The planning was meticulous. Signed and sealed, laden with accusation and instruction, the letters were sent by the king to local authorities throughout his realm. They were to act exactly one month later, simultaneously and at the crack of dawn — on a Friday the 13th, as it happened. The targets were unaware of what lay in store, their leader even spending time with the king and seeming to enjoy his favor. The hour came, and armed men launched their surprise, summarily carrying off hundreds to the king’s dungeons, and many ultimately to their deaths. It was a performance reminiscent of a Stalinist purge or Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives.
The year was 1307, and the month was October. The king was Philip IV of France. And his victims were all members of the order of “the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Jerusalem,” better known as the Knights Templar — or simply the Templars. Over a period of two centuries, this charitable and military order of Crusaders had grown in power and wealth. At a stroke, and with the acquiescence of a weakened pope, Philip destroyed the order, imprisoning its leaders and burning many at the stake. “God will avenge our death,” said James of Molay, the last Grand Master, as he faced the flames on an island in the Seine.
And, in a way, God has. The Templars live on in popular culture — from the video game “Assassin’s Creed” to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Philip IV does not.
Dan Jones, the author of well-regarded histories of the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses, obviously gives no credence to the conspiratorial fantasies that have been spun around the Templars over the years. No, they do not guard the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, and never did. No, a surviving remnant does not protect the identities of the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdelene. No, the order does not secretly run the world — that’s the Trilateral Commission or maybe Skull and Bones. In “The Templars,” Jones relegates this curious afterlife to an epilogue. His aim is to present a gripping historical narrative, and in this he succeeds.
The raw material is rich. Founded by a French knight in 1119, after the successful First Crusade, the Templars began with a mission to protect throngs of pilgrims now traveling to the Holy Land. The members of the order wore white robes with a distinctive red cross, embraced personal poverty and lived according to a regime codified by the great Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. A papal charter was followed by a papal decree granting the Templars an exemption from taxes and local laws, effectively creating a transnational entity whose members could go anywhere. As Jones describes it, the order comes across as a combination of Blackwater, Goldman Sachs, Kroll International, FedEx, Fort Knox, Bechtel and, well, the Red Cross.
The financial acumen of the Templars was considerable. In the post-“Da Vinci Code” era, visitors to London often make their way to the Temple Church, between Fleet Street and the Thames, built in the mid-12th century. The circular nave — typical of Templar churches — is the oldest part of the structure and was used as a repository by English nobles and by the Crown itself. “By the 1240s,” Jones writes, “the order was providing diverse financial services to some of the richest and most powerful figures across Christendom.” The Templars “guaranteed debts, ransomed hostages and prisoners of war on credit, and could arrange very large loans — such as the one made in 1240 to Baldwin II, the emperor of Constantinople, and secured by his very own fragment of the True Cross.”
The order’s military record was mixed. In 1187, an army of Templars and others, under King Guy of Jerusalem, was surrounded and slaughtered by the sultan Saladin in his successful campaign to restore Palestine to the Muslim fold. Saladin had played his hand skillfully: stopping up wells even as he enticed the Christians farther into the searing flats; pausing long enough to allow dehydration to take its toll; then moving in for the kill. Some 200 Templars were captured, and Saladin beheaded them all.
That was an unhappy episode, but the Templars had another century of influential life in front of them, until that Friday the 13th in 1307. Philip IV was pious, paranoid, unscrupulous and mercurial — and deeply in debt to the Templars. It was all too easy to manufacture charges of heresy, blasphemy and sexual depravity: urinating on the cross, having sex on the altar — the usual allegations. The power and secretiveness of the Templars only fueled the charges. The decisive blow was struck in France, but within a few years the Templars were extinct throughout Christendom, except in the popular imagination.
“The themes of the Templar story resonate powerfully today,” Jones observes. He rightly does not pontificate about this and draws no specious parallels, but the reader can’t help recognizing familiar territory. There is the preoccupation in the West with what we now call the Middle East. Religions collide and atrocities abound. Cries of “Allahu akhbar” pierce the din of battle. The power of states is threatened, or seen to be threatened, by unaccountable forces with global tentacles. Information is unreliable and easily manipulated, allowing conspiracy theories to take root and spread.
Nothing is left of the Templars except words on parchment and ruins in stone. An older crusading order with certain similarities, the Knights Hospitaller, does still exist, after a fashion — its genetic progeny are the Knights of Malta. They have a palatial headquarters on the Aventine in Rome. They have a papal charter and enjoy quasi-sovereign status. They can issue their own passports. They maintain diplomatic relations with a hundred countries. And, like the Templars, they do not rule the world.
By Cullen Murphy in The Washington Post
Tom Cullen Knightfall Interview:
Did you have to do any extra training or had you already known how to use the sword?
Tom Cullen: “In drama school in the UK we do a lot of fight training, and so I’d done a lot of sword training prior. And,I found that I had the propensity for killing people, ironically. (Laughing) So, I’d actually done extra exams and had some practice while studying in drama school but that was about eight years ago. I hadn’t swung a sword in about eight years, so it was all very new in many respects.
The stunt team that we had was led by an amazing Frenchman, Cédric Proust. He is a top stuntman and fight choreographer. He really put us through it and we had a great swordsman called Roman. The entire team wanted us to be at a very, very high level. Every day on set they would drill us and I did about three months of physical training beforehand to get myself and my body ready for the fighting portion of my character and the series.
We also did a two and a half week boot camp where we would walk in the morning and do some circuit training and then do fighting in the afternoon. Later, we’d go horse riding and do some more sword training and then we would go to the gym. When it came to the actual filming, because there were a lot of fight scenes I was filming 14 hours a day doing scene work and then I’d have to do my fight training either on my lunch breaks or on the weekends. Any kind of second in the day that I did have I would fill it by going up to the stables and ride.
Working on Knightfall was a full-on experience because the team wanted it to look authentic and real, and when you watch the fights they are absolutely incredible. I’m so proud of all of the actors who’ve participated in the battles because we’ve really done a great job. The stunt guys have really trained us well and they’re epic battles and muddy and gruesome. And they feel very real, which I think is something I’m very proud of.
There is an incredible battle sequence in the final episode which is the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. We had like 400 guys on a battlefield fighting for about two weeks. It’s epic and amazing. And the real geek, nerd in me – because I am one – just can’t believe that I’m in it. I’m extremely proud of it.”
How much research did you do?
Tom Cullen: “Whenever I have done a historical piece, I think it’s imperative that you have to bathe yourself in as much literature to understand the world as much as possible, so that when you get onto the set, the world is just vibrating inside you. I wanted to know as much about the Crusades and about the politics at the time. Not just the politics in Europe or in the Middle East, but also Mongolian politics because they had a huge influence.
You just need to immerse yourself in the world and know everything that these men would have known, understand every single permutation and the political permutation that is affected where they are at this point and what drives these men and women to do the things that they do. I think that’s something that you have to do, otherwise it’s just lazy and in a way unforgivable because at that point that’s where you make mistakes.
You take history for granted and history should never be taken for granted because it’s essential for us furthering ourselves as a society and as a culture, because the one thing that history teaches us is that it’s cyclical. And so, yes, I read a lot and we had a fantastic historian on set. His name is Dan Jones. He’s just released an amazing book that you must read called The Templars which is on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. It’s brilliant. He was there on hand at all times feeding into us and making sure that what we were portraying was as accurate as possible. Anything that would come up in the script that we didn’t know, we would use him as a source of knowledge and he would say, ‘Go and read this, go and read that,’ or just tell us because he’s a real fountain of knowledge.
And that wasn’t just the access that put me in the world of the Knights Templar. […] The costume design, the art direction, the production design, makeup, etc. it was all so dense and real that you feel like you’re right in it as soon as you turn up on set. It’s just all there for you, you know, and you can really immerse yourself into the world.
The days we spent on set were amazing. We filmed on the biggest sets in Europe at Barrandov Studios. They built Medieval Paris. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. In the show, I have to do this shot where I’m riding down this nearly 200-meter long street that they built. And there are 350 extras and each extra has a job, each extra has a name. And it’s live, real world and you just forget that the cameras are there because it’s so extraordinary.
Our costume designer, Diana Cilliers, was amazing. I remember the first time we did our screen test, which is where you put on the costume in front of camera and you kind of like pose and walk around so they can see what it looks like on camera with the makeup and the hair and all of that kind of stuff. I remember putting the costume on, the chainmail and everything, and it weighed 50 pounds which was like an insane amount of weight. I struggled to walk down the corridor to get to the studio to do the screen test.
I was like, ‘Guys, why is the costume so heavy? How are we supposed to move and fight in this?’ And the answer was that Diana tried out lighter material such as plastics and other materials but they just didn’t look authentic. And so they put us in the most authentic costume that they could and we just had to deal with it. We got bigger and we got stronger, and so very quickly we were able to run and jump, get on horses in the 50-pound costumes and do everything that we needed to do to play our parts. But, you know, you can see the difference in the way that the costumes move and the way that your body moves in them. It’s just authentic and I think it makes for a very real experience when watching the show.”
Can you talk about Landry’s relationship with Godfrey, played by Sam Hazeldine?
Tom Cullen: “So the relationship that Landry has with Godfrey runs throughout the entire first season. And so in episode one, Godfrey is Landry’s surrogate father. Landry was an orphan and Godfrey essentially took him in and saved him from this orphanage. And so because of the promise Godfrey saw in him, Landry became a Templar at the age of 11 which is very, very, very rare.
One of the Templar rules is that you must become a Templar of your own volition because it’s such a monastic lifestyle where you do things like eat your food out of the same bowl as another man. There’s no vanity, there’s no possessions. It’s completely monastic. And so it’s very rare for a young boy to join the Templars like Landry did.
So, Godfrey becomes Landry’s father and as the season goes on, in episode one there is a truth revealed to Landry about Godfrey that he didn’t know. And Landry, like a classic hero that we all know, as the protagonist, he hunts and searches for the truth at all costs. He is like a boar who gets physically beaten, emotionally beaten and he just gets back up by himself and charges towards the truth.
Godfrey is pivotal in that circle of truth that Landry is striving towards and it isn’t a very easy journey for Landry to go on throughout the first season. But, it’s a very satisfying journey for the viewers. Every time the scripts would come in there would be a new revelation and it would be a new shock and a new turn and it was very cool to read and really fun to play. I hope that the audience enjoys it as much as we enjoyed making it.”
Is any particular theme or aspect to Knightfall you think will really resonate with the viewers?
Tom Cullen: “Yes, sure. I think what I’m very proud of in the show is that you can kind of look at the show objectively from the outside having not seen it and say, ‘Oh, this is about guys swinging swords and that’s what the show is about,’ but the show is so much more than that. The show is about politics. We have a lot of stuff that takes place in the French Court at the time, dissecting and breaking down the politics and the machinations of political interplay, which I just love that kind of stuff.
It has a fantastic central spine through the show; an amazing love story which I’m surprised at how strong and moving that story was as we were filming it. It kind of grew into this thing that we had no idea it would become. The show talks about revenge and betrayal, brotherhood, loyalty, faith, humanity and mortality. I think that it raises really big questions about who we are whilst at the same time being really kind of fun and entertaining. So, that takes you on a really wild journey.
And, so I truly believe the show has something for everybody. I think that it is by no means a gendered show. I think that women would love it as much as men will love it and that is something I’m really proud of, too. It has fantastic, strong female characters. They are actually probably stronger than all of the male characters and they’re just as complex and rich as the male counterparts, and it’s very moving. I’ve watched the last episode three or four times now and I’ve shed many tears every single time. It’s a great rollercoaster.”
What do you like about the medieval time period?
Tom Cullen: “I’ve always been obsessed with the Medieval time period because I think it’s a time that we can look back on and learn from. And, actually, 800 years isn’t that long ago and that this is the time really when the world that we live in today was created and formulated. We’re still feeling the repercussions of the actions and choices the people made in the medieval period today.
It’s also a period that is grimy and dirty and dangerous. The line between life and death is so thin, it’s really interesting to learn about. And I think that’s a fantastic place to make a drama in. It’s a very rich world since life and death was so next to each other, and it’s world rich in terms of human wants and needs. Nowadays our lives are reasonably comfortable for certain people, especially in America. We typically don’t have that kind of life and death threat every single day where we are going to drop down with scurvy or have to go into battle.
So, our choices aren’t as drastic. But if you have a lifespan of 35 years, every choice you make is loaded. And so I think that the world of the Medieval period is one of very high octane and people making life and death choices every single move. And that, for me, is an exhilarating period of time to make a drama in.”
How do the scenes in Knightfall resonate in your own life? How do you draw on your own life to play the part of Landry?
Tom Cullen: “That’s such a good question. On the paper, it isn’t necessarily very easy to draw on myself, and I think that I like to work as an actor from the places of truth instead of drawing on myself as an empathetic being. Well, I’ve had some experiences personally that I put it into Landry but not many. I worked in an empathetic way, anyway where I try and put myself into the character’s body and some kind of lose myself as much as possible. And so my thoughts and my character’s thoughts were somewhat separate as opposed to my own.
I don’t really like to draw on my own experiences. I feel that’s confusing and muddied and I don’t think it’s very healthy. So, it wouldn’t have been very healthy for me to continue working in that way and it’s not why I’m an actor. But the themes that were very resonant with me in the show, that resonated with me as a reader and as a viewer and as an actor, are ones of brotherhood and loyalty, love and lust, and denying one’s own happiness, complexity in relationships with a father and feelings of abandonment. All of that stuff really resonated with me.”
Do you believe that because Landry became a Templar at such a young age that’s why he was able to rebel against that part of his vow and enter into a romantic relationship?
Tom Cullen: “I think that when we first meet Landry at the top of episode 1 he is 20, and he is brash and young. He is a maverick, incredibly cocky, and is kind of emboldened by the fact that he has God on his side and he thinks that he’s invincible, which I think a lot of 20 year-olds think, regardless of whether they have God on their side or not. I know I certainly felt like that.
But what we see at the top of episode one is his entire life flipped upside down when they lose Acre, the last Templar stronghold in the Holy Land and they lose the Holy Grail. And so we flash forward 15 years and when you’ve been brought up as a as a warrior, and that’s all you know, everything you know, it’s a tough reality to deal with. He’s like a caged animal, unable to fulfill what he thinks is his only purpose and duty which is to fight.
And so when we meet him, he is this very, very complex, pulled apart guy in episode one. He is battling with his humanity and he is secular yet he is also still mentally devout. He is very loyal to his brothers, his family, yet he is lying to them. He is having an affair with a woman yet he is a monk. He is the bravest, most fearless warrior, yet he’s starting to feel a sense of his own mortality. I think that’s why he kind of falls in love with this woman. It’s not that he’s doubting God or that he’s doubting the Templars or religion, but that he’s doubting himself. He is in a conflict, in a battle with himself, which are the stories that I love to watch where your hero is so full of contradiction and battle and personal complications. And throughout the first season, we see him work through that and battle through that and try and find out who he really is. It’s an awesome journey for me to play and to take viewers on.”
Did you discuss what would happen moving forward with the series, where it might go in seasons two, three or four? Were you given an idea of Landry’s entire arc beyond the first season? And if so, to what degree does that influence your approach to the character? How much are you able to build into the character as the series goes on?
Tom Cullen: “We love the show and we really hope that we can continue making it for as long as possible because we’re a real family and we’re very, very proud of it and we love making it. There’s also still a lot of the Templar history that has yet to be told. We have an idea of where the show will go and where it will take us. But what actually happens is that while you’re making a show, it becomes this dialogue that happens between the writers, the actors, directors, the costume designers, the art director, the production designer, makeup artists, etc. where you’re constantly kind of feeding into this pot which is the show. It evolves and changes and moves in ways that you would never expect it to.
It’s like a living organism but that surprises you. And so though we have an idea of where this is going, actually the truth is that we don’t in many respects. We have the structure of history and what actually happened which we have to stay with but in terms of the characters, and their fuels and wants and needs and how they navigate their way through that history is something that we’re constantly being surprised by with the characters. And that’s a really exciting place to work with.
And especially as an actor, I don’t want to know where the character is going because in life I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow or how it’s going to pan out. I can only be in the present and I can only make choices in the present, and so that’s what you want your characters to do. And so the writers actually withheld scripts from us and didn’t tell us what was happening later in this first season so that we could be surprised in the moments whilst we were making the episode, which is a really fantastic and authentic way to work. And then once we get the script, we kind of talk about them and collaborate on them.
Dominic Minghella is an incredible showrunner. He is a force of nature and an amazing man and a brilliant writer, and he really values the actors’ input. He is always very good at fielding ideas and whether he takes them or not is up to him, but it feels like a very collaborative process where everybody is feeding into it and we all have ownership over the show and that’s really exciting.”
in showbizjunkies.com by REBECCA MURRAY
History’s Knightfall delivers a fascinating story centered around the Knights Templar and their quest to find the Holy Grail in the early 14th century. Like the network’s flagship series Vikings, Knightfall proves why History needs to develop more original dramas.
Knightfall goes big and bold right from the beginning with a large-scale battle set in the city of Acre. For a TV budget, the assault on the stronghold looks great, but it’s the use of intricately placed cameras that make the sequence shine.
Typically, an actor that wears a helmet, like Thor, finds a reason to take it off, in order to better show the actor’s face. Studios don’t want to pay someone millions of dollars to hide beneath a helmet. Instead of taking the helmets off, Knightfall puts the cameras inside the helmets. It’s a brilliant choice because it creates a feeling of claustrophobia that adds to the intensity of the fights.
The combat is well choreographed and believable. It’s not as flashy as Vikings, but with warriors wearing armor that heavy, it must be difficult to move. The only complaint is the ineffective use of slow motion throughout the episode. It doesn’t ruin any of the skirmishes, but it is distracting. It feels like the show is trying to be overly stylized when it doesn’t need to be.
The characters that inhabit the story are remarkably realized. Landry (Tom Cullen) is one of the lead knights in the order. Cullen (Downton Abbey) brings all the good looks, charm, and toughness needed to carry a historical epic like Knightfall. Early on, Landry’s close relationship with the King is revealed to be a sore spot between Landry and the rest of his brothers. This conflict should make for a compelling story down the road — especially if you know a little bit of the history concerning the Templar order.
Knightfall takes place around the time of the Templars’ downfall, which according to some historical accounts, has to do with the troubled financial relationship between King Philip IV of France and the Templars. This version of the King, skillfully portrayed by Ed Stoppard (The Crown), doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would betray his friends. These are merely first-impressions, but I’m excited to see how it all plays out. History is a network that’s not afraid to toy with expectations, even in a historical setting (e.g. Vikings). Remember, this is a television show after all.
Some of the supporting characters based on their names alone add to the mystery surrounding the Grail legend. Parsifal (Bobby Schofield) is one such character. Schofield (Black Sea) effectively plays the wide-eyed farm boy who’s in over his head. What’s fascinating here is the historical significance of his name. In the legends about King Arthur, Parsifal (Percival) is one of Arthur’s most trusted knights and he’s also part of the Grail legend. It looks like the writers are using various legends and historical accounts to shape their story. This mixture of fantasy and history makes Knightfall all the more delightful.
It’s nice to have a series that gives the Templar’s a story from their point of view. Properties like Assassin’s Creed haven’t painted them in a good light and while there are reasons for that — having a different perspective on the ancient order is enjoyable to watch. Landry and his brothers are seen as protectors of the people, as opposed to cold-blooded killers.
Knightfall creates an engaging story centered around the Knights Templar and their search for the Holy Grail. With gorgeous costumes and wonderfully designed sets, Knightfall does a great job of bringing 14th century Paris to life. Backed by a strong performance from Tom Cullen, Knightfall should have enough staying power to see it through until the finale.
in ign.com by DAVID GRIFFIN
Note: This review is reprint from IGN. The OSMTHU has no official review of Knightfall. However, we should point out that Knightfall is a ficcional series with the Templars as a background. It’s not History. You should enjoy it as you enjoy any other great fictional story.
If you’re looking to get fit, Tom Cullen, star of History’s Knightfall, has a suggestion for you: wear chain mail.
The actor stars as Landry, leader of the Knights Templar, in the newest scripted drama from the network home of Vikings — which meant wearing 50 pounds of armor nearly daily for the better part of a year.
“I didn’t want to weigh the costume early on, because otherwise it would just become a thing in my head. I have weighed it since and it has become a thing in my head,” Cullen, who played Lord Gillingham in Downton Abbey, told Rotten Tomatoes. “The costume weighed 50 pounds, which is a lot to be carrying for 14, 15 hours a day when you’re fighting and riding horses. My body changed shape. I went from fit and kind of slender to muscular and big, just from the fact that I was carrying this amount of weight, this heavy costume.
“I couldn’t even get on a horse when I first started,” he confessed. “I had to have a stepladder because I didn’t have the power in my legs to get over the horse. But by the end of the shoot, I was leaping and running and jumping on horses. It was intense.”
So if you want to “get swole,” try the Chain Mail Workout!
“It’s where you wear 50 pounds of chain mail for seven months, every day, 15 hours a day,” Cullen said. “That’s all you have to do. And you’ll end up [muscular]. I’ve had to go to my wardrobe and buy all new trousers because my ass is so big. Honestly, if you want an ass like Kim Kardashian, become a knight.”
Knightfall takes place in the 1300s and follows the Knights Templar as they hunt to recover the Holy Grail in the final days of their reign, ahead of their eventual downfall. The series was shot in Eastern Europe on a Prague backlot — “they built medieval Paris, they built a temple, a palace, streets, a market, a moat, castle walls, a church, shops, alleyways, a pub — it was extraordinary,” Cullen said. The show tackles the later days of the Knights Templar’s reign of power.
“They were such a fascinating, clandestine sect,” Cullen said. “That the myriad of lies and layers that they bathed themselves in — it’s very difficult to unpack all of that. It was fascinating to learn about them. It was a real educational process for me.”
While, like most people, Cullen had a working knowledge of the group, he learned a lot while simply researching for his role.
“One of the things that really stuck with me was that they invented to first bank,” he said. “They created the banking system, and they created the first checks. They became the wealthiest fighting force in the world. And they answered to no country, no king, no queen. They only answered to God and to the Pope. No borders. You could cash your money in France, and you could take it out in Jerusalem. They were kind of untouchable. Fascinating guys. The thing that really surprised me was the level of their power. You learn about how they were in the battlefield. They were extraordinary. They would never leave. Even if they were losing, they would never turn their back and run. They would basically only surrender when the last man had been killed. That level of bravery and intelligence is an extraordinary combination, I think.”
Cullen’s character, Landry, was taken in by the Knights Templar as a 10-year-old orphan.
“All he’s known is war, fighting, and God. When we first see him in episode 1, he’s a very brash young maverick knight who ultimately loses the Holy Grail and loses Acre, the last stronghold in the Holy Land, which is the one thing that he understands himself through. The series is set 15 years after that event, and we find him questioning everything about himself. He’s questioning his faith and his own identity. He’s a very contradictory, very complex character. He is lying to his brothers. He’s having an affair with a woman. But he is immensely loyal. He is maybe the most fearless, brave knight. Yet he is starting to discover his own humanity and his mortality. He is a very pious man and is still a very faithful man, yet he is starting to discover who he is outside of his brotherhood.”
Yes, that’s right — there’s still plenty of sex on this show about religious monks, and Landry’s dedication to the Knights Templar only wavers when his chastity vow is involved.
“He’s very faithful to her,” Cullen said. “He’s a one-woman kind of guy.”
Except he’s supposed to be a no-woman kind of guy.
Added Cullen, “He’s a very complex guy, which is the kind of guy I’m interested in watching.”
The season will include major developments about Landry’s love — in the first episode, even — but his relationship will take a back seat to his main quest: to recover the Holy Grail.
“Landry goes on a pathological hunt to try and find the Grail, because I think that he entwines a lot of his own identity into that piece of pottery,” Cullen said. “I think that he hopes to find it not only to garner enough power to go back to the Holy Land, which is what he thinks that he should be doing, but also to return himself back to who he was — search for his identity before he became this very complex guy. What’s great is that on the way, we see his life fall apart, and as he discovers more about himself, he discovers more about the people around him and the lies that are entwined around his whole life and his whole existence.”
in rottentomatoes.com by Jean Bentley
On the morning of the 31st March, 1282, the Sicilian Vespers came to an end. The night of rioting and massacre which had started on Easter Monday proved crucial in the history of Sicily and also had a significant impact on the broader history of the Mediterranean in this period.
The revolt, which gets it name from the Hour of Vespers ceremony where it supposedly began, started on the 30th March and is believed to have been triggered by an Angevin soldier stopping a Palermitan woman outside the church of Santo Spirito di Palermo, to search her for weapons. Although details of the event of course vary depending on the source, it seems the soldier somehow offended the woman, triggering a riot against the Angevin-French among the local community.
Reflecting the deeply ingrained tensions in Sicily’s multicultural society, the rioting spread through Palermo and then the whole of the island. The local Sicilian population attacked and killed Angevin people wherever they could be found, going as far as murdering monks and nuns. The rioters supposedly used a simple test to determine the Sicilian population from Angevin. Anyone believed to have originated from Anjou was asked to say the word “ciciri”, something native French speakers could not do in a convincingly Sicilian accent.
In the annals of Medieval history, the revolt was a unique event. A spontaneous, popular uprising which affected political change. Following the night of the 30th to the 31st March the Angevin-French fled Sicily, and the people of the island eventually secured the support of the King of Aragon who sent troops there in August 1282. Although the revolt seemed to have occurred without any pre-planning, it is important to acknowledge that the uprising against the Angevin-French rulers was not completely without premeditation.
Since 1266 Charles of Anjou, with the support of the papacy, had ruled Sicily from Naples. Deeply unpopular in Sicily, Charles’ strict rule incurred the wrath of normal Sicilians, but his unpopularity in a broader context was just as significant. A group of Italian nobles, known as the Ghibellines, supported the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor rather than that of Charles and the papacy. Peter III of Aragon, a rival of Charles for the Neapolitan throne and one of the main beneficiaries of the uprising, also had a clear interest in altering the status quo on Sicily. The Night of the Sicilian Vespers may have been a demonstration of popular dissatisfaction at Charles’ tyranny, but there were a diverse range of groups with an interest in ending the Angevin presence on Sicily.
The revolt was followed by series of sea skirmishes and land battles between Angevin and Aragonese forces, sometimes referred to as the War of the Vespers. The fighting finally came to a close in 1302, with the Peace of Caltabellotta. The treaty saw Charles II, the son of Charles of Anjou, concede Sicily to King Frederick, a relative of Peter of Aragon. Sicily was now firmly under the sphere of Spanish influence, a situation which would persist for another five centuries.
Historians have since argued that the Sicilian Vespers, and the subsequent war, proved crucial in the failure of the crusades in the Eastern Mediterranean. Charles of Anjou and the Vatican had been planning to send troops to take Constantinople when the uprising started. The need to divert resources to Sicily put this campaign on hold. Although one of many factors which ultimately led to the failure of the crusades, it is not a coincidence that the fall of Acre in 1291, a pivotal defeat for Christians in the Middle East, took place during the War of the Vespers.
Indeed, the significance of events in Sicily in the broader context of Mediterranean history in this period can be seen in the theory that the Aragonese and Sicilian forces received financial support from Byzantine. Although the scope and nature of this support cannot be confirmed, it hints at the complex political workings of the period.
The Sicilian Vespers revolt was an expression of popular dissatisfaction at the harsh rule of Charles of Anjou over Sicily. This moment of rebellion by Sicilians however, can only be truly understood in the broader context of Medieval history.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Enzian44
By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com
Memo to visitors to Israel: If you get a chance, don’t miss the crusader fort at Acre, a ride of about an hour and a half from Jerusalem. You’ll spot it on the map (it’s alternately called Akko) a little north of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. To understand what you’ll see there, here’s a short history of the port – starting with a meeting in the 11th century thousands of miles away.
Nov. 27, 1095, was a red letter day in medieval history. Actually, it was a red cross day, that symbol having been proclaimed by Pope Urban II as the icon of a planned crusade to retake the Holy Land from its Muslim invaders.
Speaking at the Council of Clermont — a meeting of hundreds of clerics, noblemen and onlookers in southern France — the Pope hoped to recruit fighters with this pitch: “Here (you) are poor and miserable sinners; there, (you) will be rich and happy. Let none hesitate; (you) must march next summer. God wills it.”
So in the fall of 1096 a crusader army of tens of thousands of knights, vassals and serfs went charging off to the Holy Land using “God wills it” as their battle cry. Three years later, after slashing their way across Europe, Constantinople and the Mediterranean coast of the Holy Land, the Christian forces not only took the city of Jerusalem but went on to create the Kingdom of Jerusalem – a 360-mile-long strip of land stretching from Lebanon south through modern-day Israel and western Jordan down to the Gulf of Aqaba – among several crusader states.
Fast-forward two centuries, through seven more major crusades (and several smaller ones) and many more battles. During this period Muslim armies recapture the Kingdom of Jerusalem, then lose part of it again during the Third Crusade led by King Richard the Lionheart. The crusaders carve out another kingdom, but fail to take Jerusalem. Instead, they build a new capital at the Mediterranean port of Acre.
But things go south for the crusaders again, and by the late 13th century the conquest of the Holy Land has pretty much fizzled out. The caped knights have been booted out of just about every place they took, and now they’re down to their last “God wills it” stronghold — at Acre, where the cross of the crusaders had been flying (on and off) since 1104.
The crusaders’ last big holdout crumbled in 1291 when the flag of the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt was raised over Acre. Later on, the Ottomans captured the port and held on to it until the onset of World War I, when the Brits took over. The Union Jack flew over the port until the State of Israel was created in 1948.
Visitors to Acre will see the remains of all these cultures – and before them those of the Romans, Greeks and Canaanites, among others – in what’s left of their walls, battlements, churches, mosques, baths and courtyards. Tours of the city typically wind up in an underground labyrinth of domed halls and walkways, once the home of monastic military orders such as the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers.
Among subterranean eye-poppers awaiting tourists is a 1,150-foot-long stone tunnel used by the Templars as a protected passageway between the fortress and the port. Also featured down there is a commercial street that passed through the Hospitaller quarter, high-domed knight halls, a huge dining room and a central courtyard – all painstakingly restored to offer a jump back in time to the days when guys wandering around with crosses on their tunics ruled the roost around these parts.
The northern city’s rich heritage is blighted by neglect, casting a shadow on its many gems, including the Turkish bath, Crusader citadel and knights’ dining hall.
Acre is a dreamy, ancient Mediterranean seaside resort. It goes back millennia, which you can see on the spot.
“There are very few cities like Acre – it has a lot of history, a mixture of religions and unusual sites that you can weave a good story around,” says Kawas, manager of the new hostel at the entrance to Acre’s Old City.But Acre is, in many respects, a place that has failed to realize its enormous tourism potential.
In 2001, Acre and Masada became the first two places in Israel to be declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. But there is no comparison today between the number of visitors to Masada – which for several years running has topped the list of the most visited sites [requiring entrance fees] in Israel – and the still meager number of tourists who stroll through Acre. A one-day visit to the northern coastal city reveals why: There is a huge gap between the formal sites, which have been developed over the past few years by various tourism bodies, and everything in between. Wandering through the Old City’s alleyways, I was overcome with sadness. So much has been invested in the city over the last few years, yet these side streets, even the ones closest to the main market street, exude neglect.
The main section of the Old City, which is home to several thousand people,is quite small. It takes no more than 20 minutes to cross from one end to the other, but it lacks signs and is not particularly inviting to visitors. Each official site in the old quarter is a gem, but because these gems are not strung together, they fail to create a single piece of jewelry.
Acre is a fascinating city, but it can and should turn into a place that showcases not only isolated tourist sites, but also one that opens a window on contemporary life in the old quarter. In the meantime, here are a few of the gems worth viewing.
The Hospitaller’s Citadel
Something about medieval knights, who came to the Holy Land during the Crusades, sparks the imagination, conjuring up visions of courage. But the reality of the lives of these men in armor, who passed this way just under a thousand years ago, was apparently less glamorous than what the movies portray. Among other things, they required medical treatment and hostels where they could find refuge and safety in the untamed land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The Knights Halls in Acre’s Hospitaller Citadel were the jewels in the crown of the city. It is worth coming to Acre just to see them.
The spacious, lovely halls, which were built in the late 12th century and during the course of the 13th century, have high ceilings and thick walls. The lighting adds a fitting dramatic touch to the visit. The Hall of Columns, which was probably the knights’ dining hall, is the most impressive in the fortress, and causes a sigh of renewed wonder with every visit. A beautiful attraction such as would probably draw hundreds of thousands of tourists if it was in a European city.
Arranged around it are the Northern Hall, the Sugar Bowl Hall, the Art Hall, the Beautiful Hall and the Hall of the Imprisoned.
The Templar Tunnel
The 350-meter-long tunnel runs from the fortress to the seashore, adjacent to the port. It opened to the public in 2007, and for the past few months animated clips have been screened on the walls depicting the history of the Templars. Members of the order helped the Crusaders and the sick and moved to Acre from Jerusalem after its conquest by Saladin in 1187.
The Al-Basha Hamam
The 18th-century Turkish bath is probably the most well developed site in Acre’s Old City. It was built during the days of Acre’s governor Jazzar Pasha, when the city experienced its biggest construction boom. It is obvious that much effort was invested in making a visit here into a multidimensional experience: films are screened on the walls, dolls have been placed in the center of the hall, assorted accessories are scattered around the rooms and pictures and sounds enhance the atmosphere. It is even a little overwhelming, distracting from the beauty of the structure.
The large traders’ khan next to the port is one of the city’s nicest structures and unfortunately has not been developed at all yet. It is neglected and dirty, and visits there are limited to the entrance hall. This beautiful khan deserves better. It was built in the 18th century by Jazzar Pasha, at the same time as the hamam, and when I stood outside it, I tried, unsuccessfully, to understand why such huge sums were put into the hamam, while the khan was left untouched. The Acre Development Company plans to turn the Khan al-Omadan and the adjacent Khan a-Shuneh into a large hotel with 170 rooms, but there are no signs of this happening. In any case, such major plans are always a cause of concern when they involve a designated landmark.
The Treasures in the Walls Museum is the most interesting of the city’s three museums. The building located in the eastern wall of the Old City is exquisite, and the display features many items meant to preserve the local history, crafts, furnishings and arts. The collection is not organized or displayed scientifically, giving one the sense of visiting a big antiques shop. Address: 2 Weizmann Street, in the Eastern wall.
The Okashi Art Museum is located in a 300-year-old arched building. It is a fascinating structure, but one that distracts considerably from the works hanging on the white-washed walls. The permanent exhibit includes works by Avshalom Okashi, who lived in Acre for most of his life, and had his workshop in the museum. Alongside them are rotating exhibits of contemporary Israeli art. Currently on display is the “First Exposure 2012,”a photo exhibit featuring the works of 10 young photographers.
The Underground Prisoners Museum depicts the history of the place when it was a British-run jail that housed members of the pre-state Jewish undergrounds who fought to end the British Mandate. It may be a fascinating place, but memories of a long-ago visit during my school days prevented me from properly viewing the current exhibit and led to a hasty exit.
The Al-Jazzar Mosque
The mosque is known in Arabic as the Jama al-Basha (the Pasha’s mosque ) and is another relic of Jazzar Pasha’s extensive building activity 250 years ago. It is the largest mosque in Israel, after the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem, and the biggest one built here during the Ottoman period. The trapezoidal courtyard is a beautifully landscaped garden that exudes great tranquility. Scattered around are benches that allow a visitor rest and contemplation. In the center of the courtyard, there is a covered fountain that was used for bathing. The inside of the mosque is filled with decorative touches, rugs and colored glass windows. It is said that a clipping of the Prophet Mohammed’s hair is stored somewhere in the depths of the mosque and displayed once a year. I did not see it. Address: Al-Jazzar Street. The mosque is open all day and closes for short periods at prayer times.
There is evidence that the Acre port existed over 2,500 years ago. In recent years, extensive excavations next to the southern seawall have uncovered fragments of a stone pier, large stone anchors and clay vessels from the Mediterranean isles. The port reached its peak during the Crusader era in the 12th century. It achieved its greatest notoriety in the 18th century when Napoleon besieged the city and was blocked from reaching the port by ships that had been intentionally sunk.
The old port is now a marina; the main attraction is the Pisani port several dozen meters to the west. Two veteran restaurants, Abu Cristo and Doniana, compete for customers. Both have large balconies with views of the port. Not much has changed here in the last 40 years. The children who, in the 1970s, used to jump into the water from the walls above, are today responsible adults and have been replaced by other youngsters leaping into the sea with the same fervor.
The sites listed above have been developed over the last few years by various tourism bodies, including the Old Acre Development Company, the Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Tourism. A glance at the list of projects the Old Acre Development Company is planning reveals how much work still remains. The list includes the Khan al-Shawarda, the city’s largest khan, where a commercial center and hotel are to be built. The small hamam, currently a dilapidated building beside the Khan al-Omadan, is slated to become part of a hotel. A facelift is also in the works for the Burej al-Quraim, an intriguing site northwest of the city that is considered to be the largest and most fortified seaside fortress – and offers fantastic views. All of these projects, if and when they are completed, will increase the number of hotel rooms in Acre, enhance the state of some buildings and further highlight the necessity of developing the alleyways themselves.
Getting there: Take Highway 4 from Haifa to Acre. At the Ein Hamifratz junction turn left (west ) and travel along the sea. At the first traffic light turn left, and follow the signs to the Old City.
Entrance fees: the Old Acre visitors’ center is in the Enchanted Garden on 1 Weizmann Street. Joint entrance ticket to many sites listed here (the Knights Hall, the Templar Tunnel, the Okashi Art Museum ) may be purchased. Sites are open from 9:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M. daily, including Saturdays. For more information see: http://www.akko.org.il