The Templar Knight

Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller – what’s the difference?

Templar Hospitaller

I get asked this question so many times. What was the difference between the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller? Truthfully, there wasn’t a huge difference between the two other than their uniform, origin and areas of Europe where they were strongest. However, both orders were definitely rivals and when the Knights Templar were crushed after 1307, the Knights Hospitaller were only too happy to gobble up their assets.

FIND OUT MORE: The Knights Hospitaller in north London

The Hospitaller and Templar orders were two of several military orders that were established during the Crusades. But not all of them were focussed on the Holy Land. Some concentrated their efforts on fighting in modern Spain and Portugal while others were taking on Europe’s last pagans in the Baltic states.

Other medieval military orders included:

  • The Teutonic Knights: Or if you prefer…The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. They were founded decades after the Knights Templar in the port city of Acre in the Holy Land. After the loss of Jerusalem, they shifted their operations into central Europe and the Baltic regions fighting Turkic armies, pagans and the eastern Orthodox Russians. Hard to believe but what is now Lithuania was pagan up until the year 1387
  • Order of Santiago: Or if you prefer….The Order of St. James of the Sword. This order was most active in the crusade fought on the Iberian Peninsula between the Islamic caliphate that controlled half of modern Spain and Portugal and the crusader Christian kingdoms in the north. Ostensibly, the order’s role was to defend pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint James the apostle in Santiago de Compostela. But like the Templar, the order’s real role went far beyond pilgrim protection
  • Order of Calatrava: Another military order based in what is now Spain and performing a similar function to the Order of Santiago mentioned above. Like the Knights Templar, it essentially emerged as a military wing of the Cistercian order of monks. Calatrava was a castle based in the uncontrollable badlands between the Islamic caliphate and the crusader kingdoms in Iberia. The Templars had failed to hold the castle so this order was created to focus its entire activity on retaining Christian control
  • Order of Saint Lazarus: Otherwise known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem. Like the Knights Hospitaller, they had their origins in running hospitals for pilgrims. Their specialism was leprosy. The brothers lived by the rule of Saint Augustine. And they had houses across Europe as well as in the Holy Land. Like the Templars in the 14th century, they resisted being merged with the Knights Hospitaller in the 15th century but unlike the Templars, they were able to continue an independent existence for a while before eventually being divided up among other orders
  • Livonian Brothers of the Sword: Similar mission to the Teutonic Knights fighting pagans in the Baltic regions. They were founded in Riga – capital of modern Latvia. Eventually they were merged into the Teutonic Knights
  • Knights of Saint Thomas: This was an order for English knights founded around 1191 and disappearing with the Protestant Reformation in England. Named after St Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury and their full name was The Hospitallers of St Thomas of Canterbury at Acre. They came into being after Richard the Lionheart had taken Acre and crusader frenzy was at its height in England. In the latter part of the Crusades they retreated alongside the Knights Templar to the island of Cyprus

There are other military orders which I’m happy to answer any questions about. But these are the main ones listed above. And below is the latest edition of Templar Knight TV explaining the difference between the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Watch and give me your feedback!

Acre – Templar equivalent of Las Vegas!

Templar Acre

After the Knights Templar and the crusaders lost control of Jerusalem to Saladin and his Saracen armies, they shifted their base of operations in the Holy Land to the city of Acre. Now I’ve been to Acre (Akko as it’s now called in Hebrew) and yet still didn’t appreciate its massive importance and sheer wealth.

This wasn’t some sleepy backwater. In many ways, Acre was more important than Jerusalem. It was a playground for the medieval super rich. Had a great port. Busy markets. And a surprising degree of trade and contact between Christians and Muslims. Acre was a sinful, thriving, cosmopolitan fleshpot on the Mediterranean.

The latest edition of History Today carries an eye opening article on just how amazing Acre was. This wasn’t just a Templar fortress with some knights milling around waiting for the enemy to turn up. It was almost like Las Vegas, London and Cairo rolled into one. It was deemed to be so licentious that a church official called Jacques de Vitry was sent by the Pope to become the city’s bishop (and later cardinal) and sort out the dubious morals of the place.

He was appalled by Acre. Describing it in apocalyptic terms as “like a monster or a beast, having nine heads each fighting the other’. Every vice was present. Prostitution was rampant plus black magic and murder. Worse, in his view, the Christian community in this crusader city had gone very native. They spoke Arabic, wore beards and veiled their wives.

Templar Acre was truly cosmopolitan

What poor old Jacques was finding difficult to handle was the blend of different types of Christianity in the east. In western Europe, there was just the Roman Catholic church headed by the Pope. But in the east, there were Christian churches that went right back to the decades after Christ’s death headed by patriarchs in Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch. They were Armenians and Syrians with their own rites and interpretations of scripture totally at odds with Rome.

It’s often been conjectured by the conspiracy theory end of Templar thought to what degree the knights were influenced by these heretical forms of Christianity. The kinds of strange looking Christian that shocked and horrified Jacques De Vitry. Because not only eastern Christians but Muslim traders all mixed together in the markets. The crusades going on outside the walls had no bearing on this at all. Life, love, making money and having fun continued while holy war was being waged down the road.

An Arab traveller, Ibn Jubayr, was astonished by what he saw in the year 1184:

The soldiers engage themselves in their war, while the people are at peace and the world goes to him who conquers.

The impression I got from the History Today article was that it almost didn’t matter that Jerusalem had fallen. Because Acre was the bustling and super-wealthy hub of the whole region. It rivalled Constantinople for the amount of money pouring through its ports and warehouses. It was dotted with the mansions of the crusader super-wealthy. And most shocking – right under the noses of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller – commerce with neighbouring Muslims boomed.

Contrary to what you might imagine happened in that era, Christian merchants would even pop over to Muslim-controlled Damascus to shop for ivory from India, musk from Tibet and….I kid you not…rhubarb from China. And this is the most incredible revelation for me. The crusaders even bought their own weapons from Muslim traders in Damascus. In the same way that modern wars often involve arms trading on the black market between people you might assume should be enemies.

Templar and Hospitaller rivalry in Acre

Both the Knights Templar and Hospitaller built impressive fortresses and a network of tunnels underneath the city. Decades before Acre eventually fell to Muslim control, the rival Christian military orders fought each other when Venetian and Genoese merchants clashed over trading rights. This grubby episode wrecked a large part of the city.

FIND OUT MORE: The Siege of Acre

The Knights Templar had their own commercial interests that included refining sugar – a luxury product right down to modern times. And they conducted their trade with a coinage minted in the city that mimicked the Saracen coinage. This horrified the pope who demanded they remove the Arabic script on their coins – which they didn’t.

The Mystery of the Last Knight Templar

last knight templar

Watch the latest edition of Templar Knight TV to find out whether Jacques de Molay really was the Last Knight Templar. Most historians would assert that he was the final Grand Master in a line stretching back two centuries. But others have argued that De Molay appointed a successor and there has been an unbroken line to the present day.

The idea that the last Knight Templar grand master secretly appointed a successor before he was burned at the stake in the year 1314 emerged in the 18th century. In 1804, a French doctor called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat even publicly declared that he was the latest in a long line of grand masters going back to Jacques de Molay.

DISCOVER: Where was Jacques de Molay executed?

Palaprat produced a charter dating back to the 14th century with an unbroken line of 22 grand masters leading down to himself. Of course, this was greeted with some scepticism at the time and ever since.

However, Templar organisations sprang up accepting the veracity of the charter and vowing to continue the Templar order. Some of these bodies still exist today – but unfortunately are sometimes in conflict with each other.

The charter is referred to as the “Larmenius Charter”, the name of the Templar Grand Master allegedly appointed by De Molay. Larmenius was said to be the preceptor of Cyprus and he was succeeded by a Templar knight from Alexandria in modern day Egypt. If this is true, then De Molay was not the last Knight Templar though the order went underground for five hundred years after this death.

Watch the video to find out more!

The Enduring Mystery of the Holy Grail

Holy Grail Templar

Join me on Episode 4 of Templar Knight TV to investigate the Enduring Mystery of the Holy Grail. What exactly was this sacred object – a cup, a stone from Lucifer’s crown or the bloodline of Jesus Christ? I take a good look at the competing theories.

Those of you who watched the drama series Knightfall, will be familiar with the Templar Grail quest. Some scoff at the idea saying there’s no evidence the knights were after the cup that held the blood of Jesus after his crucifixion. Others claim the Templars were specifically created to find and protect the Grail – but that it was not a cup, but the bloodline of Jesus.

DISCOVER MORE: Templar Grail Quest

While others still adhere to the notion that the Grail was a stone that once sat in the crown worn by Lucifer. And when he was cast out of heaven with his friends for rebelling against God, it popped out and landed on Earth. The stone was revered by the Cathar heretics and was said to give eternal life.

Also – it was claimed that the Knights Templar worshipped heads in their secret rituals. During the trials of Templar knights after their arrest in the year 1307, many confessed to having venerated a “head” – a head of what exactly?

So in the second part of Templar Knight TV, I look over the statements made by these knights. I’m particularly fascinated by the ghoulish story that the head in question was the mouldering remains of the first Templar grand master Hugh de Payens.

Join me then on Templar Knight TV and let’s go Holy Grail hunting!

Mysterious origins of the Knights Templar

Templar origins

In Episode 3 of Templar Knight TV – I examine competing theories over the origins of the Knights Templar. In particular, was the order of knights set up by a shadowy organisation called the Priory of Sion? Or was it, as medieval chroniclers at the time claimed, a band of knights sworn to protect pilgrims on the roads into Jerusalem?

The Priory of Sion is the conspiracy theory that refuses to die. In the vlog that you can click on below, I race through the main points: That Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had children, who were whisked off to France. The Priory was set up centuries later to protect the descendants of those children who the Catholic church wanted to kill off. Why? Because the church saw them as a threat to Vatican legitimacy and power.

The Priory created the Knights Templar as its military wing to defend the descendants of Jesus. The origins of the Knights Templar according to this theory was to provide a bodyguard service to the holy bloodline. This was in the hope that one day they would establish a global Christian monarchy. But things went a bit wrong between the Priory and the Knights Templar and they went their separate ways in the year 1188.

None of this explains why successive popes showered privileges on the Knights Templar. Did the church not know the true nature of the Templars? Indeed, Rome gave the Templars almost complete immunity from the laws of the countries they were based in. They only had to answer directly to Rome. That hardly smacks of an organisation set up to crush the church!

I mean at some point, you would assume that the church would have guessed that their darling crusader knights on whom they had bestowed such largesse were in fact their mortal enemy working for a clandestine anti-papal organisation in the wings? Yet for two hundred years, we’re asked to believe that Rome didn’t wise up to this.

OK – they were eventually crushed by Pope Clement. But only after the King of France had metaphorically placed his hand at the pope’s throat. His soldiers had literally done that and more to the previous pope, Boniface, contributing to his early death. So Clement wasn’t about to show bravery in the face of French demands to close down the Templars.

FIND OUT MORE: In-depth investigation of the Priory of Sion

As I’ve blogged before, the Priory of Sion appears to have been a hoax dreamed up in the 1950s by a group of eccentric French chaps. One of them even admitted that the evidence for the Priory’s existence as an ancient fraternity was completely made up. Nevertheless, other authors since have sidestepped this inconvenient truth to state that, regardless, the Priory existed and had a hand in the origins of the Knights Templar.

In the vlog above – episode 3 of Templar Knight TV, I look at two books that have perpetuated interest in the Priory of Sion and they are: The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Richard Leigh, Michael Baigent and Henry Lincoln and – more famously these days – The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Dan Brown’s novel came out twenty years after Holy Blood Holy Grail and continues many of themes in the earlier 1980s blockbuster.

So much so that Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent unsuccessfully sued Dan Brown’s publisher alleging breach of copyright. Brown acknowledged his debt to Holy Blood Holy Grail even calling one of the characters Leigh Teabing. Leigh is Richard Leigh’s surname while Teabing is an anagram of Baigent. I remember thinking the name was a bit odd the first time I read Brown’s novel but of course, it all now makes sense.

Indeed in one scene where Teabing is talking to Sophie, he refers directly to Holy Blood Holy Grail saying it was a book that came out when she was very young. And it “finally brought the idea of Christ’s bloodline into the mainstream”.

Anyway, I don’t want to give my whole vlog away!! Click on the link above and enjoy ten minutes of speculation on the origins of the Knights Templar – you will not be disappointed.

Evidence the Knights Templar got to America!

Templars in America

The latest episode of Templar Knight TV looks at claims the Knights Templar got to America. It’s alleged they managed to do this a hundred years before Christopher Columbus reached the New World. But is there any truth to this?

The story starts with the Templars’ demise. It’s 1307 and they are being rounded up, imprisoned and some are burned to death. Little wonder some Knights Templar may have fled. A popular theory runs that when word got out that they were doomed, some knights transported treasure from the Paris Temple to the port of La Rochelle. From there, ships took the surviving Templars to Scotland. And then what happened?

Well, I was involved in a programme last year called America Unearthed presented by Scott Wolter. He is a forensic geologist and his analysis of rock carvings in the United States and Scotland has convinced him the knights made the long journey. With the help of a Scottish aristocrat called Henry Sinclair, they crossed the Atlantic to Nova Scotia.

As you will all know, proof that the Knights Templar got to America is offered in the form of items found at Oak Island in Nova Scotia; an enigmatic tower at Newport, Rhode Island and what is claimed to be the engraving of a knight in Westford, Massachusetts. But sceptics abound. They’re not convinced by the Money Pit at Oak Island, think the Newport Tower is a 17th century windmill and that the Westford Knight is a trick of the eye on a glacial boulder.

FIND OUT MORE: Did the Knights Templar take the Holy Grail to America?

As for the Sinclair connection, sceptics point out that these Scottish nobles testified against the Templars at their trial. Far from being good friends and allies of the knights, they had little sympathy and turned on them in their hour of need.

DISCOVER: The Westford Knight is disappearing!

Nevertheless, the argument rages on that the Knights Templar got to America. I go to Rosslyn chapel where some have pointed to images that look like maize – a crop that didn’t exist in the Old World before Columbus. And in the basement sacristy, lines on the wall are claimed to be a map. I had exclusive access when the chapel was empty to film for myself and you can see what I found.

I do hope you can spare a quarter of an hour to get your weekly Templar dose!

Where is the Ark of the Covenant located today?

TemplarKnight TV

Join me on the first episode of TemplarKnight TV – a new YouTube show. It discusses all things Templar related and you are invited to contribute! In this first episode – I ask: Where is the Ark of the Covenant located today?

Well, it’s been missing for 2,500 years. So where is the Ark of the Covenant and did it really possess awesome, deathly power? I chart the history of the Ark from its beginnings with the prophet Moses. Then the decision by King Solomon to house it in the Temple he built in Jerusalem. The subsequent destruction of that Temple by the Babylonians and the Ark’s disappearance at that time.

Then we look at the failure of King Herod to find it for his second, very opulent version of the Temple. And how the Romans couldn’t locate the Ark of the Covenant when they flattened Herod’s Temple. That was after the Jews revolted against Roman rule.

Launch of TemplarKnight TV

This investigation into the Ark of the Covenant is part of a new YouTube series I’m launching called TemplarKnight TV. It will accompany this blog giving you filmed reports on the history and mystery surrounding the Knights Templar. I’m also keen for you to submit your own thoughts, ideas, films and interviews. If you have something amazing to say, I’ll even record a Zoom interview with you and include it on the show. Just contact me at:

After looking at the Ark of the Covenant, I continue with a film report on the city of Tomar in Portugal. This was the headquarters of the Knights Templar in that country and some believe – it’s where they buried their secret treasure. In 2017, I filmed with the History channel in Tomar seeing if we could locate a cave that may have been used for that purpose. Find out more on the show!

DISCOVER: The Ark of the Covenant and the Knights Templar

And finally, I update you on my latest TV outing in nearly every episode of the latest season of Forbidden History. That includes episodes on the Bermuda Triangle, Crystal Skulls and Noah’s Ark.

So – please tune in and tell me what you think. It’s a new show and I may have got some things right and other things wrong. You tell me. But what I’m keen to do is make sure YOU are part of the TemplarKnight TV’s future. Share your thoughts and let’s create something amazing together.

Ark of the Covenant and the Knights Templar!

Ark of the Covenant

For centuries – millennia even – the Ark of the Covenant has fascinated millions of people. A gold vessel that could annihilate opposing armies when carried into battle. A cursed object that brought death to those who looked within. An elusive sacred relic that simply disappeared never to be seen again five hundred years before the birth of Christ.

So – what was the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was a box made of acacia wood, gilded in gold and with two winged cherubim on the top. This magical but deadly container kept the Ten Commandments and other holy relics. It also included a pot of the manna that fell from heaven when the Israelites were escaping Egypt. And the rod of Aaron – which if you recall turned into a serpent before the Pharaoh.

But for 2,500 years, the Ark of the Covenant has gone missing. It’s absence has gripped the imagination of explorers because the Ark was believed to have supernatural powers. In the Old Testament, we’re told that when the Philistines – dread enemies of the Israelites – captured the Ark, it toppled the statue of their pagan god, Dagon. Then it inflicted “emorods” on the people – which sounds suspiciously like haemorrhoids!

The distraught Philistines sent the Ark back to the Jews.

Now, God had warned his Jewish flock never to look inside the Ark (you’ll remember the consequence of doing that from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark). But they couldn’t resist a quick peek, just to make sure the Philistines hadn’t messed around with the contents. According to the bible, God punished this transgression by killing “fifty thousand and three score and ten men” on the spot. According to my maths, that’s 50,070 people – just because a handful of them looked inside a box.

The Ark of the Covenant housed in the Jerusalem Temple

The Jews built their first temple under King Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant. It was placed in a special room protected by a thick curtain across the entrance called the Holy of Holies. This was believed to be a space where God literally dwelt. Access was denied to everybody but the priests, on pain of death.

In 2019, I was in Lisbon – the Portuguese capital – and visited an antiquarian bookshop I know very well. The owner had a folder stuffed with 18th century prints depicting the Temple of Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant. Well of course, I had to buy it. I won’t disclose the price! But here are some pictures below before we continue with the story…

In the year 587 BCE, the temple of Solomon was destroyed during an invasion by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. At this point, the Ark disappeared. Five hundred years later and Babylon had been conquered by the Persians. The Persian king, Cyrus, allowed the Jews to return home but the Ark did not reappear. Even when King Herod, in the years immediately before the birth of Christ, gave the temple a massive makeover – there was still no Ark.

In 73 CE, the Romans levelled Herod’s temple ending the First Jewish Revolt and celebrated its destruction on the Arch of Titus in Rome. You can still see Roman soldiers carting off goods from the smouldering ruins. But no Ark of the Covenant. And if the Romans had got their hands on such a prized possession of the rebellious Jews, they’d have depicted it.

DISCOVER: Cannibalism in the Middle Ages

The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant

Why would the Knights Templar have wanted the Ark of the Covenant? Well, there’s no evidence that they DID want it. But plenty of conjecture. The idea is that being a band of determined Christian warriors, they would have loved to get their hands on a divine weapon of mass destruction. It certainly would have brought the Crusades to an early end.

There are a number of theories including claims that the Templars found the Ark at Petra in Jordan or in Ethiopia. Of course, they may have found it under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – the platform on which Herod’s temple was built. The rumours swirled that the knights were always busy digging under the stone platform looking for holy relics and could they have found the hiding place of the Ark?

Among the treasure hunters seeking the Ark were the Nazis. Himmler had an obsession with the occult and this is central to the plot of the 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark. But oh dear, look what happened when the Third Reich decided to have a look inside…

Castles with hidden Templar treasure

templar castle treasure

It all starts with a night flight from La Rochelle… The Knights Templar, once the poster boys of the Crusades, had been outlawed by the Pope and the King of France. They were being rounded up and imprisoned. Their assets were being seized. But in one last clandestine act, they move sacred and vast treasure from their fortress HQ in Paris. In carts, this tremendous wealth was taken to castles to be hidden away. Or loaded on to ships bound for far off lands.

Well, that’s the tale many would like you to believe….so, if the Templars did hide their treasure in castles around Europe, which ones would they have chosen? I’ve had a go at answering that question. Read on…


Otto Rahn was a Nazi obsessed with the Holy Grail. In the 1930s, he travelled around Europe in a feverish quest to find that sacred object. During his odyssey, he kept a diary which he published with the curious title: Lucifer’s Court: A Heretic’s Journey in search of the Light Bringers. One place that drew him like a moth to the flame was Montségur, nestled in the French Pyrenees mountains.

In Lucifer’s Court, Rahn heads for Montségur in his grail quest. This was the centre of a rebellion by a subversive Christian group called the Cathars who rejected the authority of the Pope. Across southern France they resisted the Roman Catholic church in the 13th century and developed their own rites and rituals. While there, Rahn met another explorer who reported that a vast amount of Cathar treasure was buried nearby as well as an original copy of the Book of Revelation, the final part of the New Testament.

In the year 1244, forces loyal to the Catholic church stormed the castle and burned over 200 Cathars at the foot of the mountain. Another 400 men, women and children were imprisoned at the still very impressive castle at Carcassone (though tarted up a lot in the 19th century).

A shepherd told Rahn that the Grail had been at the castle. It was not a cup but a stone once embedded in the crown of Lucifer (read my other blog posts on this). The Pope wanted to restore that stone to Lucifer’s crown. To thwart this diabolical plan, a female Cathar leader called Esclarmonde had thrown the stone into the gorge below which opened magically and swallowed it. She promptly turned into a dove and flew away before she could be captured.

The castle today is still perched on the mountain top and dominates the town below. However, a large part of it dates to after the medieval period. That’s because the forces that overran the Cathars also pulled down their castle. But, there’s enough there to give you an idea of what it was once like and the surrounding area is dripping with history.

Rahn’s interest in the Holy Grail eventually brought him to the attention of Heinrich Himmler. Their shared interest in the occult resulted in Rahn’s medieval detective work being supported by the Nazis and his induction into the SS – of which Himmler was the leader. But, Rahn’s open homosexuality eventually proved to be his downfall. Himmler was sending gay people to concentration camps and Rahn had to do a spell as a guard at the Dachau camp. In the end, his frozen body was found on an alpine hillside in 1939 with suicide recorded as the official verdict.

If this all seems slightly familiar – Otto Rahn’s escapades informed, to a degree, the Indiana Jones movie series. Below is an image of Rahn, on the left, wondering if he’d found something…


This castle is still very intact with its octagonal tower and forbidding walls. It was built by the Normans who were also ruling England at the time. That was in the 12th century around the time the Knights Templar were founded. Fast forward to the early 14th century and we have the same Knights Templar in deep trouble. The castle was now within the kingdom of France and King Philip the Fair had imprisoned as many knights as his forces could capture.

Some of the seized Templars were held in the dungeon at Gisors ahead of being tortured for confessions and then executed. Miserable and probably disease ridden, they carved very odd graffiti on the walls. Some believe it shows treasure being carted away from the Paris Temple before the king’s soldiers arrived. Presumably then taken to the port of La Rochelle and spirited away.

Or was it? Because in 1929, the caretaker at Gisors castle claimed he found a room brimming with priceless riches. But when the local authorities turned up to investigate, there was nothing. Not one gold trinket. He was duly fired. However, nearly forty years later, the French government ordered a new dig with the army drafted in to help. Yet still no Templar treasure.

FIND OUT MORE: Templar treasure hidden at Gisors


The castle at Acre in modern Israel is a stunning piece of medieval architecture, even in its diminished state today. I visited in 2012 and walked through the tunnels that snake under the castle. A recent investigation by a team led by Dr Albert Lin and filmed by National Geographic found a network of underground passageways under the city streets. They appear to lead to a so-called “Treasure Tower” where the team believe the knights hoarded their wealth.

Acre held out against Muslim armies during the Crusades up until the year 1291. It then fell after a bloody siege and that loss effectively ended the Crusades. In reality, it also set the clock ticking on the end of the Knights Templar as well. Without a mission in the Middle East, their whole reason to exist was fatally undermined.

The castle is now in the Israeli city of Akko. Dr Lin’s team used lasers and hi-tech detectors and were able to recreate the original fortress. Much of it has now been absorbed into the later city or has been covered by the sea. You can actually see the walls under the waves at the shoreline, which is quite a sight.


I’ve said it before on this blog and I’ll happily say it again – nowhere in the world evokes the Knights Templar as much as Tomar in Portugal. If you’re based in Lisbon on holiday, take a two hour train to Tomar and stay overnight at the Hotel Dos Templarios. You then walk across the main road and up a steep and winding path to the castle at the top of the hill.

What confronts you is a 12th century octagonal Templar tower – called a ‘charola’ – bolted on to a later 16th century palatial convent. Surrounding the area is a wall with towers dating back to the Templar period. Today, the town of Tomar is in the valley nestled around the river Nabao. In the 12th century, the townspeople very wisely lived behind the sturdy walls built by the Templars.

Tomar was in the borderlands between the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia and the Muslim caliphate that still ruled the southern half of the peninsula. This region changed hands between Christian and Muslim rulers depending on who had the military advantage. In one confrontation, a vast Muslim army fought the Templars at the walls and one of the entrances to the castle is still called – the Gate of Blood.

FIND OUT MORE: Portuguese Templar hero Gualdim Pais

When the Templars were outlawed after 1307, the king of Portugal simply rebranded them as the Order of Christ. As such, they continued to occupy Tomar for centuries. This has led to speculation that the knights would have brought their treasure to this castle as it was protected by a friendly king. Local historians have claimed there is a network of tunnels linking the castle to other key sites in Tomar such as the church of Santa Maria Olival, where the Portuguese Templar grand masters were buried.

FIND OUT MORE: Me filming with the History channel at Tomar


Back to the Cathars! Le Bézu castle is part of a network of Cathar fortifications in southern France. It’s also in the same region as the village of Rennes-le-Chateau – a place heavily associated with the Knights Templar and their treasure. The now ruined castle was home to the Lords of Albedun. It’s claimed by some historians that this noble family were both keen supporters of the Knights Templar and adopters of the Cathar heresy.

Le Bézu and Rennes-le-Chateau are two high points among five in the area that are referred to as the Pentagram of Mountains. They were made famous by the author Henry Lincoln in the 1970s who popularised the idea of the Templars being founded by a shadowy organisation called the Priory of Sion. He co-wrote the best seller The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail that influenced Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. I’ve blogged in massive detail about this before so click on the link directly below this paragraph for the full story.

FIND OUT MORE: Rennes-le-chateau and the Priory of Sion

Throughout the 20th century, there have been official and unofficial excavations around these castles. Some digging, unfortunately, has caused damage. I’d personally urge people not to turn up with their spades and metal detectors. But at the same time, please visit these fascinating Templar castles and see if you can sniff out some treasure.

Hagia Sophia – set to become a mosque again

Hagia Sophia mosque

In February this year, I went twice to Istanbul and visited the Hagia Sophia on each occasion (and last year!). This incredible structure was built as a Christian basilica by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. Then after a thousand years, it became a mosque for five hundred years when the Ottomans invaded. Since the 1930s it has been a museum – but the Turkish government now wants to convert it back into a mosque.

Watch my iPhone video tour above – which I now wish I’d filmed on a proper TV camera.

The Hagia Sophia is set to be converted back into a mosque after a court ruled this week that the 1934 decision to turn it into a museum was illegal. President Tayyip Erdogan, who has been agitating for this move, has now signed a decree to end its museum status. The Hagia Sophia’s social media sites have already been removed. And a mosque service has been broadcast from inside the Hagia Sophia.

This has sparked outrage around the world. Secularists wanted the basilica to remain as a museum – complying with the wishes of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Christian orthodox church is appalled as the Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian place of worship by the eastern Christian Byzantines – and not as a mosque. And many Muslims will also be wondering why such an antagonistic move has to be made when Istanbul is not short of mosques.

History of the Hagia Sophia

The first Roman emperor who identified himself as a Christian was Constantine. He founded the city of Constantinople as the new capital of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The reason for moving the capital from Rome eastwards was that Constantinople was better positioned at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. This was a time when the main threat to the Romans came from Sassanid ruled Persia. His son, who ruled as Constantius II (317-361AD), built the first basilica.

That was destroyed during riots in the year 404. Another basilica was built by the emperor Theodosius II and inaugurated in 415. You can still see some remains of that building scattered around the current Hagia Sophia. The Theodosius version burnt down in the violent Nika riots of 532 under the emperor Justinian. He then set about building a vast edifice that could not tumble. What you see today is his achievement. A vast dome and the walls covered in incomparable gold mosaics.

The Roman empire split with the west falling to the “barbarians” in the fifth century AD while the east continued and we call it the Byzantine empire – though nobody did at the time. They thought they were the Romans and nothing else. And the Hagia Sophia was THEIR Christian glory. It was rocked by earthquakes and repaired. In the eighth century it lost many of its ornate mosaics when some Christians, including the emperor, decided that human imagery was sinful – what was called iconoclasm.

During the Fourth Crusade in 1204 – Constantinople was sacked by crusaders funded by the Republic of Venice. This was a disgraceful act where soldiers claiming to represent Christ attacked other Christians and burnt their city. To add insult to a huge injury, a prostitute was crowned as patriarch on the throne in the Hagia Sophia. It then became a Catholic cathedral for a while. Then the Byzantines kicked the crusaders out and it went back to being an orthodox Christian place of worship.

FIND OUT MORE: The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople

The Ottoman invasion and Hagia Sophia becomes a mosque

Then in 1453, the Ottoman Turks invaded and Constantinople had new Muslim rulers. The Byzantine empire was over. The last emperor disappeared in battle and his body was never found. The Hagia Sophia became a mosque. And you can see in my film above how the Christian basilica was changed to adapt to the new religion.

FIND OUT MORE: Constantinople – glorious Byzantine capital

After the First World War (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire, which had sided with Germany, collapsed. Turkey became a republic occupying a much smaller territory than before. Its new ruler, Ataturk, wanted the country to modernise and adopt a more nationalist and secular frame of mind. As part of that move, he declared that the Hagia Sophia would no longer be a mosque but a museum.

And so it has remained until this week. How do I feel about this? Depressed. This is a purely symbolic gesture and a measure that could harm the tourist economy of Istanbul at a time when it needs to be attracting more visitors. I do hope that good sense prevails. And I groan at the thought of any damage that could be done to the fabric of the building.

We do live in very strange times. Below some photos from my visit in February this year.