Frankish Period (1191 - 1489)
At the end of the Byzantine Period in Cyprus the island was controlled by Isaac Ducas Comnenus. He had rebelled against Constantinople from where the eastern-half of the Byzantine Empire was managed, establishing independent rule over the island. In a turn of events that was to shape the future of Cyprus, King Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) and his fleet of crusading ships sought shelter from a wave of storms that had plagued his crusades in the Mediterranean. He arrived at the port of Limassol on May 8, 1191 with his bride-to-be Queen Joanna of Sicily and Berengaria. The welcome from Isaac Comnenus was less than friendly and so King Richard seized the island and drove out Isaac.
On May 12, 1191 Richard the Lionheart married Queen Joanna at the newly-constructed Limassol Castle and crowned her Queen of England. To this day, Limassol Castle is the only foreign venue to have hosted an English Royal Wedding and Coronation. The castle was restored in the 19th Century and today you can tread in the footsteps of King Richard and his bride, admiring the vaulted ceilings and underground tunnels that await discovery there.
King Richard's reign over the island was very brief. He sold it first to the Knights Templars to finance his crusades. Within a year the island was returned to King Richard, who then sold it to the Frankish Crusader - Guy de Lusignan, thus beginning the Frankish Period in earnest.
Lusignan established a feudal rule over the Cypriot people. The Greek Orthodox Church was persecuted, and in its place the Catholic Church was given precedence. Land was given away to French barons and noblemen, under whose control the nation's wealth flourished. They left behind many fine examples of medieval Frankish architecture as a legacy of their stay on Cyprus, including churches and the magnificent gothic cathedrals of Ayia Sophia in Nicosia and Saint Nicolas in Famagusta. Castles, mills and countless medieval homes were constructed too in an era that saw Famagusta in Eastern Cyprus acquire the status of one of the wealthiest cities in the known world.
A visit to Kolossi Castle located to the west of Limassol provides a glimpse back into this era. The castle was originally built as a fort, but was later given to the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem by the ruling Lusignan family to use as their Commandery. The Commandery had extensive land at that time and the Knights of St John cultivated vines from which they produced a sweet wine called Commandaria. The wine became a big hit in Cyprus and was exported throughout Europe by the Knights. Today, Commandaria is produced on carefully controlled appellations in the region and is openly acknowledged as one of the oldest wines in the world!