Medieval Rhodes revives through a festival

• Category: Interviews
The most characteristic and photographed spot of Rhodes is certainly its Medieval Part: the old port with the deer overlooking it, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Street of the Knights, the Old Town... This is the best preserved Medieval Town in Europe and the strongest Medieval Castle in the Mediterranean Sea. If you look or stroll around it, you will feel charmed by the vibe of the Old Town, you will almost hear the heavy marching of the Knights and touch the elegant clothes of the ladies.

Rhodes is the place where medieval stories about fairies and dragons still exist. That is probably what Mrs Anna Achiola thought and created the "Medieval Rose Festival". It is held every year in Rhodes and aims to revive the medieval charm of the island. Participants dress in medieval costumes of brave knights, charming ladies, strange wizards, funny buffoons and cheering musicians and parade all over the Old Town, presenting shows and scenes from the Medieval Era. Such a festival will take place soon, at the end of June 2009, and on this occasion we have spoken to Mrs Achiola, the Creative Director of the Medieval Festival, to see how this special event started its journey back to time, an era of legends and fairy tales…

When was the Medieval Rose association created? Whose idea was it?

I think the idea exists in my mind from a very young age. Since I was a child, I loved the castles of Rhodes and dreamed of a revival of the Medieval Age, when all these stories about knights, ladies and witches were very real! Of course, that time I hadn't thought of a Festival. This happened in a single night, about 5 years ago, when I decided that I wanted to do something more creative in my life because the job I was doing was rather dull and boring for me. At first, the Medieval Rose started as a hobby but soon I realized the dimensions it could get in various sections. Immediately, I contacted friends and familiars who could contribute in this project. The response was positive and so we founded the association "Medieval Rose" in 2005, because the Medieval Festival should be an offspring of team work to develop well.

Would you like to tell us a few words about Rhodes in the Medieval Era? Why is it so important for you to maintain the medieval sense of the island?

This is a very stormy but important period in the history of our island, full of wars, fights, plundering, natural destructions and death. The pandemic plague which hit Medieval Europe twice reached our island, too. From 1309 to 1522 A.D., which is the period which our Medieval Festival is referring to, the island of Rhodes and the other Dodecanese islands was administered by the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, known today as the Knights of Rhodes. This was a multi-national order consisting of seven nations and thus speaking seven languages.

The Knights are few in number, only 500, and ask other Europeans (mostly Franks) to reside on the island. Finally, within the walls of Rhodes, there live and work more than 4,000 Europeans along with local residents and the minorities of Jew and Armenians. In this multi-national society that lasted for 213 years, many languages are spoken: Greek, all the languages of the Order of the Knights and Latin, which was the official language of the Order. This was mainly the society of the bourgeoisie. Outside the walls of Rhodes, there is the society of the people who make their living with agriculture and maintain their Greek-Orthodox costumes and traditions. In this multicultural society, you can add the trade transactions of the Knights with the Turks and the Egyptian salesmen that would arrive on the island, although the two religions were in war. That time, Rhodes was the last European territory that would resist against the Ottoman Empire, since Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, had fallen in the hand of the Ottomans since 1453 A.D. The Crusaders had also lost their territories in the Middle East. Rhodes had suffered a siege by the Ottomans in 1408 A.D. but resisted. However, it didn't manage to survive the second siege of the Ottomans in 1522 A.D. and the town fall, after a long brave fight and betrayal.

The Knights left the island along with 4,500 inhabitants and the Medieval Era of Rhodes officially ended. The island carries vividly the vibe of the Medieval times through its many Byzantine and Medieval monuments. It is known that the Medieval Town of Rhodes is protected by UNESCO, as it is a rare monument of that era, preserved in excellent state. Our Byzantine-Medieval cultural and architectural heritage constitutes a unique natural setting to host such festivals that aim not only to entertain the attendants but also to report on the glorious history of our island. After, through the Medieval Festival, we have the chance to revive old costumes and traditions, arts that have been lost or that are gradually fading and to preserve our folklore civilization, whose roots are found in the Byzantine Era.

The Medieval Festival is held every year. How long does it take to organize the festival? How many people take part and what do the events include? How is the festival financed?

Since 2006, when the first festival took place, our association organizes the Medieval Festival of Rhodes every year on a voluntary base. Its preparation usually lasts for 3 months, although actually the work for the preservation of the Festival never stops. Almost all year round, the members and friends of "Medieval Rose" activate in different sections. Almost 150 volunteers take part in the events every year and, especially for 2008, 50 more artists and re-enactors from Greece and Europe joined us. The countries that participated last year were Italy, France, Germany and Portugal. This international effort was done with the help of the Greek Ministry of Culture and included street theatre, live music, medieval dances, bazaars with traditional products, workshops (for stilts and fabric dolls), jongleurs, an exhibition of medieval manuscripts, old medieval toys, chess and archery competitions, horse rides and several shows in four squares of the Old Town. This was a unique revival of that era with medieval clothing, armors and sceneries. The Medieval Festival is an expensive event that needs better support from the local authorities. Till today, most costs were covered by voluntary work, sponsorships and in a small part by finances from the local government.

In 2008 Festival, the Historical Park of Rhodes was an important sponsor and gave real solutions to many problems. This year, for the first time, the financial support comes in a large part from the Municipality of Rhodes and Ataviros (castles of Monolithos and Kritinia) as the Festival becomes a trans-municipal effort. We want every year to add the castle of another municipality in the Festival in order to promote our Byzantine architecture heritage in its whole. After all, this was one of the most ambitious aims of our association since its foundation.

Your next Medieval Festival will take place in June 19-28. How can someone take part? Apart from Greeks, can foreigners participate? Is there a participation fee?

Anyone can take part in our festival, as long as he wears a medieval costume made with the proper textile. Both Greeks and foreigners can take part and there is no participation fee. Moreover, the attendance of all events is free. Anyone who wishes to can fill in the participation form from our website. Participation deadline is on May 30th.

As for the costumes of the festival, do you make them or the participants have to buy them? How do you make the costumes, where did you find the patterns?

The professionals that take part in the festival usually have their own costumes. For our volunteers and members, we have a cloakroom with about 180 costumes that is enriched every year. These costumes are sewed by a dressmaker with special textiles, to make sure that they look like the original clothes. We got the patterns from books we have ordered from abroad, from old designs and of course from the Internet, which is always a great source of information. Certainly, if someone wants to, he can sew his own costume with patterns from our website.

What other actions does your association take?

The action of "Medieval Rose" doesn't reserve in the organization of the Medieval Festival. Every year it organizes the Medieval Symposium. This is a one-day meeting that informs the audience on topics of the Medieval Era, giving a more complete view to the Dark Age. In the Medieval Symposium of 2008, American historians presented for the first time in Europe a very important medieval manuscript about shipbuilding and navigation. This document was discovered by an international scientific team, which proved that it had been written by an inhabitant of Rhodes who had moved to Italy. This Manuscript of Manuel of Rhodes will be published this year by MIT Press in USA.

In the past, our association also presented two artistic workshops, a seminar about medieval stage-designing and a workshop of medieval war art, in cooperation with local authorities. Moreover, Medieval Rose has organized educational tours in the Old Town of Rhodes and the Palace of the Knights, while every year it travels to different medieval festivals of Europe for the development of an intercultural dialogue. In fact, last year, Medieval Rose took part in the Fairy Tales Festival of Kea, organizing a team game for the Search of the Dragon, beginning thus a new cooperation with another island of the Aegean. Recently our association became a member of the environmental organization WWF Hellas, aiming to develop cultural actions with focus on the environment. It is also a member of Anna Lindh network for the promotion of intercultural dialogue and of the Inventory of Heritage Organizations for the preservation of the cultural inheritage. Our next goal is to cooperate with other EU members and Mediterranean countries in order to organize community cultural programs, subsidized by the European Union.

More info at: Medieval festival