In the Wake of the Templars

There are a lot secrets and mysteries in the world. Most of us dream of giving a touch at them, but not everyone has this chance.


clip_image002-1There is a legend about incredible treasures of the Red Cross knights. They say that ghosts of gallant warriors still roam about the places of their former glory and grandeur – about huge cold halls with monumental columns and dark narrow tunnels – stand on guard in caves and fortresses. Many people dream of disclosing the mystery and finding the treasure of the Order of the Crusaders. Treasure hunting can become a fascinating quest and a real adventure for the brave of nowadays.


Just imagine that you suddenly got an opportunity to be involved in one of the most mysterious pages of the history of the Near East, have a dip into the atmosphere of shadowy past, make a journey to faraway lands and experience breathtaking adventures.

It’s about the Holy Land. Once a Kingdom of the Crusaders was founded on the Holy Land. Towns and fortresses belonged to the mysterious Order of the Knights of Solomon’s Temple, also known as the Knights Templar or the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon.

Acre – Montfort Castle – Belvoir Castle – Jerusalem



Our quest of the Holy Land starts with an ancient city of Acre, where crusaders arrived from Europe on board their ships.


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Acre – one of the cities in Israel, whose history has been continued without interruption for over 4000 years. Acre has been situated at the crossroads of international trade routes and therefore has always been a historic centre. Acre has been the centre, where various cultures met and a strategic place for military campaigns. Military Knights Hospitaller Order, Knights Templar Order, and later the Teutonic Order acquired their own neighborhoods in Acre. They built there houses, warehouses, hospitals, churches and administrative buildings. More than 40 churches and 23 monasteries appeared in different parts of the city. No other city of the Crusaders has survived till nowadays in such a survival condition, as Acre.


Crusader City – hospital, dormitorium (a place to sleep) and assembly hall – are samples of early Gothic architecture. Under the assembly hall there are underground tunnels and a tunnel, leading from the city to the harbor, dug by the Crusaders – in case of a retreat.


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After descending the stairs underground, one can find oneself in a suite of vaulted halls. At the time of the Crusaders headquarters of the Knights Templars and Hospitallers was located there. There are enormous ceremonial rooms with vaulted ceilings, dark dungeons, stables, hospital rooms, underground tunnels, mazes, water collectors, medieval toilets (there was no other underground sewage system in Europe like the one in Acre built by the Templars for a few more centuries).

The past and the present are so closely interweaved in Acre that it is sometimes difficult to tell legends from real life events.


Our search leads us further – eastwards off Acre. The next landmark of our journey is a mountain fortress ‘Montfort Castle’.


Montfort Castle (French – Montfort, German- Starkenberg, Arabic – Qalaat al-Quarain)


- is the first castle and the residence of the Teutonic Order Crusaders.



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Located in the Upper Galilee in the north of Israel, it was a place where the Order conducted all its affairs in Levant for several years. But, like other castles in the Holy Land, it was captured and destroyed by the Muslims (being already condemned, the Knights held out for a week, and then accepted the offer of the leader of the Mamelukes – Sultan Baybars – an honorable surrender, the last Teutons, that survived, managed to carry out their archive and some part of their treasury from Montfort and get to Acre). According to one of the versions the Teutonic Order was formed during the Third Crusade.


The Teutons started fortifying the lands obtained into possession immediately. The Teutonic Order needed a residence that would be separate from other Orders urgently.


6clip_image002-1After Hermann von Salza, the Grand Master of the Order, formally appealed to the Pope of Rome, the Pope granted considerable financial support for the construction of the residence. Thanks to such generosity the Order managed to build an impressive fortress on the site of the former farm land. In 1229 archives and the treasury of the Order were transported to the fortress.


Montfort Castle is located 180 m above the Keziv stream level. Extant ruins provide an opportunity to get an idea of the grand scale of the medieval buildings. Some walls and the tower of the castle have survived quite well.


7clip_image002-1Almost nothing is left from former luxury, but rubble of columns. In the eastern part they are ruins of the knights’ living rooms, stone winepresses, kitchens and workshops. A little bit further are the ruins of the church, whose southern wing has survived. And near its exit there is a tower, which you can climb.


You can seen a huge fosse cut in a rock from here – 20 metres wide and 11 metres deep, the fosse is littered with fragments of the fortress and is heavily overgrown with plants – ruins of small buildings and small trails.
And the valley of Nahal Kziv, going down from the castle to the sea, is one of the greenest and most picturesque places in northern Israel.


The second castle in our journey was built by the Crusaders for protection of borders. Its name is ‘Belvoir Castle’.


Belvoir Fortress (French – ‘Belvoir’) in Israel is one of the most impressive Crusader fortresses, which has survived to nowadays. It was the major outpost of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Muslims were so much afraid of its strength, that they decided to completely destroy it, but would not give it back into the hands of the Hospitaller Order.


However, fortunately, they failed to fully implement their plans, so we have an excellent opportunity to visit the ancient fortress and appreciate all its beauty.


Originally this fortress was a feudal possession of a French nobleman named Velo, who lived in Tiberias. Velo sold the fortress to the Hospitaller Order in 1168, who appreciated the strategic position of the place and built a powerful concentric castle on the site. Under the protection of the castle walls, a garrison could easily control three main ways to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The advantages of the fortress’s location were in the fact that the Crusaders could control water resources:


- Zinbarry – the south of Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee)

- Naharayim – confluence of the Jordan and the Yarmouk rivers.

Belvoir, the Crusader fortress is located on a hill on Naphtali plateau, 20 km south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) and 500 meters above the Jordan Valley.


A graff 20 m wide and 14 m deep was constructed around the castle, which protected the walls on the three sides, while the fourth (the eastern one) was protected by a steep cliff under the lee of an additional fifth tower. The graff was dry and was meant to protect the defenders of the castle from the enemy’s siege engines. In the corners of the outwork there were powerful towers. On the upper floors of the towers were loopholes for archers. The towers were situated in such a way that it made it possible to cover all the approaches to the castle with crossfire. Each of the towers had secret passages to the graff to carry out garrison attacks or sudden sorties.


The XII-th century Arabic historian Abu Shema wrote about the Belvoir Castle: ‘It is located on the way to the stars. It is an abode of eagles and daytime refuge of the moon’. A visit to the fortress, which has survived to nowadays in good condition, can deeply impress and takes far back into the atmosphere of the time of the Crusaders.



10_clip_image002-1 The next benchmark of the route is Jerusalem. The holy city of Jerusalem was the main and essential place in the Holy Land, visiting which was a must for every Knight Templar. It is one of the oldest cities in the world: its age is more than 3,500 years. Jerusalem is the center of three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This wonderful city – a place for plenty of pilgrims at all times – is nowadays a mixture of a great number of historical and cultural attractions of many people.


It is necessary to note that it was in Jerusalem where the main residence of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land was located. At present day there are several versions about the former location of the treasury and the archive of Knights Templar in Jerusalem.

According to the first version this place is the Temple Mount. The second version mentions Mount Zion. The third version tells about a dungeon, also known as the ‘Zedekiah’s Cave’ (the largest artificial cave in Israel, its stone was used for the construction of the First and the Second Temples (also known as – King Solomon’s Mines).



9clip_image002-1While in Jerusalem, we are going to check all the three versions of location of the Knights’ Templar old treasures and archives. We are going to visit both the Temple Mount and Mount Zion and a mysterious Zedekiah’s Cave, so many legends are connected with (they told people who got there met spirits and saw a raging underground river, which actually turned out to be a small spring).


A number of traditions, recognized by all the three major religions, are connected with the Temple Mount, which make this place so holy. First of all, under the “Dome of the Rock” there is a famous “Cornerstone.” It was on this stone where the Lord put the world on the third day of its creation. It was on this stone where Abraham laid Isaac to sacrifice him to the Lord, and the Lord stopped his hand. The story of Isaac’s sacrifice is important not only for Judaism – Christians see in Abraham’s son the first failed sacrifice for mankind, the forerunner of Jesus.


It was on this stone, where Jacob slept, when he fled from the wrath of Esau. On it rose the angel of the Lord at the time of King David, when the plague struck the city. It was on this stone that King David put the Ark of the Covenant. On it there was the Holy of Holies – Kadosh ha-Kdushim (Hebrew) – at the time of King Solomon and the Second Temple. And, actually it was here, where Jerusalem itself, the holy capital of Israel, was founded by King David owing to its proximity to the holy place. King Solomon poured hundreds of cubic meters of soil here to level and strengthen the mountain before building the Temple.


The first Templars got their first residence in the southern wing of the Palace of King Baldwin II on the Temple Mount. Later, they founded a hotel for frati of the Order who used to come to Jerusalem.


On Mount Zion is the tomb of King David – the founder of Jerusalem. And also there is a place of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. This place has always been sacred for Christians – now and in the past centuries. Therefore, the main residence of the Knights Templar was eventually moved from the Temple Mount to the Zion Mount.


After the Order was banned in Europe and the knights, who we at the head of the Order, were executed, the Order acquired a semi-legal status. In this regard, there is a version that the archives and the treasury of the Order in the Holy Land were secretly transported to Zedekiah’s Cave.


The cave also served as a refuge for the knights. The Order subsequently was transformed into the Franco-Masonic Lodge. And its first meeting took place exactly in Zedekiah’s Cave. Here there are a lot of unexplored corners, corridors, passageways, alleys, which are so tempting to explore and you can imagine yourself doctor Barclay, who was the first to discover and explore the cave in 1854. The cave is enormous. It is difficult to imagine 9,000 square meters under the ground until you see them yourself: stone halls of the size of a circus ring 15 meters high under the 10-meter layer of rocks.


In addition to these three places of a possible location of the treasury and the archives of the Templar Order in the Holy Land we are also going to visit tourist attractions of the Old Town – the Wailing Wall or the Western Wall, St. Helen Lake, the Holy Sepulcher, etc.


Note

There are several accommodation options for tourists during their stay in Israel.


The first option is: a hotel in Tel Aviv (the client can choose a hotel level).


The second option is a so-called “peasant vacation.” Accommodation in the north of Israel, close to the supposed hiking routes in comfortable country houses. The houses are located in picturesque surroundings in the country.

We wish you a pleasant and informative vacation in the Holy Land.


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