Review: The Fortress of Rhodes 1309-1522, Konstantin Nossov

Rating: 4 out of 5

I read this while preparing our visit of the Medieval heart of Rhodes, and while I found Mr Nossov’s account slightly lacking in some aspects—specifically links between the capital and the hinterlands, but also the political aspect of the fortress’ development—I was able to use it sufficiently to understand which parts of Rhodes I wanted to visit above others. In the end, my visit perhaps took in a tenth or fifteenth of what could have been visited; this book gave me guidance on how the parts I saw worked as parts of a greater whole.

There are two things, however, that don’t get portrayed. This is for a good reason: Osprey’s word limit per title means that the author had to fixate on the development of the fortress, to which are added accounts of the two major sieges. The Hospitallers as a military order are described, but the level of detail is low except where the Order’s choices had a clear result in the cityscape. In truth, Rhodes deserves a much more complete account, which would not only show the development of the fortress, but also take in why and how these developments were necessary. In many cases these issues were not interlinked, though also in other areas the author found the opportunity to describe events in Northern Italy and also other Mediterranean countries.

The one take-away from the book is that if one wants to get a complete picture of the castle, then two or three walks around the perimeter are a must. I took the one that a potential besieger would have seen: in the encircling moat, but I did not have the time to inspect the walls or the counterscarp. The old moat looked the most interesting because that is where one can see the signs of the siege: cannon shot still lying where it was sent to by the Ottomans in the 16th century. Other parts of the city, especially the mole linking the Old Town to Fort St Nicholas, have continued in their development. I feel that the author’s choices for illustrations could have been more instrumental in this case for allowing the reader to see the city as a whole at the start of the 1522 siege: the mole with its windmills would have been the perfect way to do that. Yet, the way the illustrations are set up: showing a comparative picture of the 1480’s and 1520’s allows the reader to comprehend the vast developments in fortification history that went on in this time.

Lastly, the author’s warnings about Italian redevelopments are particularly useful for those on tight schedules—I would have previously put the Grand Master’s Palace to the top of my list of places to visit, but knowing the Italians rebuilt this without much respect for its historical layout enabled me to avoid it.

Overall, very tight focus, but if one’s history-minded and is going to visit Rhodes (or just interested!), then this is a good title to pick up.

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