Krak des Chevaliers

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Krak des Chevaliers Castle, locally also known as Qalaat al-Hisn or Hisn al-Akrad, lies between the cities of Tartus and Homs in Syria. It is situated in the Homs Gap and guarded the road from Homs to the coast.

Krak des Chevaliers Castle is said to be one of the most important preserved medieval military castles in the world and stands as a symbol for the Crusader era.

The first fortification at this site was built in 1031 by the Emir of Homs and was called Hisn al-Akrad (meaning Castle of the Kurds). This original castle would have been different from the castle we see today and would only have consisted of a single enclosure which plan corresponded with the present inner ward.

During the First Crusade in 1099 it was captured by Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse (a.k.a. Raymond de St. Gilles), but he abandoned it after 10 days when the Crusaders continued their march towards Jerusalem. It was retaken again by Tancred, Prince of Galilee in 1110. Due to financial troubles it was given in 1142 by Raymond II, count of Tripoli, to the Knights Hospitaller.

Two earthquakes, in 1157 and 1169 caused extensive damage to Krak des Chevaliers Castle and in 1170 a large restoration started. In 1188 the castle was fruitlessly sieged by Saladin for a month.

After the castle had again been hit by an earthquake around 1201 a very extensive rebuilding campaign started by the Knights Hospitaller who were at the summit of their power at that time. The west side of the castle was strengthened and the towers there rebuilt into circular towers. The castle was equipped with a talus, a sloping  wall, as earthquake protection. The outer ring wall was built, effectively turning the castle from a spur castle into a concentric castle. The south side of the castle was exceptionally strengthened as it was the most vulnerable side; three mighty towers were connected by a curtain wall. In the middle this wall reached a thickness of 8 meters. In the southern outer ward a large open cistern was created. The buildings in the inner ward were also rebuilt and added to.

In 1271 Krak des Chevaliers Castle was captured by the Mamluk Sultan Baibars after a month long siege with trebuchets. The damages from the siege were quickly repaired and Baibars used it as a base against the County of Tripoli. The square tower in the southern wall of the outer enclosure was built in 1285 by Sultan Al Mansur Qalawun.

Krak des Chevaliers Castle was used until the beginning of the 19th century when it was abandoned. At the end of the 19th century the locals built themselves a small village inside the castle. In 1927 the castle was bought by  the French state. They removed the village and restored the castle. In 1947 the castle was donated to the Syrian state.

At present the castle can be visited for a small fee. This is a great castle which you definitively have to visit when in Syria. It is also used as a site for cultural events which was sadly the case when I visited but I tried my best to block out the powerlines, lights, tribunes and latrines…