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Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus


Fables of the Knights Templar are legend, but deep beneath a castle on Cyprus -- an island once owned by the Crusader brotherhood -- lies a legacy historians say still resonates today.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
The cross of the Knights Templar engraved on the 14th century sarcophagus of Adam de Antiochia,
 Marshal of Cyprus, on the site where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol
 medieval castle, now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

Down steep, narrow and uneven stone stairs in the fort of Limassol is a low-vaulted room lined with tombstones of medieval knights.




This is the chapel where England's King Richard the Lionheart is believed to have been married, en route to the Holy Land in 1192.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
Crusaders' tombstones are pictured on the site where a chapel of the Knights  Templar was
built  at the Limassol mediaeval castle, now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum
in the coastal Cypriot city 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

"The architecture and the artefacts here reflect the broad history of Cyprus," said Elena Stylianou, a government archaeologist, brandishing a long Crusader-era sword, rusted and chipped but still sharp. Cyprus was a place that many outsiders wanted to capture and own."


Richard, the first of so many British visitors to the sunny island, celebrated his wedding night downing sweet red wine -- before spending his honeymoon laying waste to the countryside, burning, looting and adding Cyprus to his possessions.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
Crusader tombstones on the site where a chapel of the Knights  Templar was built at the Limassol
 medieval castle, now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

After the defeated Cypriot ruler surrendered -- reportedly on condition he was not bound in iron chains, so Richard used silver shackles instead -- the English king swiftly sold Cyprus to the Templars.


The Cyprus Medieval Museum, now housed in the Mediterranean port city's fort, says that while the main castle walls date from the 16th century Ottoman period, they sit on far older foundations. The vault is "probably a chapel of the primary fortifications of the Knights Templar" on Cyprus.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
A Crusader tombstone on the site where a chapel of the  Knights Templar was built at the Limassol
 medieval castle, now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

The Templars, an international army of elite warriors set up to guard European pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem, used the island as their headquarters to fight military campaigns authorised by the pope in the Holy Land, just over 100 kilometres (65 miles) to the southeast.


Cypriot medieval historian Nicholas Coureas said the Crusades were a key step in forging the island's national character.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
The tombstone of noblewoman Akylina, daughter of the bishop of Lefkara, bearing a skull and
 crossbones on the site where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol
medieval castle, now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

"The most lasting consequence of the conquest of Richard is that although Cyprus would change hands several times, it still has a European orientation... and most Cypriots identify more with Europe than say they do with Asia and Africa," Coureas said.


"Thanks to its geographical position, and its population, Cyprus is on the edge of Europe, but with strong links to the Middle East," he added.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
Archaeological officer Elena Stylianou shows a sword thought to be from the period of the crusades
on the site where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol medieval castle,
now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

Coureas works with the government-backed Cyprus Research Centre, which focuses on national history and sociology. 




He argues that for the most easterly member of the European Union, history is not just about dusty schoolbooks, but about how citizens see themselves today -- part of Europe, far into the past.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
An archaeological officer shows a sword thought to be from the period of the crusades on the site
 where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol medieval castle, now housing
the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

That view matters today. The island has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus in response to an Athens-sponsored coup seeking to annex the island to Greece.


A UN-patrolled buffer zone runs between the Greek-speaking, Orthodox Christian-majority south and the breakaway Muslim-majority Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
Maria Patsalosavvi, curator of the Leventis Municipal Museum in the Cypriot capital Nicosia,
displays a crusader sword donated by Constantinos Emilianides, a private collector
 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

British military bases, which remain sovereign UK territory, cover three percent of the former British colony.


"The Crusades are very relevant today, because there are a lot of parallels," Coureas said.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
Archaeological officer Elena Stylianou shows a clay ampoule that used to contain holy water on
 the site where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol  medieval castle,
now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

"What also started in the Crusade period... was the importance of Cyprus as a base of operations for Western forces operating in the Middle East and North Africa."


He noted that the 2011 NATO-backed overthrow of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi was supported from a British airbase near Limassol.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
An archaeological officer shows a comb, said to be from the time of the crusades on the site
where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol medieval castle,
 now housing  the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

And the echoes of Crusader history even stretch to wine: the island's sweet "Commandaria" red, named by the knights, is the oldest manufactured wine and "protected designation of origin" certification, according to the Guinness World Records.


While the Templars owned Cyprus outright for only eight months before selling it to French Guy de Lusignan, the order maintained castles on the island.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
An archaeological officer shows a wedding bowl, said to be from the time of the crusades on the
site where a chapel of the Knights Templar was built at the Limassol mediaeval castle,
 now housing the Cyprus Medieval Museum in the coastal Cypriot city
 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

And, after they were finally chased out of the Holy Land, the Templars made Cyprus their headquarters in 1291.




Myths tell of how the Templars hid their wealth -- including, according to novels and films, the Holy Grail -- when the order was damned as heretical in 1307 and the knights burned at the stake.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
An aerial view of Limassol Castle, which houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum,
visible as the stone building just below the centre of this picture
 
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

The Templar fortune may have long vanished, but Stylianou hopes the ancient sites might help draw visitors back to Cyprus, whose vital tourism industry has been devastated by coronavirus restrictions.


Cyprus is dotted with castles and ruins left by the Crusaders, including the castle of Kolossi, once a key base of the Knights Hospitallers, and the dramatic fortress of Saint Hilarion.


Knights Templar legacy lives on in Cyprus
The fortress of Saint Hilarion, perched on a mountain ridge above the northern Cypriot port city
of Kyrenia, in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)
[Credit: Alex Mita/AFP]

Perched on a mountain ridge above the northern port of Kyrenia, it looks like it inspired Walt Disney's fairytale castle.


"When people can, I think they will come," Stylianou said. "Because when you are stuck at home, you miss something... and these sites bring you closer to your past."


Author: Peter Martell | Source: AFP [April 18, 2021]



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