The Street of the Knights
From the arched loggia before the outer entrance to the Grand Master’s Palace, Ippoton Street, the ‘Street of the Knights’, leads steeply down to the east following the line of one of the main arterial, east/west streets of the Hip podamian plan of the Ancient city.
Photographs from the beginning of the last century show the street overhung by wooden, Ottoman balconies and sachnisia, and with a vibrant street-life which contrasts markedly with today’s rather museified air. Even so, when Flaubert visited Rhodes in 1850 he commented on the ‘silence’ of the street: ‘le ton… est plus triste que beau’. The street has seen much damage—acts of war (modern and mediaeval), earth quakes, accidental explosions, and ideological renovations in which the buildings were purged of their Turkish accretions and substantially reconstructed by the Italians in the 1930s. Throughout all this, it has still retained its original dimensions and the colour of its stone, and remains one of the completest and most homogeneous Mediaeval streets in the Eastern Mediterranean. It stretches symbolically between the two most important poles of the Order of the Knights of St John: the complex of the cathedral of St John and the Grand Master’s Palace, with all that they symbolise of the higher spiritual ideals of the Order and the rigorous discipline of its organisation, at the top of the street; and the Hospital at the bottom of the hill, representing the Order’s commit ment to the worldly sufferings of the sick and poor. In between, stretch the national representations and conventual residences of the Knights—the noblest, secular buildings of the city, whose beauty and tranquility lie in a number of important aesthetic contrasts: between the honey-coloured stone and the dense vegetation enclosed, between the dark vaulted spaces and the wells of light they surround, and between the chochlakia pavements, decorated balustrades and ornate window-frames and the plain masonry of the walls which they embellish. The lower floor of these buildings is normally a service courtyard surrounded by vaulted storage areas and stables, from which broad, open steps lead up to the high-ceilinged living and reception rooms on the upper floor.
The oldest and best-preserved of these conventual buildings is the Inn of the Tongue of Spain near the top of the street on the south side. The interior can be visited (en trances both from Ippoton and Ipparchou Streets). The main entrance is distinguished by the Aragonese design of its arch with characteristically wide voussoirs—longer even than the radius of the open arch they form. This is one of the few façades in which elements have survived from before the siege of 1480; the original, mid-15th century masonry on the ground floor differs noticeably from that above. Steps lead up to the large hall on the first floor, which though re-roofed and restored, still preserves its airy proportions and some of the original patterned floor. Opposite is the Inn of the Tongue of Provence (1518), with a decorated portal surmounted by four coats of arms set in a cross-shaped niche. A little downhill to the east, a plethora of panels with carved escutcheons in various combinations (among them the arms of England appear repeatedly) mark the residence of the ‘Prior of the Church’ (now the Italian Consulate) and the adjacent domed chapel of the Holy Trinity. The unusual central plan of the tiny church suggests that the Knights may have adapted a pre-existing Byzantine church on this site to their own use, during the time of Grand Master Raymond Berenger (1365–65). The sculpture of the Madonna and Child beneath a canopy on the corner—the only figurative relief in the street—is of the same period, and has remarkably survived in the position for which it was originally intended.
Lower down, the north side of the street is dominated by the imposing front of the Inn of the Tongue of France, distinguished by its four rounded turrets and project water-spouts elaborately carved as dragons’ mouths, recalling the exploits of Dieudonne de Gozon with the Dragon of Malpasso (see p. 160). The window cornices are soberly decorated and the horizontality of the façade is enhanced by carved string-courses, whose calibrated steps allow them to follow the gentle slope of the street. The whole is a pleasing synthesis of Gothic elements combined into a façade organised according to new Renaissance principles. Although a preceding French ‘Auberge’ stood here before the siege of 1480, the present building was begun in 1492 (hence the arms of Pierre d’Aubusson) and finished around 1512 (arms of Emery d’Amboise). The building was purchased in 1912 by the French Ambassador to the Ottoman court, Maurice Bompard, and was later restored by the French historian, architect and specialist in both Ottoman and Mediaeval art, Albert Gabriel in 1939.
The west end of the Inn of France is bounded by a small alleyway that leads north to the House of Djem (left side) entered through a white marble door-frame (1512), carved with acanthus capitals and small rosettes which relieve the classicising purity of its Renaissance de sign. The house takes its name from the Ottoman prince who was lodged here during the summer of 1482.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.