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The Hospital of the Knights and the Rhodes
This was the Knights’ second, or ‘Great Hospital’, built 80 years after its mid-14th century predecessor on the west side of Argyrokastrou Square. The carved inscription above the main entrance refers to the founding of a new ‘Xenodocheio’ (travellers’ lodgings) by Grand Master Antonio Fluvii£ (1421–37) who endowed it with a gift of 10,000 Florins in his will. Construction was only begun in July 1440 under his successor, Jean de Lastic. It was badly damaged in the siege of 1480 and was only finally in service towards the end of the same decade. Although tending to the sick was a primary mission of the Knights, their title of ‘Hospitallers’ also referred to the hospitality and protection they were obliged to give to pilgrims travelling to and from the Holy Land. Only a part of this building, therefore, functioned as a hospital for the sick, the rest being given over to lodgings for pilgrims and their horses—hence the appearance it has externally and internally of a caravanserai, with stables and storage spaces below and sleeping quarters above. The building is conceived with customary military simplicity. The long plain façade above the row of arched magazine entrances is relieved only by two string-courses and the apse-like projection above the main gate, whose simple and dignified decoration and vertical mouldings are more appreciable by contrast. The original cypress-wood doors, divided into 34 panels intricately carved with decorative designs and archangels, were given by Sultan Mahmud II in 1836 to Louis-Philippe of France and are now in Versailles. The relief above the gate shows angels holding the Fluvii£ arms beneath the banner of the Order with the dedicatory inscription below. The proceeds from renting out as shops the row of seven independent ‘magazines’ to either side of the entrance helped defray the expenses of the hospital and its work. The interior courtyard—substantially restored by Amedeo Mauri between 1913 and 1918, and again in 1949 after war damage—has an even greater, monastic chastity to it. The surfaces are unadorned except for some minimal attention to the capitals from which the ribs and vaults spring.
This starkness is in contrast to the effect of the beautiful *Infirmary Ward which occupies the entire length of the east side on the upper level and is one of the fin est interior spaces in Rhodes . The diffused natural light, airy spaciousness and noble proportions of this long rectangular hall, with its elegant procession of high, Gothic arches down the centre, must have exerted a benign influence on the sufferings of those confined here. The space must be imagined furnished with its 32 beds canopied with fine brocade—the tranquility disturbed only by the hushed movements of the nurses and surgeons who were permanently on duty and the sputtering of the fire-place at the south end of the room. Its similarity to the ‘Hall of the Poor’ in Chancellor Rolin’s Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, founded in the same years, is striking. The focus of the room was the exedra in the centre of the east wall, framed by a wide arch decorated with flamboyant tracery; here, below the high windows, stood the altar where mass was celebrated daily. To both sides, small doorways lead into windowless cubicles which probably served to provide a measure of privacy for the more intimate operations and examinations which the treatment of the patients on occasions required. It should be recalled that men and women patients were not segregated.
A number of the Grand Masters’ funerary monuments and escutcheons salvaged from the church of St John after its destruction have been collected together here: at the north end, the arms of Juan Fernandez de Heredia (1377–96) with bronze lettering and dark stone inlay for the coat of arms, and an Antique sarcophagus reworked as the tomb of Pierre de Corneillan (1353–55); at the southeast corner, the finely carved royal arms of England (c. 1400) in grey, Lardos marble. The coats of arms (originally coloured) around the capitals of the seven central pillars are those of the Order and of the Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson (1476–1503) under whom the building was completed and who himself was successfully healed of seemingly fatal wounds received during the siege of 1480 by the surgeons and doctors of the Hospital. To the south, the Infirmary communicates with a series of rooms which included a pharmacy, refectory, kitchens and other service areas. These contain elements of the Archaeological Collection, which for many is the main reason for visiting this building.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.