The Knights Templar were one of the most important Catholic military orders in history. The rise to power of the Templars and their eventual downfall is the subject of many studies, legends, and conspiracy theories. Their mark on history remains fascinating. For a new documentary, National Geographic’s Dr Albert Lin took the latest archaeological tech to Israel to investigate one of the most important Templar sites and see if there's anything new we can learn.
The Templars' history is tied to the Holy Land and the Crusades, so it is not surprising that the documentary is set in the city of Acre, a port in modern-day Israel. This was the base of operations of the fabled knights after their headquarters in Jerusalem was lost when Saladin conquered the city in 1187.
Acre remained under the control of the Templars for just over 100 years and Lin and the archaeological team investigated what remains, both visible and hidden, of the Templars' headquarters. The team employed a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) device, which allowed them to image what remained buried underground without having to dig.
“I’m in Israel in search of the Knights Templar. These warrior monks are the stuff of legend, and so is their gold,” Dr Lin said in the documentary. “During the Crusades the Knights Templar battle for God, gold, and glory. Somewhere in the modern city of Acre lies their command center, and possibly their treasure.”
The team uncovered tunnels sprawling underneath the city as well as a guardhouse, showing how the Templars may have moved their treasures from the port to their treasure tower. What remains of the tower, however, is buried under dirt and rock. Currently, though, there is no plan to excavate any of this as we have no confirmation the Templars’ treasure is actually there.
The order left Acre in 1291 when the city was lost and moved its headquarters to Limassol on the island of Cyprus. Within just a decade, their foothold in the region was gone. With the complete loss of control of the Holy Land by the Crusaders, support for the military order began to wane, and the knights' fortune turned.
When France’s King Philip IV took power, the royal family was deeply indebted to the Templars, but the king decided he didn’t have to pay back anything if there was no order. Rumors spread about the knights' eroding public trust and without this support the king arrested and tortured members of the order, producing false confessions for the benefit of Pope Clement V, who officially disbanded the Knights Templar in 1312.