Templars live on in historic buildings

The Knights Templar may have been wiped out in the 14th century but their stories and many of their original buildings live on, as Mark Hayes discovers

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Anyone living in France will know it is a country with a rich history – and one particularly interesting part is that of the Knights Templar.

Formed in the 12th century to protect pilgrims on route to the Holy Land, the military order was eventually crushed by King Philip IV in the 14th century.

Many of their buildings are still standing, with some 700 authenticated Templar sites in France, ranging from barns to castles – and on occasion you can find one up for sale.

One idyllic Templar house on the market is in the village of St-Paul-La-Roche on the edge of the Périgord Vert national park in Dordogne.

Owned by Chris Hughes, originally from Worthing in Sussex, and his partner Paul Fowle, this 900-year-old house has original features, including a staircase made with wood thought to be 1,000 years old.

It has been called home over the centuries by a succession of Knights Templar, commanders of the Knights Hospitaller, peasants and farmers.

Chris and Paul bought it in 2004 and, while waiting a year for planning permission for renovations, did research so they could restore the house in historical detail. They added a modern extension with kitchen, bathroom and extra bedroom and moved in in 2008.

Called Templars, its notable features are a result of practical Middle Ages defensive concerns: the walls of the vaulted cellar are 4metres thick.

Designed for use as a defensive position, the door bolts from the inside and if the house came under attack, the knights could shelter and survive in the cellar.

It has two vents, one to allow air in and the other to allow smoke out and also has a vital spring, so that if the house was besieged the attackers could not poison the water source.

The cellar’s white quartz floors come from a nearby quartz deposit that was once much sought after by Nasa for use on the Space Shuttle.

Under the roof is a rare internal pigeon loft, which was seen as a medieval status symbol. It allowed the inhabitants to access their means of communication and send for help from the safety of the house.

“Or, if the worst came to the worst, they could eat the pigeons,” Chris said.

The house is dominated by its wooden staircase, which takes up roughly a third of its space. Chris said the beams were believed to have been already 100 years old when the house was built, making some of them now 1,000 years old.

Legend has it the Templars built the staircase so big and sturdy so that, if under attack, they could retreat to the upper floors on horseback, then come charging down at their enemies – and the beams had to be able to take that weight.

The garden features another well, which was a ‘curative spring’ (bonne fontaine). Chris said its water was thought to cure children’s nightmares.

With extensive gardens, the house is on sale for €370,000 (see templarsstpaullaroche.com for more information).

For those on a larger budget, the fully refurbished Château de Douzens in Corbières, some 20km from Carcassonne, Aude, is also on the market with an asking price of €890,000.

Built in 1127 and donated to the Knights Templar in 1133, it has been refurbished, re-wired, re-plumbed and re-thought over the past 10 years.

It dominates the village giving views of the surrounding countryside from the monumental staircase that curves to the door. The Grand Hall has a mosaic floor and accesses the 39m2 dining room with wood panelling and oak parquet. Its marble fireplace is from the quarry that supplied marble for Napoleon’s tomb.

In all, there are nine bedrooms, an independent two-bed flat, outbuildings and pool. See more at chateaudouzens.com on its potential as a luxury B&B with gites, a select summer rental (at present it lets for around €5,000 to €5,500 per week) or a family home.

In Lot, a Tem­plar hospice in Martel is on sale for €901,000 through Agences du Limousin. Built in 1169, it has a 60m2 lounge with monumental sit-in fireplace, five bedrooms, games room and a wine cellar plus two three-bed independent flats. It sits in 6,500m2 of grounds with a marble pool and two other outbuildings.

Further north, in Charente, Château de Charmont (on sale through Christie’s (tinyurl.com/y9phhotm for €1.54million) is a fully renovated Templar castle near Angoulême that was built in the 13th century.

Said to be a ‘human sized’ chateau, the old Commanderie has been renovated with eco-friendly materials and has nine bedrooms in the 770m2 house with many medieval and Renaissance features.