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December 23, 2020
Thomas Leitlein

Was the World’s First Wind Farm on Rhodes?


In response to my article Who Built the World's First Wind Farm? Thomas Leitlein argues that it was the island of Rhodes off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. He makes his case below.

If we are thinking about the question of where the first wind farm was put to use use, I suggest Rhodes. The artist Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519) produced a woodcut with seven identical windmills surrounding the harbor at Rhodes.


Note: I’ve edited Herr Leitlein’s text where necessary for continuity.


Now, how old may be this array? Surely it is older than the woodcut (1490).

 

During the siege of Rhodes in 1480, we can see three windmills without their sails in the background of the painting. So they were safe from bombardment by the canons of the Turkish (Ottoman) invaders.

It’s remarkable that there is one identical type of windmill here, a tower mill. In a tower mill, the cap can yaw to face the wind. This was a technology used in northern Europe. The defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, come from Western Europe. They are famed not only for their military exploits (they were the victors here), but also for building one of the world’s first multinational companies.

When the Knights Hospitaller built their headquarters at Rodes beginning in 1309, they used the best technology available at the time. Maybe they started their rise to fame and wealth with an investment in wind energy at Rhodes to mill the grain needed to feed an army.

More interesting still is the situation in the image below depicting 15 tower mills bordering the harbor after the battle with the Ottomans.

Could the windmills of Rhodes be the world’s first wind farm. There was a market for the flour. The knights and their servants had the knowledge necessary to build and operate them. And they had the capital needed to make such an investment. That the windmills were a significant and important part of the landscape is evidenced by the artists including them in such detail. They must have been awed by this “armada” of roaring sails.


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