Many medieval travellers sang the praises of the strong rich wines of Cyprus. They describe them as being thick as honey and mention that it can be preserved for many years inside earthenware jars. The most well-known was Commandaria, which got its name from the military headquarters –la Commanderie- of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem at Kolossi.

When Richard the Lionheart conquered the island in 1191 AD, a golden age for Cyprus wine began as it became famous throughout Europe. At the wedding of Richard and Berengaria, the daughter of the King of Navarre, in Limassol, ‘the best wines of Cypriot vineyards, better than those of any other country’, were served.

Limassol and Kolossi castles were the centres of the Grand Commanderie. The Hospitallers made the smart business move of promoting the local wine that had been produced in their region for centuries. This wine became famous as a result of the Hospitallers’ and later the Knights of St John of Jerusalem’s exports. It became known as the wine of the Commanderie to differentiate it from the rest because of its superior quality.

King Philippe Auguste of France called Commandaria wine the Apostle, or the Pope, of wines. A famous poem by Henri d’ Andeli ‘The battle of the Wines’ says:


The King who was noble and wine asked his messengers

            to bring him the best wines. First he asked for the wines of Cyprus.

            The King named the best wines and gave each one a prize.

            He called the wine of Cyprus the Apostle who shines like a true star’.


Thus the wine of Cyprus became the top wine of Christendom. Medieval travellers were impresse with the quality, variety, as well as the methods of production of Cyprus wine and speak highly of it. It could be preserved for many years, and many travellers testify they found wine here that was 30, 80 and even 120 years old. Wilbrand von Oldenburg wrote in 1283:

We can find wine that is 100 years old. A father offers the best wine in his cellar at his child’s wedding. And before sealing the jar again, he fills it up with an equal amount of wine thereby maintaining the original quality which the older it becomes the better it tastes’.

In official Venetian reports, wine was considered to be the one of the main exports of the island of Cyprus. Italian astronomer and geographer, Benedetto Bordone, who visited the island in 1528 says that the island had an overabundance of wine, oil, wheat, barley and sugar. Many trade documents that have survived provide more extensive information as to the quality and the means that wine was exported, as well as the good name it enjoyed in Western markets.

It is said that Cyprus was conquered by Selim II in 1570 because of the great love he had for wine. He ordered the head of his armed forces to conquer Cyprus because: ‘There is a great treasure on this island that only The King of Kings can enjoy’. This was Commandaria wine.

The story of the visit of Count Thibaud IV of Champagne paid to his sister Alice, wife of King Hugo of Cyprus, is well known. During his visit, the Count saved the life of a youth who had been sentenced to death because he had been found in bed with his fiancée. Several years later the young couple visited the King in Champagne and in order to thank him the girl offered him rose trees and the young man vine cuttings. The story goes that the rose trees were the start of the famous roses of Provence and the vine cuttings the start of the Marne Vineyards of Champagne.

© The Cyprus Wine Museum 2017