Baniyas

About 40 km south of Lattakia; at the foot of the mountain, Baniyas has a much longer history than the castle on the mountain (al-Marqab), dating its foundation to the Phoenicians and may have played the defensive role later assumed by the massive castle.

It was used by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines and became the seat of the bishop. The Crusaders installed themselves first in Banyas which they knew as Valenie.

 Qalaat Marqab (Marqab Castle):

About 10 km south of Baniyas; located at the point where the plain narrows to a precarious passage between the sea and the mountains, Marqab is in many ways the most baleful of the Crusaders fortresses; or at least the most somber.

 The site is the natural location for a fortified post but it does not seem to have been used for this purpose until the Muslims built there in 1062.

 The Crusader presence quickly faded away and it was the Byzantine who took the site of Marqab from the Arabs in an expedition of 1104. The site of Marqab returned to the Principality of Antioch at some stage among 1108 – 1140.

 Later, it was sold to the Knights Hospitable around 1186. Marqab avoided the fate of other castles still held in private hands which lacked the resources to withstand Saladin’s raid. Following the victory over the Crusaders in Hattin, Saladin marched past the fortress of Marqab in his sweep up the coast in 1188 but did not attack it.

By 1271, its status had already been eroded when, following the fall of the Krakow to Baybars, the Mamelukes of Cairo enforced and agreement for a sharing of the revenues of Marqab’s dependant lands between the Hospitable and the Sultan. It was besieged, bombarded and undermined by Baybars and his successor, Qalaun in 1285. The fortress surrendered a month after. With the fall of Tripoli in 1289 and Tartous in 1291, the ethos which had sustained such gigantic ambitions ended.

 Qalaun the Mameluke retained the fortress and he and his Arab successors strengthened some of its defenses, including the south tower. It remained in military hands until Ottoman times but it ended up as a repository for discredited former governors.

 The Towers

The south tower of the first enclosure wall echoes the great donjon tower above. A band of white marble runs around the upper part of the outer wall. This typically Arab or rather Mameluke stylistic flourish carries and Arabic inscription dating from Qalaun’s reconstruction of the south defenses.

 The east tower was built at the same time as the donjon. The tower gave flanking protection to the south eastern corner and guarded the small postern gate leading to the circuit walk above the first enclosure wall.

 The Bridge (to the gate)

The Arab bridge, leading up to the west gate of the 13th century, is covered with gradually rising stairs that runs in 90° turn over the ditch and into the entrance gateway looking out over the Mediterranean.

 The Barbican Gate

To the north is the Barbican Gate that dates from 1270. It is a cross-vaulted chamber that leads to stairs and an archway into the main courtyard of the keep.

 The Chapel

Aligned east/west, its main entrance is on the west side with a side door to the north. It dates from the initial phase of the Hospitable control (end of 12th century) ad is a gem of austere Crusader architecture. The beautiful doorways on the northern and western sides are similar in their rich moldings and elegant colonnades. The interior is divided into two bays by the cross-groined vaulting. The absence of internal columns adds a feeling of space in what is a relatively small structure, typically of the striving for openness and light in the Gothic period. At the east end of the chapel is the rounded apse that is raised two steps above the level of the rest of the chapel.