About 55 km west of Hama (51 km inland from Baniyas); Masyaf is the best preserved, and probably the most famous, of the Ismailites castles of the mountainous region between the Orontes and the coast. It is superbly located and the sight of the castle outlined against the green of the Jebel Ansariye behind is striking when seen from road from Hama.
In the 12th century, a network of fortresses established by the Ismailites protected their presence in the mountains to which they had fled to escape persecution by orthodox Sunni regimes in Aleppo and Damascus. The site had been used for defensive purpose in Seleucid, Roman and Byzantine times. Written records indicate that it was seized by the Crusaders in 1103, shortly after the establishment of their presence on the coast but it was one of several inland sites that the Crusaders did not have the resources to maintain.
By 1140 – 1, it had been taken by the Ismailites and became a chief center of their sect, particularly under the leadership of Sinan. Sinan’s control came under threat from Saladin who, following two assassination attempts by Sinan’s followers, sought to assert his mastery over the sect. Saladin aimed to promote Sunni orthodoxy by ridding the country of Shi’ite influence following the ending of Fatimid rule in Cairo. Saladin laid siege to Masyaf in 1176 but suddenly broke off the campaign. It seems he had been the target of another Ismailite plot, this time in symbolic form through the appearance on his camp bed of a threatening verse, a dagger and a collection of hot cakes.
Masyaf Castle sits on a small elongated rocky prominence on the eastern side of the town.
Masyaf (مصياف) is a predominantly Ismaili town about 45 kilometers west of Hama (حماة). The primary attraction of Masyaf (مصياف) is the Ismaili castle, one of the best preserved in Syria. The town itself is also a pleasant place to explore, with an old section of town and a scenic location at the foothills of the coastal mountain range. The castle can easily be combined with other sites in the countrysides of Hama (حماة) and Homs (حمص).
The site had been used during the Seleucid, Roman and Byzantine periods for defensive purposes, and the Crusaders seized the castle in 1103. The Crusaders lacked the resources to maintain a small castle so far inland from their coastal stronghold, however, and by 1141 it had been taken by the Ismailis. It became an important center for their sect, particularly under the leadership of Sinan.
After the Ismailis made two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Salah al-Din, their base at Masyaf (مصياف) was threatened by attack from his forces. Salah al-Din laid siege to the castle in 1176, but called off his campaign under mysterious circumstances. At Salah al-Din’s bedside were found cakes, a dagger, and a threatening note, likely left by an Ismaili agent within his ranks. In 1260 the castle fell to the Mongols, and Mamluk Sultan Baibars took control in 1270.
Getting There: Microbuses regularly travel between Masyaf (مصياف) and Hama (حماة), a 45 minute trip. Masyaf (مصياف) also has public transportation connections with:
•Homs (حمص), frequent microbuses, about a 45 minute trip.
•Deir al-Salib (دير الصليب), about a 15 minute trip.
•Tal Salhab (تل سلحب), for Qalaat Abu Qubeis (قلعة آبو قبيس), about a 30 minute trip.