The Crusades is a dirty word in the Middle East. It’s hardly surprising. All those unwashed and smelly chain-mailed warrior knights, bloodied sword in one hand, crucifix in the other, brutalising the civilised Muslim world for God, glory and gain (in that order). The perfidious Catholics even turned on the besieged Byzantines, sacking Constantinople and deposing the Emperor because he was a softer target than the Arabs and the wrong kind of Christian. The crusader legacy resonates today with the fault lines that still exist in the region.
This brings me neatly on to Bodrum’s very own Crusader heirloom – the Castle of St Peter. It is the jewel in the Town’s crown. Its sturdy silhouette dominates from every direction. Built by the Knights Hospitaller from 1402, the castle remained in Christian hands until they were unceremoniously booted out by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522. The magnanimous Sultan allowed the defeated knights to sail off to Crete – no hard feelings. What a gent. The castle last saw action when it was bombarded by a French warship during the Great War. Presumably, our Gallic allies did it for a laugh as the fortress had long lost its strategic importance. Several towers were badly damaged and the minaret of the mosque was toppled.
Today the reconstructed castle is a major tourist attraction and home to the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, the biggest of its kind. The grounds also play host to the annual summer ballet and dance festival. It’s a sweaty affair during the height of summer. Rambling over the ramparts is an easy excursion and there are plenty of shady places in the well-tended gardens to catch your breath and watch the randy dandy peacocks strut their stuff. The exhibits are absorbing if you’re into old wrecks, chipped anfora and ancient glass. I can’t vouch for the exhibition devoted to the tomb of a Carian princess, who died between 360 and 325 BC. It’s always been closed when we’ve visited. Sauntering through the various towers is a fun way to spend a spare afternoon. The English Tower, in particular, looks like a set for Ivanhoe. Where’s Elizabeth Taylor when you need her?
If you’d like a potted history of the castle check out Wikipedia. Spot the (non) deliberate mistake relating to the mosque.
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