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Modern-day defenders of Rhodes palace

The Palace of the Grand Master on Rhodes is one of the island’s chief attractions and the most important monument of its era. Though only the ground floor remains in its original state, the palace that the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem built in the 14th century and occupied till 1522 is still an impressive sight. It is the third most visited monument in Greece and a prime destination in the Dodecanese. However, despite the fact that it attracts throngs of visitors and earns revenue for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the palace suffers from an accumulation of problems. Not only was it was besieged in 1480 by the Ottoman Turks, who used it as a prison, but it also suffered earthquake damage and, in 1857, the powder magazine exploded, destroying the roof and burying much of the building beneath the embankment. The numerous extensions added during the latter days of Turkish rule as well as reconstruction carried out by the Italians (1935-40) created an even more complex structure. The plans to adapt it as a summer retreat for Mussolini altered 70 percent of the original building. To make matters worse, damp has permeated the palace. In March 2008, a violent storm destroyed a large part of the battlements on the west tower of the south gate. The Fourth Ephorate of Antiquities instituted a salvage operation and took protective measures to shore up the interior. The palace was reopened, with access via the western door. Then the commission that supervises the monuments of the medieval city of Rhodes took over. A worksite was set up and limestone was cut and carved, but funds didn’t flow in as required. Work has been in progress since then and the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) recently approved another study. It is a master plan for the restoration of the palace that was once the center of life for the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Rhodes and the seat of the supreme religious and administrative ruler of the island during the Middle Ages. If funds are forthcoming and work begins at once, the project will then proceed in stages, and is estimated to take a decade to complete. The work to be done includes static reinforcement of the damaged sections, structural rebuilding, removal of damaged mechanical installations, the installation of new air-conditioning units and insulation, as well as access for people with limited mobility. When the work is complete, the entrance will be from the west gate; there will be space for offices and workshops on the mezzanine floor, and for receptions on the northern rampart and in the garden.