In 1191, Richard the Lionheart celebrated his conquest of Cyprus by wedding a Spanish princess at Limassol Castle, ordering barrels of wines from the nearby village of Kolossi for the nuptials. The crusading King of England toasted the lavish ceremony with a swig of the sweet nectar and, legend has it, declared the drink “the wine of kings and king of wines.”
Commandaria, as the wine was called, still exists today, making it the world’s oldest manufactured wine. The dessert wine derives its name from “La Grande Commanderie,” the military headquarters of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitallers, two famed knightly orders that occupied Cyprus for hundreds of years during the Crusades from their base at Kolossi Castle, built in 1210.
It could be expected that a castle home to such romantic stories of chivalric knights and wine fit for kings would exhibit an equally fantastical appearance. But in fact the image of fairytale European castles arose around the 1500s; Kolossi Castle predates these iconic structures by at least two centuries. Castles were originally built for military strategy, but after gunpowder came into prominence wealthy aristocrats built them as symbols of prestige and fantasy, crafting a starry-eyed view of the life of kings and queens from centuries past. In contrast, Kolossi Castle comes from a time of practical defense. It wasn’t built for style; it was built for war.
The stronghold’s tower allowed for an unobstructed view of the countryside and its symmetrical structure provided broader sight-lines for detecting enemy armies. The knightly orders that built it were steadfast in their martial duties, prioritizing military strategy, not architectural beauty. This focus on security and defense was necessary in Cyprus to deter attempted enemy conquests, which it was burdened by for more than a millennium. Its strategic location in the Mediterranean meant that almost every empire sought to control it: the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans. Visiting Kolossi Castle today is about more than gazing at architectural beauty; it’s about standing in the footsteps of centuries of history.
Know Before You Go
14km west of Lemesos on the road towards Pafos (Paphos)