The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were members of a Roman Catholic monastic order of “warrior priests” who came to Israel between the 12th and 14th centuries as part of the Crusades. After the First Crusade captured Jerusalem, several French knights wanted to protect the waves of European pilgrims, en route to Israel, from Muslim attacks. In 1119, Hugues de Payens gathered eight knights, all relatives by blood or marriage, and established a military order called The Poor Knights of Christ who were devoted to this holy cause. In 1129, the Catholic Church officially endorsed them as a monastic order.

When King Baldwin II of Jerusalem garrisoned them in his palace (inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, near Solomon’s Stables) to guard the site of the Temple Mount, they received the name that stuck–Templar Knights. They successfully solicited donations and volunteers, and their reputation as fierce warriors grew with their well-known uniform of a red cross on a white background. For their day, they were the elite fighters, committed to defending the faithful and Jerusalem, and used superior tactics with great success. Despite impressive victories in the Holy Lands, fearlessly fighting alongside England’s King Richard the Lionhearted and King Louis VII of France, the Muslims proved to be too much for foreign fighters in a protracted conflict.

After they lost Jerusalem in 1187 to Saladin, the Templars went to live in Akko (Acre), where they built a strong fortress with an impressive escape tunnel to the city’s port for a quick exit to the sea. At the western edge of the Akko tunnel is the main fortress of the Templars. Two massive towers protected its entrance, with almost 30-foot thick walls and two more towers capped with golden lions on top. As you walk the tunnel today, something you should not miss while visiting Israel, a series of short films are projected onto the walls to tell the story of the Knights Templar in Israel. The 1200-foot tunnel was only recently discovered (1994) and is quite impressive, carved out of solid bedrock, with the upper section made in a semi-barreled dome of hand-hewn stones.