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Knights of the Templar (Convents of Christ) castle in Tomar, Portugal

Top Ten Templar Buildings

Image Credit: | Above: Knights of the Templar (Convents of Christ) castle in Tomar, Portugal

The Templars may be long gone, but across Europe and the Middle East, it is still possible to walk among the buildings they once called home. From Scotland, England to France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and beyond, many important Templar sites can still be seen to this day – still standing to bear witness to this once mighty order, seven hundred years after its disappearance. Here are ten of the best examples of the buildings the Templars left behind.

Château Pèlerin, Israel

On the northern Mediterranean shore of modern-day Israel lies the ancient castle of Pèlerin. Built by the Templar order in 1218, the castle was a Templar stronghold for over seventy years until the order abandoned it in 1291 following the fall of the city of Acre.

Unusually for a Crusader castle, Pèlerin was not demolished after it was seized by the Egyptian Mamluks but was instead left standing and survived relatively intact until a huge earthquake severely damaged the building in 1837. It was then quarried for stone, and now Pèlerin is a shadow of its former self. Today, this imposing Templar stronghold is closed off from the public as it lies within an Israeli military training area.

Arwad, Syria

Covering the entirety of the island upon which it sits, the town of Arwad is home to a fortress that became the last bastion of the Templars, as the Muslim forces slowly reduced the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem to dust.

"Arwad was the last part of the Holy Land the Crusaders held before their total retreat from the Middle East".

The Templars garrisoned a force of 120 knights, 500 bowmen and 400 Syrian staff at the fortress and dug in for the Mamluk invasion and siege that would inevitably follow. When it did, the force was eventually starved out and had no choice but to surrender under the promise that the fortress’s inhabitants could escape to a Christian-held land. The Mamluks agreed, but on leaving the fortress, the agreement was broken and all of the bowmen and Syrian helpers were butchered.

The knights were imprisoned in Cairo and, after years of refusing to renounce their holy vows, they eventually starved to death. Arwad was the last part of the Holy Land the Crusaders held before their total retreat from the Middle East at the end of the 13th Century.

La Rochelle, France

The port of La Rochelle in western France was an important base for the Templars, being home to their main naval base. When the order was issued by Pope Clement V to disband the Templars and arrest its leaders, it is rumoured that the fleet of ships used to transport the Templar leader, Jaques de Molay, to La Rochelle from Cyprus was used to secretly whisk a band of knights and large quantities of Templar treasure safely away. It would not be the last time tales of hidden Templar treasure would emerge following the order’s dissolution.

Today, the Templar presence in La Rochelle can still be seen. The entranceway to their preceptory (headquarters) can still be seen on the Rue des Templiers in La Rochelle’s old town. An original Templar cross can still be seen on the wall, and the courtyard beyond the entranceway houses a large Templar cross commemorating the Templar’s time in the city.

Castle of Almourol, Portugal

In the middle of the Tagus River in central Portugal stands the castle of Almourol. Once part of the Templars’ defensive line of castles which stretched across the country’s central region that were built as Portugal was slowly recaptured from the Moors, Almourol still stands today as an example of just how mighty the order of the Knights Templar once was.

Almourol Castle, Portugal, Osvaldo Gago

As Portugal was gradually recaptured, the castle’s importance faded away and it was eventually abandoned. By the 19th Century, Almourol was a ruin, but efforts were made to restore it to its former glory and it is now a popular attraction where tourists can walk along the same ramparts the Templars patrolled over seven hundred years ago.

Convent of Christ, Portugal

Located in the ancient Portuguese city of Tomar, the magnificent Convent of Christ was once home to the Templar order until its dissolution by Pope Clement in 1312. The convent was an important stronghold for the Knights Templar, who controlled vast swathes of central Portugal and vowed to defend the territory should an attack be launched by the Moors.

An attack did indeed come in 1190 when the armies of the caliph Abu Yusuf al-Mansur surrounded the castle and laid siege to it. The attack failed, and the knights lived to fight another day. The convent’s round church is of original Templar design, and other signs that the order once resided in Tomar can be found throughout the complex.

Castle of San Servando, Spain

This monastery and castle complex in the Spanish city of Toledo was handed over to the Templar order in the 12th Century to protect the Puente de Alcántara – an important bridge spanning the Tagus river that was considered the main point of attack should the Moors make an attempt to recapture central Spain. When the threat of a Muslim invasion faded away and the Templar dissolution of 1312, the castle’s importance dwindled and it eventually fell into disrepair.

Now, tourists can visit the castle and hear the story of Don Nuño Alvear, an errant knight who legend has it died when a vision revealed to him the anguished faces of the many people he had murdered. Alvear’s ghost is said to haunt the castle to this very day.

Cressing Temple, England

Once home to one of the largest Templar agricultural complexes in England, Cressing Temple was the seat of the Templars in the county of Essex and the funds this vast estate generated went towards paying for the Templars’ activities in the Middle East during the Crusades.

The manor house and most of the buildings the Templars occupied are long gone, but Cressing Temple is still home to the magnificent Barley Barn. Built by the Templars in the 12th Century, this Grade 1 listed building is the oldest timber-framed barn in the world.

Temple and Temple Church, London

Now home to many prestigious London barristers, the area of Temple in London was once the headquarters of the Templar order in England. It was here that they built Temple Church in the 12th Century. The church has been much expanded since it was first built, but the original round church is still standing and now forms the nave of the expanded church.

It was in their Temple complex that the Templars ran their affairs in England, with the complex being used to store the money of noblemen, much to the chagrin of kings who often tried to get their hands on these funds. When the Templar order was dissolved, the complex was handed over to the Knights Hospitaller. They leased two of the temple’s college buildings to lawyers, and from that grew London’s Inner and Middle Temples – two of the seats of England’s legal profession.

Temple, Midlothian, Scotland

On the banks of the river Esk just south of the city of Edinburgh lies the village and parish of Temple. It was here where the Templars had their headquarters in Scotland, and the village of Temple still houses the ruins of the church the Templars once worshipped in.

Rumour has it that when the order was dissolved in 1312, the treasure of the Templars held in Paris was smuggled out of France and taken to Temple in Scotland and buried there. A local saying alludes to the buried treasure – “Twixt the oak and the elm tree, you will find buried the millions free.” Whether the rumour is true remains to be seen, though curators of the church would prefer visitors not to turn up with a spade and start digging up the churchyard!

Castello della Magione, Italy

On the outskirts of the town of Poggibonsi in Tuscany sits the Castello della Magione. At first glance, the Castello appears to be nothing more than a small rural farm complex, but on closer inspection, it is revealed to house a former Templar church and a hostel building dating back to the time when the complex was used by the Templars to house pilgrims on their way to Rome.

Though not obvious from the ground, when seen from the air, the Castello takes on a tight fortified shape, hence why it is known as a castle. After the fall of the Templars, the castle passed through many hands. It is now home to a lay order of the Catholic Church known as the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ. The Templars may be long gone, but at Castello della Magione, holy knights still worship within one of their buildings seven hundred years later.