The imposing medieval Castle of the Knights, otherwise known as Neratzia's Castle, is an iconic 14th century coastal fortress located in the harbor of Kos. In the late 14th and early 15th century Kos was densely planted with nerantzia (bitter orange trees) and lemon trees, hence the name Nerantzia. Built by the Knights Hospitallers, it is a fine example of the knightly fortification architecture in the Dodecanese.
For its construction, which began in 1436 and was completed in 1514, the Knights used many architectural parts from the ancient city of Kos and the Asklepieion, which are still visible today in several parts of the castle. The castle owes its current form to the Italian Archeological Service which, during the Italian occupation, demolished the Ottoman additions and proceeded to an extensive restoration of the castle, trying to change it back to its original form.
Above the central gate, there is a Hellenistic frieze with facades and garlands. On the roof of the entrances (central gate, Carmadino gate) granite columns were placed, probably coming from the port’s early Christian basilica. The castle consists of two fortified enclosures, the inner and the outer. From travelers’ documents, we know that the inner enclosure must have been built before the end of the 14th century. However, the oldest surviving building in the castle is the circular tower to the left of the sloping bridge, connecting the two enclosures, as it bears the coat of arms of the Grand Masters of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller De Lastic (1437-1454) and De Milly (1454-1461). The outer enclosure was built later (begun by M.M. D'Aubusson around 1495, continued by D'Amboise and completed by Del Carretto in 1514).
The Knights from the high towers of the castle with the castle of Agios Petros (St. Peter) on the opposite coast of ancient Halicarnassus (Petroumi) protected the sea passage to the Holy Land during the Crusades. Between the inner and the outer enclosure on the north side, there was a knights’ building (warehouse) which was restored during the Italian occupation and is now used as a museum of the architectural members of Kos. An archeological site open to visitors, also used as a temporary exhibition of altars, sculptures and inscriptions.
Phoinikon Street: a palm-lined promenade
Phoinikon street is, to be exact, a palm-lined promenade, part of Akti Kountouriotou street. The name "Phoinikon" is related to the long-standing lined up palm trees (phoinikes in Greek) on both sides of the street. During 2019, the municipality of Kos took an initiative to save the palm trees, which were seriously threatened for years due to a beetle. Today, after donations from local private business owners, the planted palm trees and new plants are constantly growing, and so does the sense of fulfilment when walking through Phoinikon street, under the castle's stone bridge.
The arched stone bridge
The bridge of the Knights' Castle connects the square of Hippocrates Plane Tree (Platanos square or Plateia Platanou) with the castle. Back in the day, the bridge used to connect the inner and outer enclosure of the castle while the moat connecting the harbour's sea with the eastern seaside of the castle was right beneath. This iconic bridge is nowadays a landmark for the people of Kos, as it exists to this day in Phoinikon Street, providing access to the castle and tremendous pride to all locals.