The Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its Magic

Dancers in royal red robes, fleeting fairies, daring fire eaters, jovial jesters, crazy jugglers, wicked witches, and of course, valiant knights in shining armor can all be seen roaming around the Medieval Town of Rhodes, in Greece every year.

The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, the Street of the Knights, and the Hospital of the Knights come to life bursting with Medieval magic.

Welcome to the Medieval Festival of Rhodes. 

Yes, that’s right. The Dodecanese island of Rhodes has for nearly 20 years (with the exception of the gloomy Covid days), held one of the most exciting Medieval festivals in Europe complete with archery competitions, jousts and battles, tavern feasts, buzzing markets, and of course, plenty of Medieval-inspired food, song and dance.

If there’s one more reason to visit Rhodes, then this is definitely it thanks to the non-governmental and not-for-profit cultural organization the Medieval Rose. 

Rhodes & its Medieval Town

The Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its Magic
Going back to the Middle Ages every year on Rhodes. Photo credit: Herb Jung for Medieval Rose Festival of Rhodes

Who knew that Rhodes was once home to the knights? Few people think of knights in armor mounting horses and fighting fierce battles in sunny Greece but yes, from 1310 to 1522, the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem governed Rhodes. We’re talking two whole centuries which explains why Rhodes is also known as “The Island of the Knights”.

A stroll through the old town is enough to catch a glimpse of the knights’ presence thanks to many of the Medieval-era buildings and Gothic and Byzantine churches and chapels still intact.

That’s why the Old Town of Rhodes is also an UNESCO World Heritage site.

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The Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its Magic
The impressive Medieval Castle of Rhodes.

The Rhodes-based order of St John was commonly known as the Knights Hospitaller and had allegiance to the Pope. The knights were ousted in 1522 by the Ottomans and a new era begins for the island traces of which are evident in the ornate fountains, public baths, and mosques.

Inside the fortifications – you enter through a massive arch from the port – you will find the largest active medieval town in Europe, the “Palia Poli” where more than 6,000 people continue to live to this day.

After listing the Old Town of Rhodes on its heritage list in 1988, UNESCO said: “With its Frankish and Ottoman buildings the old town of Rhodes is an important ensemble of traditional human settlement. Contact with the traditions of the Dodecanese changed the forms of Gothic architecture, and building after 1523.”

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Let’s Meet Rhodes’ Medieval Rose

The Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its Magic
Life in Medieval Rhodes and folk traditions are revived every year during the Rhodes festival. Photo credit: Panos Veneris for Medieval Rose Festival of Rhodes

The Medieval Rose was formed in 2005 and has since been organizing the grand fête which recreates the traditions and legends of Rhodes and above all the mystical atmosphere of the Middle Ages through an impressive number of events, happenings, workshops and games. 

For the organizers, the Medieval Festival of Rhodes is about keeping tradition, history and myth alive. They envisioned an event that would introduce the world to the diverse history and culture and revive the folk traditions of Rhodes which few people know about and at the same time bring islanders together and create revenues for the local community.

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It was no easy task, mind you. In order to ensure that the Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its happenings like jousts and tavern dinners were true to history, people of the Medieval Rose have done lots of research, something I am sure you will realize yourself if you visit either their beautiful site or better yet Rhodes in May, when the festival usually takes place.

In the words of the people behind the grand festivity: “Throughout the magical trip, back to the time, we shall learn how today is being distinguished of yesterday and how it dignifies tomorrow.”

Rhodes Medieval Town Trivia

The Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its Magic
Medieval magic on Rhodes. Photo credit: Dimitris Kladogenis for Medieval Rose Festival of Rhodes

A number of films, including The Guns of Navarone, Escape to Athena, El Greco, Pascali’s Island, Peter and Paul have partly been filmed in the Medieval town of Rhodes or on the island.

 The Old town of Rhodes was reconstructed by the Knights of Saint John in the 14th century.

 Depending on the language they spoke (English, German, Italian Spanish, and French, the knights were assigned to a different section of the walled town. That’s why there were 11 gates to the fortress back then, some still standing. 

People still live in the Medieval town on Rhodes today and it is a popular tourist spot with lots of shops selling Medieval Ages-inspired souvenirs.

Medieval Festival of Rhodes: What to Expect

The Medieval Festival of Rhodes and its Magic
How it was done back in the Middle Ages on Rhodes. Photo credit: Anna Achiola, Medieval Rose Festival of Rhodes

It’s like being teleported back in time as you walk among jousting knights, women in aprons making bread, dancing Gypsies, jesters and jugglers to the music of pulsating drums and mystical bagpipes.

Enter the Middle Ages with sensational events taking place everywhere in the Old Town: at the Palace of the Grand Master, along the Street of the Knights, on Socratous St and in the Jewish Quarter, outside the Great Hammam (Turkish Baths), at Suleiman Mosque and the Medieval Clock Tower (Roloi).

Medieval fairytales, games, even catapult-making classes are just some of the fun things for families. Kids won’t want to leave for sure. You can also book a guided tour of the Medieval town.

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I end today’s post with “Rodrigo Martinez” a 1465 song by an anonymous composer performed by Hespèrion XX and Catalan musical director Jordi Savall… just to put you in the mood. Enjoy!

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