The Knights Templar may have been monastic warriors known as the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ,” but you probably wouldn’t know it from the real estate they left behind. The imposing manor houses, castles and fortresses they constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries could host crusading kings one week and withstand enemy bombardment the next.
The Templars built scores of impressive piles all over Europe and the near East, with clusters especially in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Given the profusion of myth and legend swirling around the order, it’s not surprising that the structures still intact today can come with titillating extras—think titles, ghosts and hidden treasure.
“Knights Templar were unusual people: cosmopolitan, driven and often aggressive in nature,” says Richard Hodges, archaeologist and President of the American University of Rome. “Imagine the ghosts such a property might have.”
Only a handful of Templar-related properties are available for purchase at any given time, and the vast majority of surviving châteaux on the market were built after the Renaissance, says Simon Oliver of Gites à la Française, which sells châteaux throughout France. “To find a château dating back to the 11th or 12th century on the market is rare. To find one in good condition is very rare. And to find a Knights Templar château in good condition is extremely rare,” he says.
One Templar-connected property, known as Château de Douzens, comes with the prospect of several medieval-era bonuses. On the market for €890,000 ($1.05 million), the 12th-century property, located in the Corbières wine region of France, about 20 kilometers east of Carcassonne, was donated to the Templars in 1133. In addition to central heating and an in-ground swimming pool—and a history that includes Wermacht occupation (Nazi armed forces during World War II)—the property boasts several hidden passageways, a secret room, a stone staircase and an imposing fireplace made from the same marble as Napoleon’s tomb.
But that’s not all.
“Supposedly there are three ghosts in the château,” says owner Mark Bridger, an architect specializing in restoring historic properties, who oversaw a full renovation of the château. “Some people feel a presence, mainly on the staircase. I personally don’t feel uneasy, but it’s good for scaring kids at night.”
Beyond the prospect of spectres in ghostly white Templar robes, the new owner of Château de Douzens will also acquire a few fancy new titles—and a coat of arms. The titles of “Chatelain” (château owner) and “Commander of the Knights Templar/Hospitallers” will be transferred from the current owner to the new one. The latter title is recognized by the contemporary Order of the Temple of Solomon, a group that resurrected the Templar’s original name in 2013 with a mission to perform not-for-profit humanitarian missions around the world. According to the organization’s website, the organization grants titles such as Knight, Dame and Temple Guardian based on merit; they confer the Commander title to person in charge of a commandery, traditionally which is a manor, castle or former monastery.
Another Templar property which is located near Duras, currently on the market for €999,000 ($1.18 million), comes not only with four reception rooms and four hectares of grounds. It also offers an intriguing Templar twist to the idea of a “bonus room.”
When the current owners were in the early stages of a complete renovation on the home, located near Duras in the southwest of France, they were surprised when a group of very elderly locals arrived at their door, pickaxes and shovels in hand. Their mission? To search for hidden treasure long rumored to be buried somewhere on the property. Not yet aware of the Templar connection to their new home, the owners asked what treasure that might be. The visitors replied: “Le Tresor de Jacques de Molay,” after the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar who led the order until it was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1312.
According to local legend, one-eleventh of the long-lost Templar treasure was believed to have been moved out of the Temple in Paris shortly before the “Night of the Long Knives”—the infamous date of October 13, 1307 when King Philip IV called for the arrest of scores of Templar brothers. The town historian is adamant that the location of Duras in the southwest of France, not far from Spain and the Atlantic coast, would have made it an obvious strategic place to leave funds for resistance to the rumored threat from the King, according to real-estate firm Maxwell-Baynes, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, which represents the property.
Ultimately, the owners persuaded their neighbors not to dig up their foundation. But, according to brokerage Maxwell-Baynes, there are several odd archeological features of the property that could indicate a hidden vault.
Buying a historic property sometimes usually requires a large investment of time and money to make it a comfortable, modern living space. “Clients are typically wary of buying a property that is more than 500 years old, as they don’t want the châteaux to be listed or protected in any way, which increases the cost of renovation,” says Oliver, who is representing Château de Douzens. In France, for example, the government requires specially designated “architectes des bâtiments de France” (“architects of the buildings of France”) to supervise any renovation or maintenance performed on a listed historic property, while the work can only be done by specialist artisans. Not every architect or interior designer has the experience necessary to restore a hidden passageway or imposing stone tower.
“The cost of the restoration is almost always more than the people would have wished,” says Count Stefano Aluffi-Pentini, a Rome-based art historian and director of A Private View of Europe, which organizes exclusive cultural visits to private historic palaces and villas.
Properties with a Knights Templar association are in great demand, agents say, as rental properties. The owners of the Duras château, for example, have rented their guest annex for more than €2000 ($2,374) per week during high season while the whole property would rent for €6,000 ($7,121) a week. The weekly rental income during high season for the Château de Douzens would be €6,000 ($7,121), and if it were turned into a bed & breakfast, each of the nine bedrooms would rent for approximately €150 ($178) per night, estimates Oliver.
Ultimately, agents say, having an ownership link to the Templars can attract curious buyers and give owners ample fodder for cocktail-party conversation, but it isn’t usually a deal maker. More important than provenance are the traditional real-estate considerations: condition, size and location. “Every château in France has a history and a link with some movement—a king, uprising, massacre or whatever,” says Oliver. “Once on site, the buyer…is more interested in the lack of double-glazing and insulation than anything else.”