was begun by the Knights not long after their arrival, probably in the period of Grand Master de Villeneuve (1319–46), and was completed by the end of the century. In peacetime it was the residence of the Master and the assembly place of the Order’s councils; in war, it was designed so as to accommodate the citizenry and to resist a siege thanks to its strength and extensive, underground storage areas. Damaged and repaired in the period of the first siege (1480/1), it was little used by the Turkish victors after 1522 except as a prison. The building fell into decay, was damaged in an earthquake in 1851, and then reduced to its ruined ground-floor level by the accidental gunpowder explosion of 1856 in the vaults of the Church of St John just to its south.
The Italian Restoration
The monumental task of restoring the ruin was not a priority during the first 20 years of Italian occupation. But on the accession of Mussolini’s close advisor, Cesare Maria de Vecchi, as Governor in 1936, the idea first appeared of making it into an appropriate residence for an eventual visit from either the Duce or the King of Italy. With unseemly haste and the extensive use of reinforced concrete clad in masonry, the building was re-erected between 1937 and 1940 under the supervision of Vittorio Mesturino, conforming in exterior appearance at least to the views and engravings which remained of the original palace; the interior was redesigned in a manner suitable for modern occupation and in a spirit appropriate to the political aspirations of Rome in the 1930s. Neither Mussolini nor Victor Emmanuel ever visited, and the work was not long completed when Italy was forced to relinquish the Dodecanese. On the right-hand side of the south en trance, opposite the ticket office, the two marble plaques commemorating the restoration in 1940—one written in Greek, the other in Italian—reveal in the language used the hidden aspirations and self-delusions of Fascist policy in Rhodes , as it sought constantly to sanction its actions through reference to the continuation of a glorious Ro man/Latin tradition perpetuated through the Order of the Knights into modern times. The translated text is here cited in full:
In the reign of His Majesty Victor Emmanuel III,
King of Italy and of Albania, and Emperor of Ethiopia;
under Benito Mussolini, Duce of Fascism and Prime Minister:
Cesare Maria de Vecchi, Count of Val Cismon and
Governor of the Italian Islands of the Aegean,
restored and reconstructed this ancient castle—built over
unprofaned Roman ramparts by the Knights of St John,
Seat of Government, Stronghold of the Fortress, Defence
of Western Civilisation and of the Law and Religion of Rome
—giving Power and Splendour to its Renewed History.
In the year of Our Lord, 1940—18th year of the Fascist Era.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.