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by Archaeology Newsroom

Rhodes. Engravings from the 15th to the 17th century

The city of Rhodes has been inhabited for 2.400 years. The catastrophic Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) forced the till then prosperous towns of the island — lalyssos, Cameiros, Lindos— to unite their forces by founding the city of Rhodes in 408/407 BC in a prominent location. The city-planning was designed by the famous architect and town-planner Hippodamus. The city was fortified and soon became powerful due to its naval and trade supremacy. It was embellished with wonderful monumental pieces of sculpture,the works of excellent artists. Among them the so-called Colossus still remains legendary -destroyed by an earthquake in 226/227 BC, although Pliny mentions thousands of such statues that each of them alone could make any town in its own right. The city of Rhodes owed its splendour to the intensive cultivation of the arts and letters,drawing all the famous personalities of the time. The city managed to repulse the fierce attacks of Demetrius Poliorcites, in 306 BC, and Mithridates in 88 BC. Destructive earthquakes and hostile invasions weakened Rhodes’s defenses, so finally in 42 BC the city was occupied by the Roman general Cassius, who, although educated in Rhodes, ruined the city, looted its treasures and ordered most of its marvellous works of art to be transferred to Rome. In the centuries that followed Rhodes suffered more catastrophic invasions and earthquakes (155, 344, 515 AD).

The walls and fortifications of the city were rebuilt in the Byzantine era and were later reinforced by towers and turrets by the Knights of the Order of St. John, when they made the island their base, from 1309 to 1522, year of the occupation of Rhodes by the Turks. Other foreigners, the Italians, ruled the island from 1912 to 1948.In about 1412 Cristoforo Buondelmonti, a vicar in the church of St. Maria Oltraar-no, arrived in Rhodes and stayed there until 1420. In the meantime he studied the ancient Greek writers, visited many islands and wrote the book Liber Insularum, a basic work on the Aegean islands until the late eighteenth century. Leaving Rhodes he did not miss the opportunity to take with him —as a gesture of magnanimity — rare, valuable Greek codices that enriched the Medici library in Florence. The original books was lost but copies of it survived in various libraries. The first full edition, in Latin, was published in Leipzig; the second edition, published in 1897 in Paris by Emile Legrand, included passages translated in Greek by some unknown Greek scholar as well as a translation of the Greek text. From a copy of this edition, which was written by the famous caligrapher of the Seraglio Emmanuel Miller, the author of this article quotes here some abstracts about Rhodes. A second important document was bequeathed to posterity by the German clergyman Bernhard von Breydenbach, who travelled from Venice, a pilgrim to the Holy Land, to the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai, visiting during his itinerary the Greek harbours of Corfu, Methone, Heracleion (Crete), Rhodes and Cyprus. The Itinerary, besides its text with valuable information, also includes unique illustrations, engraved by the great Flemish artist Erchard Reuwich, who accompanied Breydenbach on his trip in order to accomplish this task. The itinerary, which according to specialists had twenty-eight editions, from the first in 1486 to the last in 1522, was repeatedly published in various languages, Latin, French, German, Flemish, Polish.

The Liber Chronicarum, the “Chronicle” of Hartmann Schedel, is a landmark in typography. It was written, illustrated and printed in Nuremberg in 1493. Its author composed his text drawing from older and contemporary poets, men of letters and historiographers and created a work of significant merit for those who study that period. The special interest of the book lies in the fact that it does not only supply a full compilation of the knowledge possessed by then, but it also reveals the attitude of that century towards history. The book was put> hshed in Latin and German, while another counterfeit, less expensive edition of it was easily realized, since the safeguarding of intellectual rights was unthinkable and beyond imagination at that time. The two celebrated editions of the fifteenth century, that of Itinerary and Liber Chronicarum, by B. von Breydenbach and H. Schedel respectively, were followed by minor relevant works I of the sixteenth (15 engravings] and seventeenth century (28 engravings), in which the city of Rhodes was represented.