Knights Templar – a tale of two towers

One is a Templar tower and the other is not.

In Syria, near the Lebanese border is the town of Safita and nearby is an impressive, austere tower with four metre thick walls.  A classic example of crusader building mixing a place of religious worship with the requirements of a fortress – and also somewhere to live.  Chastel Blanc is exactly that – white.  Though in Arabic it is called Burj or Bourgi (tower) Safita.

Built at the end of the twelfth century – so well within the Templar period – the knights of the Order could look out for approaching Saracens, see other Templar fortifications and gaze out on the cedar forests of what is now Lebanon – the biblical land of the Canaanites.   It was also on a well established route to the vast fortress complex of Krak des Chevaliers.

The tower was besieged on various occasions and from its top, the Templars could send carrier pigeons with messages begging for assistance. 

The Great Hall is above the church and has big chunky columns that leads one to wonder how they were hauled in to place – an incredible feat of medieval engineering.

So that’s a Templar monument worth seeing.  Now for one still worth seeing so long as you accept that it’s not a Templar construction.  Newport Tower is a seventeenth century windmill but don’t tell the residents of Rhode Island – they’re not ready for the bad news.  In the blogosphere, you can read the most far fetched stuff about Templars teaming up with Venetians, sailing from Scotland, reaching the Americas, etc…and building this “tower”.

Help for this romantic theory was given in the nineteenth century by various archaeological discoveries which were neatly twisted to assist the myth of a Templar presence in the area.  The mysterious skeleton in a suit of armour.  The rune stone with Viking script (that the Templars would never have used).  And the poet Longfellow’s adoption of this and other hokum to perpetuate the idea that New port Tower was built by Templars.

Radiocarbon dating – how boring! – points to a construction date in the seventeenth century but that hasn’t stopped another theory popping up that Chinese sailors built it in the 1420s.  Give up people – it’s an old windmill in rather poor condition. 

If you want to see a real Templar tower – get a flight to Syria.


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