Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kolossi Castle, Cyprus

In the centre of the most abundant valley of southern Cyprus, near the city of Limassol, is Kolossi castle, one of the most significant monuments of medieval military architecture in Cyprus. This fertile valley at the mouth of the Kouris river was often mentioned by the medieval chroniclers for its vast expanse of sugar plantations, vineyards, olive groves, carobs, cereals and cotton plants and during the Frankish period was one of the most important fiefs. 

The area was named Kolossi after its first feudal lord Garinus de Colos. In 1210 the fief was transferred to the martial Order of Hospitallers of Jerusalem by the Lusignan Kind Hugo I. It was then that the first castle was built, the ruins of which are preserved around the west and east side of the present structure. Having lost Acre in 1291, the Hospitallers transferred the base of their activities to Kolossi in 1301/02. In 1306 ownership of Kolossi passed to the Order of the Knights Templar, which was in those days a very strong political power. The castle was returned to the Hospitallers in 1308, when Pope Clement V issued an edict abolishing the Knights Templar.
In 1310 the command centre of the Hospitallers was moved to the Greek island of Rhodes but the existing castle at Kolossi continued to be used as a seat of strong military power known as the Commanderie. This status was confirmed in 1380 by a decision of the leadership of the Order. Despite this, however, the castle was used primarily as the residence and command centre of the Grand Commander of the Order rather than for the defence of the Kingdom. It was from the castle that the large plantations in the valley of Kolossi and the wider area, in which 60 villages were included, were organised, controlled and exploited. One of the most important products of the area that the Commanderie traded was the traditional sweet wine of Cyprus, which was named accordingly “Commandaria”. 

A sequence of attackes by the Genoese in 1373 and the Mamelukes, in the years 1402, 1413, 1425, 1426 ad well as a successive series of catastrophic earthquakes, rendered the castle into ruins. In 1452 the Grand Commander of the Order, Louis de Magnac, built a stronger castle that can be seen today.
The castle is stone-built with three storeys, at a total height of 21 metres. In one room, on the ground floor, a wall painting (icon) depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is preserved on the south wall, indicating that the room was probably used for worship.
On the east external façade of the castle is a cross-shaped frame that encompasses a marble relief slab depicting the coat-of-arms of the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus as well as the coat of arms of Louis de Magnac and of two Grand Masters of the Order of Hospitallers of Jerusalem, Jean de Lastic and Jacques de Milli. In the east yard is a large age old tree, more than 150 years old, known as Machaerium Tipu or Tipuana Tipu. 

In 1488 George Cornaros, brother of the last Lusignan Queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro, acting in the interests of the Venetians, convinced his sister to renounce her sovereign rights to the island in favour of the Republic of Venice. He was then given as a reward the castle including the large property of the Grand Commanderie at Kolossi, which the Commanderie of Rhodes still controlled, as well as the title of Grand Commander of Cyprus for himself and his descendants. The family continued to use the title in pretence long after the Ottoman occupation of the island and in 1799 it was granted to the Motsennigo family, a member of which married the heiress of the Cornaro family.
On the east side of the castle one can still see to this day the aqueduct, a large vaulted room, which houses the distillery and the sugar mill, parts of a large sugar production and processing installation that dates to the period when the Order of Hospitallers received control of Kolossi. This installation, as well as the sugar mill located at Serayia in Episkopi, were later included in the network of financial activities of the Cornaro family in the surrounding area.

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