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THE STREET OF THE KNIGHTS AND THE “INNS” OF THE “TONGUES”
The Knights lived in the Collachium just as if they were in a large monastery, dividing their time between military exercises and prayer. Each “tongue” had its own “inn” (hebergie - auberge: this term occurs from the time the Knights were in Palestine and in Cyprus). None of the known sources prior to the second half of the 16th century gives a precise definition of the role of the “inns”. However, later texts, such as the Statuta Domus Hospitalis Hierusalem of 1588, when Claude de la Sengle was Grand Master, and the decisions of the Chapter General of 1631 - which, of course, pertain to the organization of the Order on Malta, but certainly echo that of the Rhodian period - stipulate the function of the “inns”. In these: ... Frat res nostriper nationes una comedunt et congregantur. That is they were places in which the members of each “tongue” could gather together to dine and discuss matters of common interest. They sometimes offered accommodation for eminent persons, as in 1458 when Roberto da Sanseverino and his retinue lodged in the “inn” of Italy, and in 1481 when the exiled Turkish Prince Djem accepted the hospitality of the “inn” of France.
The Knights did not live in the “inns” but had their own residences within the Collachium. As we shall see, the identification of existing buildings as “inns” is neither certain nor easy. It is based mainly on tradition, as preserved by 16th, 17th and especially 19th-century travellers, and on epigraphic, heraldic and architectural evidence. General conclusions drawn from the historical sources and travellers' accounts are that the “inns” were all located within the Collachium and that they were large edifices, with ancillary buildings, and in some instances with gardens (e.g. the “inn” of Auvergne), and that all had a horse-driven mill for drawing water. Over the years their size and development directly depended on the number of Knights each served. Thus the largest “inn” was that of the “tongue” of Spain, which had the most Knights. The “inn” of France was also quite large, followed by those of Provence, Auvergne and Italy. The “inn” of England and more so that of Germany (if it ever existed) were far smaller than the others.
It seems, at least tradition has it, that most of the “inns” of the “tongues” were situated in what is nowadays the Street of the Knights (Ippoton), which was the most important thoroughfare of the Medieval city. During the Turkish Occupation many of the buildings in this street were altered both internally and externally - especially those at the west end of the street, near the Grand Master’s Palace. The main reason for the changes made to these latter, or their destruction, was the explosion of the nearby church of St John in 1856. Under Italian rule all the additions made in Turkish times were removed, those buildings built after the time of the Knights were demolished and replaced by others built in “Knightly” style. Despite the Italians’ large-scale interventions, the aesthetic effect is extremely good.
The “Inn” of the “Tongue” of Auvergne:
This occupies almost the whole of the west side of Argyrokastrou Square.
After the rearrangement of the area by the Italians, the visitor entering the square through the recent Freedom Gate, has the impression that the north face of the building, with its large stone staircase and timber-roofed gallery on the upper storey, restored by the Italian Archaeological Service, is its facade. It is known from the texts that there was a garden in front of the north face. In the time of the Knights the building was entered through the imposing portal on its south face, above which is an inscription on a marble plaque: D’AUVERGNE LE GRAND PRIEUR FRERE GUY DE BLANCHE FORT 1507. It would seem that in 1507 G. de Blanche fort, then grand prior ma- gnus prior) of Auvergne and later Grand Master, either repaired or rebuilt the “inn”.
The gateway opened into a lovely, cross-vaulted passage and from there, through a door, right, into a small square filled with trees. In the Middle Ages this was an inner courtyard, flanked to east and south by additional rooms which have since disappeared. Nowadays it is directly accessible from the street. A flight of stone steps in the northwest corner of the courtyard led to the upper storey. The present staircase in the southwest corner was constructed by the Italians. At least one-third of the Medieval building no longer exists.
The ground floor comprises vaulted storerooms which do not seem to have changed. Some chambers, of unknown use, have survived in the upper storey. A small room at the northeast edge, with a fireplace in its southeast corner, and a well in the northeast one, may have been a kitchen. Along the entire length of the west face of the building, overlooking Argyrokastrou Square, one course of an earlier wall, from a pre- 1507 building phase, is discernible.
The identification of this building as the “inn” of Auvergne is very probable.
The “Inn” of the “Tongue” of England:
A section of the building, restored by the Italian Archaeological Service, stands on the southeast side of Mousiou Square.
In 1826 the traveller Rot tiers had seen four coats-of-arms incorporated in its north face, which he illustrated in his book (those we see today were carved by the restorers): of the royal house of England, of the grand turcopolier John Kendal, and two others of unknown Knights. In Rottier’s drawing there is an empty space, left, where there had probably been another two coats-of-arms. Above this group of heraldic devices was an angel carved in relief and holding the coat-of-arms of the Order. The juxtaposition of the coats-of-arms of the royal house of England, the pilier of the “tongue” of England, John Kendal, and the escutcheon possibly of the Grand Master, are plausible evidence for identifying this building as the “inn” of England.
The “Inn” of the “Tongue” of Italy:
On the north side of the Street of the Knights, opposite the Hospital (Archaeological Museum) is a smashing relation to the number of Italian Knights - building which the archaeologist A. Maiuri identified as the “inn” of the “tongue” of Italy. Another scholar, A. Gabriel, has expressed doubts about this identification, based on historical and archival sources. He believes that the “inn” of the Italian Knights was further to the north, in the vicinity of the church of Aghios Demetrios, the Dockyard and the city wall.
A rather small portal leads into a vaulted- roofed passage and then to a small courtyard with a well. The rooms to right and left are vauIted-roofed, apart from one, the southwest, which has a flat roof and a wide, arched doorway onto the Street of the Knights.
The large south chamber in the upper storey had a fireplace and was possibly the banqueting hall. Next to it is the kitchen, also furnished with a large fireplace. The use of the other four first- floor rooms is not known.
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