The Knights Templar during the 12th and 13th centuries funded a large number of building projects with their considerable financial resources throughout Europe and the Holy Land. These projects consisted of churches, priories, commanderies, castles and other fortifications. A great many of these structures are still standing today and leave a rich heritage across the Region. There were over 500 Templar commanderies across Europe, which were principally at the centre of their land and ‘working’ farm holdings.
There are too many historic Templar sites still surviving to include all, the following sites are a broad based selection with a brief description.
Temple Mount and the city of Acre
King Baldwin II and Patriarch Warmund in January 1120, granted Hugh de Payens, Master of the Templars their first headquarters in the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque, a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem. The Temple Mount had a mystique because it was situated above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders referred to the Al-Aqsa Mosque as Solomon’s Temple, and from this location the new Order took the name of “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon“, or Knights Templar.
The final stand of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land was in Acre, during its siege by the Mamluks from 4th April to 18 May 1291 AD. The fall of Acre marked the end of the crusader states in the Holy Land with only the strongholds of Tartus and Ruad remaining. The Templars and many of the remaining Crusader forces and Military Orders relocated to Cyprus. The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem did continue to exist, although theoretically, on the island of Cyprus. In Cyprus plans were made to recapture the Holy Land, but struggled to materialise as money, men and also the will were lacking. One last effort was made by King Peter I in 1365, when he successfully landed in Egypt and sacked Alexandria. Once the city was taken it was soon realised that the resources of men and material were not nearly enough to continue any further, the Crusaders returned to Cyprus.
The Knights Templar and the city of Tomar, Portugal
The Convent of Christ was founded by the Templars in 1118 and Its construction continued until the final part of the 12th century with the construction of the oratory, in one of the angles of the castle, completed by the Grand Master D. Gualdim Pais sometime around 1160. When the Order was dissolved in the early 14th century, the Portuguese branch reformed as the Knights of the Order of Christ that later supported Portugal’s many maritime discoveries of the 15th century.
Temple Church, Temple, City of London
In the mid-12th century, before the construction of the church, the Knights Templar in London had met at a site in High Holborn in a structure originally established by Hugh de Payens (the site had been historically the location of a Roman Temple). Because of the rapid growth of the Order the original site had become too confined by the 1160’s, and the order purchased the current site for the establishment of a larger monastic complex as their HQ in England. In addition to the church, the new compound originally contained residences, military training facilities, and recreational grounds for the military brethren and novices. The Church was consecrated on 10 February 1185 by Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem. During the reign of King John I (1199–1216) it served as the royal treasury, supported by the newly established role of the Knights Templar as the first trusted international bankers.
St Hilarion Castle, Cyprus and Chinon Castle, France
The Knights Templar once owned the Island of Cyprus having purchased it from King Richard I ‘Lionheart’ of England in 1191 AD, though quickly realised that administering the Island would take up too much of their resources needed for the Holy Land. The Templars resold Cyprus back to King Richard I in the following year. St Hilarion Castle was also where Knights Templar on Cyprus were imprisoned in 1312 after the dissolution of the Order, however there is not any record of any of the Knights being executed or subsequently held in imprisonment.
Chinon Castle – when King Philip IV accused the Knights Templar of Heresy in 1307 AD, many Knights Templar, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charney were imprisoned in the Tour du Coudray within the castle, built by Philip II one century earlier. Graffiti carved by the imprisoned knights can still be seen on the inner walls of the tower.
Peniscola Castle, Castellon and Tortosa Castle, Tarragona, Spain
Peniscola Castle was planned to be the centre of a Knights Templar kingdom after James II of Aragon had given the castle to the Templars in 1294 AD, supported by the nearby castles of Pulpis and Xivert. The Templars began work that same year, demolished the Muslim fortifications, and completely rebuilt the castle. The work was completed in 1307 and in common with other Templar fortifications, the castle was laid out around an inner ward and possessed a central chapel.
Tortosa Castle – the first Commandery initiated by the Knights Templar on the Ebro lowlands, Spain. In 1148 AD, Raymond Berenguer IV divided his broad dominions among the leaders of the forces who helped him to capture the city and region from the Almoravid Emirate: the Montcada, the Genoese and the Templars. The Templars almost completely controlled the city of Tortosa between 1185 and 1294 AD, after enlarging their possessions with donations by individual nobles. The the religious centre of the city was also ceded to them by King Alphonso II.
La Couvertoirade, Aveyron & Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, Occitanie, France
La Couvertoirade is a well-preserved fortified town in Aveyron which was owned by the Templars during the 12th to 13th centuries and under orders from their Commandery in Sainte-Eulalie. Following the dissolution of the Order in 1312, ownership of the town was transferred to the Knights of St John Hospitaller.
Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, Occitanie – a Knights Templar Commandery and medieval hospital was established by the Templars in the 12th century. The Commandery controlled their holdings in the region. After the dissolution of the Order, royal forces were sent by King Philip IV to close the hospital down and transfer ownership of the town to the Knights of St John Hospitaller. Importantly, from this event a detailed account of the buildings, their contents and the life and customs of the occupants was recorded and has survived to this day.
Chateau Pelerin, Israel and Chastel Blance, Safita, Syria
Chateau Pelerin – the Templars began building the fortress in 1218 during the Fifth Crusade. It became one of the major crusader fortresses and could support up to 4,000 troops in siege conditions. In August 1291 AD, after the fall of Acre, it was abandoned by its garrison and subsequently taken over by the Mamluks. The fortress remained intact for several hundred years, until it suffered major damage in 1837 during the very destructive Galilee earthquake. At the time of its completion, It was described as the “crowning” example of crusader military architecture.
Chastel Blanc – was built by the Templars upon existing fortifications, located on the middle hill of Safita’s three hills. The strategic position provides a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, and was a key part of the network of Crusader fortifications in the area. From its highest position, it is possible to see the snow-covered mountains of Lebanon and the County of Tripoli, the fortresses of Tartus and Ruad Island to the northwest, Chastel Rouge on the coastline to the southwest, Akkar to the south and Krak des Chevaliers to the southeast.
Arwad Castle, Ruad Island, Syria & Foinikas ‘Ghost Town’ Paphos, Cyprus
Arwad Castle – after the fall of Acre in 1291 AD, the Templars and most of the remaining crusader knights relocated to Cyprus. In late 1300, in an attempt to coordinate military operations with the Mongol leader Ghazan, crusader and Cypriot contingents prepared a land-based force of approximately 600 men, 300 under Almaric de Lusignan, son of Hugh III of Cyprus, and similar numbers of Templars and Hospitallers. The men and their horses were ferried from Cyprus to a staging area on Ruad, from where they launched raids in the Tortosa region, while awaiting Mongol reinforcements. As the Mongol force failed to arrive, the majority of the Christian force returned to Cyprus, leaving a garrison on Ruad manned by rotating groups of soldiers sent from Cyprus. In 1302 Pope Clement V formally awarded ownership of the island to the Templars. Under Templar Commander Barthelemy de Quincy, a garrison of 120 knights, 500 bowmen and 400 Syrian helpers was maintained, though the castle was captured by the Mamluks later in the same year.
Foinikas ‘Ghost Town’, Paphos – the Knights Templar used this village as a base for their Commandery and operations in the Paphos and Limassol areas. The village was known as ‘Commandaria Della Finicha’, during the French Lusignan period 1192 to 1489 AD. More recently, the village was inhabited by Turkish Cypriots until the invasion in 1974, when the inhabitants all left for the north of the Island. Nearly half of the village is now under water following the construction of the Asprokremmos dam.
Kolossi Castle, Kolossi & the Twin Churches of the Knights Templar & Hospitaller, Famagusta, Cyprus
Kolossi Castle is a former crusader stronghold and Commandery on the south-west edge of Kolossi village,14 Kms west of the city Limassol, Cyprus. It held great strategic importance in the Middle Ages and contained large facilities for the production of sugar from local sugarcane, one of Cyprus’s main exports during this period. The original castle was possibly built in 1210 by the Frankish military, when the land of Kolossi was given by King Hugh I to the Knights of St John Hospitaller. The castle’s ownership was transferred to the Templars in 1306, but returned to the Hospitallers in 1313 following the dissolution of the Order. The present castle was built in 1454 by the Hospitallers under the Commander of Kolossi, Louis de Magnac, whose coat-of-arms is carved into the castle’s walls.
The twin Churches of the Knights Templar & Hospitaller, Famagusta, Cyprus – these churches were built side by side, their official names are the Templar Church of St John, and the Hospitaller Church of St John. The Templar Church, on the left dates to the early 13th century. The Hospitaller Church on the right dates towards the end of the 13th century. On the dissolution of the Templars in 1312, their Cyprus properties were taken over by the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers subsequently built a passage connecting the two churches. Above the doorway of the Templar Church, there is a small rose window and above it are three flagstaff holders.
Klis Fortress, Croatia & Ponferrada Castle, Leon, Spain
Klis Fortress, Croatia – from the early 12th century, the castle of Klis was mainly governed by Croatian nobility, under the supremacy of Hungarian Kings. The Kingdom of Croatia and the Kingdom of Hungary from 1102 AD, loosely unified under Hungarian King Coloman through the ‘Pacta Conventa.’ Andrew II of Hungary during his participation in the Fifth Crusade, appointed Pontius de Cruce as Master of the Templar Order in the Hungarian Kingdom. After his return in 1219, in recognition of the great logistical and financial support which the Order had given him during the campaign, he also granted the Order the estate of Gacka.
Ponferrada Castle, Leon, Spain – Ponferrada was captured in 1196 AD by King Alfonso VIII from the Almohad Caliphate, subsequently using it as a base to attack the neighbouring area of El Bierzo. King Alfonso IX expanded the town, and in 1211 AD he gifted the town to the Knights Templar. The Templars further developed the existing fortress and extended the walls of the castle. The castle was the Templar’s headquarters for the region, the building covered an area of more than 8000 square meters. The Templars also built an extensive underground tunnel network for use during sieges.