Les clefs d'Or


The Secrets of the TemplarsThe Secrets of the Templars

Forget about Reine-le-Château and other such fantaisies - there was nothing mysterious about the Order of the Knights Templar, nor about its treasure.  Following is the true story of the mighty Knights, and it was here, on the very soil of the Marais, that much of it was played out.  

“A few street names are all that is left of the Enclos du Temple, the mighty fortress of the Knights Templar, the founding fathers of the 3rd arrondissement. Initially, they were a fighting order in the Holy Land (1118 AD), set up for the protection of Christian pilgrims from the Muslims. After the collapse of the Christian Kingdom, they retreated to Cyprus and from there spread all over Europe.

The great wealth they had acquired through gifts bestowed upon them by appreciative Christians enabled them to purchase vast estates and accelerate the process. One such estate was situated on the eastern edge of Paris,  close to today's Hôtel de Ville, where a group of them settled in 1139..

To the north east lay stretches of marshland, remnants of the ancient branch of the Seine that had once flowed down from the heights of Belleville, east of Paris. It took the hardy Templars barely a century to turn it into the market garden (marais) of the capital, emulating the monks of Saint Martin des Champs who had dried up the swamps on the western fringe of the future arrondissement a century earlier. Having redeemed the land, they moved to its north-eastern edge, where they built a fortified compound,  l'Enclos du Temple, which also served as their European headquarters.

Forget about Reine-le-Château and other such fantaisies - there was nothing mysterious about the Order. Rather, it was their sophisticated farming methods that enabled them to redeem the marshy land of the future Marais, and it was their acute business acumen that incited them to use their geographical dispersion to advantage and develop a kind of international deposit bank  which contributed to the continual increase of their wealth. This, and their independence, were jealously kept behind the crenellated walls of the Enclos du Temple, roughly on the site of today's rue du Temple, rue de Bretagne, rue de Picardie and rue Béranger, south of Place de la République. It was complete with watch towers and a drawbridge that led to the Temple' only gate (now corner of rue des Fontaines-du-Temple and rue du Temple)  

The kings of France were happy with the situation until the end of the 13th century.  Philip Augustus even entrusted some of his treasures to them in 1190, before leaving on the Third Crusade, and Saint Louis did not take offence when, in 1254, Henry III of England stayed at the Temple rather than in his own palace on the Ile de la Cité (the site of the Palais de Justice). But Philip the Fair, an ambitious king who had  even stood up to the church of Rome, could not tolerate this wealthy state within his state, the less so as he himself was in chronic financial straits.

During a mass rising in 1306, he accepted the Templars' kind offer to shelter him and took the measure of their stupendous wealth. Eaten up with envy, he set out to contrive their downfall by spreading treacherous rumours and slanders against them. After hideous trials, false accusations, humiliations, torture and the burning of 54 Templars on Ile aux Juifs (now the southern edge of Place Dauphine), the French branch of the Order was disbanded in 1313. On 12 March 1314, Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Temple, was brought to the stake on l'Ile aux Juifs, where, in the presence of the King, he thundered out prophecies about the King's and the Pope's impending encounter with God. Both Philip the Fair and Pope Clement V were to die that year - whether by the man of God or of man has never been established.  The gullible and the romantically inclined may be disappointed, but the mystification of the lost treasure of the Templars has no historical foundation.

As for their possessions, they were seized by the throne, and to add insult to injury, were handed over to the rivalling order of the Hospitalers who were also founded in the Holy Land (1050), to welcome pilgrims to Jerusalem. They stayed at the Enclos duTemple until the French Revolution and were disbanded by Napoleon in the early 19th century.

By the early 17th century, the Marais flourished as the aristocratic neighbourhood of Paris. The palace of the Grand Prior of the Temple (built at the time on the corner of the now rues du Temple and Bretagne) was the court of the illegitimate sons of royalty who, like Philip the Duke of Vendome, the grandson of Henri IV and his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrée, led a life of debauchery, but also of literary and artistic brilliance. The Grand Prior, for example, granted La Fontaine an annual pension of 600 francs. After the court's transfer to Versailles it became an alternative court where "gathered those who had nothing to hope for from the King", we are told by Horace Walpole. Louis XVI called the Grand Prior contemptuously "my cousin the lawyer".

Walpole, on the other hand, described his as "handsome, of royal port and amiabe" but also as "arrogant, dissolute and prodigal". He was reputed to have kept 4,000 rings in one of his drawers, a farewell token from each repudiated mistress, although some claimed he had added many himself. His favourite, the Comtesse de Boufflers, 'l'idole du Temple',reigned supreme over this scintillating court, to which the 10-year-old Mozart was introduced on his second visit to the capital, to which bears witness Ollivier's famous painting of him in the drawing-room playing the harpsichord to an audience that doesn't seem particularly attentive. 

On 13 August 1792, a sumptuous dinner was served in the same room. The guests on this occasion were the Royal family and their retenue, virtually the prisoners of the Commune of Paris. The King was addressed as Monsieur and everyone was treated courteously during the sham celebration, but as soon as dinner was over the royal couple, their two children and the King's sister were locked up in the Tower of the Temple, while the other women were transferred to the prison of La Force (now the 4th arrondissement), unknown to the people of Paris. This was the beginning of the tragic extinction of the Royal family.

The King was kept at the Temple until his execution on 21 January 1793.  It was from here that his tumbril left for the guillotine on Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde), through the Grands Boulevards. The Queen was transferred to the Conciergerie the following summer, the 14-year-old Princess Royal was exchanged with the Austrian authorities for five Republican prisoners, and the seven-year-old Dauphin was torn away from his family and left to vegetate in a dark cell until his presumed death on 8 June 1795. He was carried for burial to the cemetery of Sainte Marguerite (in the 11th arrondissement), although rumours persisted that somebody else's remains had been buried there in his stead. Indeed, when in 1894 his remains were dug up for examination, they proved to belong to an 18-year-old yourh. A modest cross still surmounts the grave, the only one to have survived in what used to be the churchyard. It bears the inscription L...XVII 1785-1795, a strange memorial to the last King of the Ancien Régime, unbeknownst to most Parisians, including to most neighbours. 
Napoleon prudently razed the Temple Tower to the ground, the Royalists having made it their shrine. The original romanesque church and its churchyard soon met the same fate. Only the palace of the Grand Prior was still standing when the Princess Royal returned from exile to the tragic site during the Restoration, there to pray and plant a weeping willow. Used by the Ministry of Religion at the time of Napoleon, as a convent during the Restoration, and as a military barracks during the Second Republic, it was torn down by Napoleon III in 1853, Baron Haussmann's project for a new Paris being under way. 

By Thirza Vallois

The following  excerpt is adapted from Thirza Vallois's Around and About Paris series

(volume 1 - From the Dawn of Times to thee Eiffel Tower).

Around and About Paris, (volume 1, 2 and 3) is published by Iliad Books, UK
Romantic Paris is published by Interlink, US and Arris Books, UK

For more information and to order Thirza Vallois's Around and About Paris and Romantic Paris, go to www.thirzavallois.com

(More about the Templars’ neighbourhood is to be found in the chapter on the third arrondissement of Around and About Paris, Volume 1).

The remains of the templars

The new Carreau du Temple is an important project for the rehabilitation of a gilded hall in the north of the 3rd arrondissement, close to Place de la République, on the site of what was once the enclosure of the Templars. This project required preventive excavation work.
The site of the Carreau du Temple is characterized by a very dense stratigraphy where elements of the Middle Ages overlap those of modern times.
The enclosure of the Temple was originally, in the twelfth century, given by the King to the Templar monks in order to enable them to build their church. Thus Sainte Marie was built based on the model of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Rome. The enclosure then passed into the hands of the Order of the Hospital in the 14th century, then into those of the Order of Malta.

The enclosure was characterized by a tax - free system, which contributed to its development. Many buildings such as the prior's house were built.

Businesses of a more or less anarchic nature settled there for several decades. A Rotonde was built within the enclosure in the 18th century to organize these businesses.

During the revolution, this area was abandoned and demolished. It became a hall for the wood trade, then in the middle of the 19th century it became a hall for the metal trade. During the 20th century, the question arose regarding its possible uses.

The hall was closed in 1980, and a competition was launched in the 2000’s. The project architect J.F. Milou was hired in 2007. The assignment led to the launch of an extensive program of survey excavations which revealed numerous vestiges, some dating back to the creation of the enclosure in the Middle Ages.

The oldest architectural element revealed during the excavation of was that of drainage ditches achieved by the Templar monks. Remnants of the prior's house and a 16th century cooler were also found. Bones, dating from the time of the Templars, were found at the site of an old Templar cemetery as well.

The excavations made it possible to find the embedded structures and furniture remnants when sediments were removed. The archaeologist was able to dig the site by following the stratigraphic layers.
After the on site search, the archaeologist continued laboratory research.

Physico-chemical analysis and X-rays can be performed in specialized laboratories in order to date and include materials damaged by passages in the earth.

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