Margat Castle, locally known as Qalaat al-Marqab, lies on a spur of the Jebel al-Ansariye mountains, south of the city of Baniyas in Syria. Only 2 km from the Mediterranean coast, it controlled the coastal road between Tartus and Latakia and guarded the border of the Principality of Antioch with the County of Tripoli.
The first castle at this site was built in 1062 by a local landlord. This castle was taken in 1104 by Byzantine forces led by Admiral Kantakuzenos.
In 1116 the castle was given as a fief to Reynald Mazoir, a nobleman from Antioch, by Roger of Salerno, Regent of Antioch. He started to rebuild the castle in a formidable elongated stronghold out of black basalt. In 1133 however the castle fell into Muslim hands. But in 1140 Reynald II Mazoir regained ownership. In 1157, 1170 and 1186 the castle was struck by earthquakes which caused major damages. And although the Mazoir family had large financial means maintaining Margat Castle became to costly. So, in 1186 Margat Castle was sold to the Order of Saint John, a branch of the Knights Hospitaller.
Between 1186 and 1205 the Hospitallers rebuilt the castle into the mighty ship-like fortress we see today. After the Battle of Hattin in 1187 Saladin’s army passed in the vicinity of the castle but did not attack it, leaving it one of the few remaining territories in Christian hands after Saladin’s conquests.
By the beginning of the 13th century the Hospitallers controlled the surrounding land and roads from the castle and made a large profit from travelers and pilgrims passing through. Isaac Comnenus of Cyprus was imprisoned in the castle after Richard I of England captured Cyprus from him during the Third Crusade. The bishop of nearby Valenia also used Margat Castle as his headquarters after around 1240. Margat was second in size and power only to the other Hospitaller fortress to the south, Krak des Chevaliers.
In 1269, 1270 and 1281 Margat Castle was unsuccessfully besieged by the Mamluk Sultan Baibars. In 1285 the castle was sieged again by a Mamluk army, this time under Sultan Al Mansur Qalawun using trebuchets. The castle held out for 5 weeks but fell after sappers mined the north wall. Qalawun respected the size of the fortress and the courage of its defenders, and allowed the Hospitallers to leave with everything they could carry. Rather than destroy it as he did with other fortresses, Margat Castle was restored and occupied by a Mamluk garrison.
Up until the beginning of the 20th century the castle was occupied by soldiers, first from the Ottoman Empire and later Turkish, after which the dilapidated castle fell into ruin.
Legend has it that a tunnel once connected Margat Castle to the Boy’s Tower, a watchtower further down the hill, which would thus have been used to supply its occupants in the case of an attack.