30 km from Tartous; Safita is one of the most picturesque towns in Syria, set in beautiful orchard and olive-growing country dotted with historic sites. It is equally accessible from Tartous. The Krak and Drekish and the surrounding valleys contain many picnic spots, idyllic particularly during the spring when the countryside is covered in wildflowers.
The area fell early into Crusader hands and is mentioned in Arab sources as part of the domains of the Count of Tripoli fro 1112. The building of the first castle probably dates from that time. In 1167 – 1171, Nūr al-Din took advantage of Crusader unprepared ness, occupying Tartous, destroying Areimeh and largely demolishing the first version of the Safita fortress, partly out of anger at Crusader piracy against Egyptian merchant ships.
The castle fell into Muslim hands with barely a fight in February 1271, taken by the Mameluke Sultan Baybars en route to the Krak. Though the town was almost totally Greek Orthodox Christian in the late 19th century, the Christian community had only begun to settle there from the Hauran early in the previous century, gradually displacing the Alawi inhabitants. Today the population is again mixed.
Castle Blanc (called by natives, ‘Burj Safita’ which means Safita Tower) was built by the Knights Templar during the Crusades upon prior fortifications. Constructed on the middle hill of Safita’s three hills, it offers a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, and was a major part of the network of Crusader fortifications in the area.
From the roof, one can see from the Mediterranean Sea to the snow-covered mountains of Lebanon, and Tripoli. From Castle Blanc it would have been possible to see the Templar strongholds at Tartous and Arwad Island to the northwest, Castle Rouge on the coastline to the southwest, Akkar to the south, and Krak des Chevaliers (the headquarters of the Syrian Knights Hospitables) to the southeast.
The tower is the remaining keep of the original castle. It has a height of 38 meters, a width of 18 meters, and a length of 31 meters. A large bell is on the western wall, and its sound can be heard up to 5 kilometers from Safita. The castle had to be restored in 1170 and 1202 following damages due to earthquakes. The keep in its current shape probably dates from the reconstruction after 1202.
Considering the time of its construction during the Crusades, the tower served two purposes, as both a chapel and a fortress, with 3 meter-thick walls constructed of ma
ssive and carefully-fitted limestone blocks. The ground floor still cont
ains a chapel, dedicated to St. Michael and used by the Greek Orthodox community of Safita. Th
e second floor, which can be
reached by a flight of partially destroyed stairs, served as a dormitory, and contains many small angled windows that were used by archers to defend the tower. Cut into the rock below the tower is a water cistern, an essential element in case of siege.
From the other fortifications of the castle, only a portal at 45 meters to the East of the keep can still be seen today. During French colonialism, efforts were made to restore the tower,
causing great discomfort to the villagers that lived very close to it.
Dominated by an imposing Crusader keep, the scenic mountain town of Safita (صافيتا) is well worth a visit. Safita (صافيتا) has a charming and picturesque old town and a certain open and liberal feel to it. The population is predominantly split between Alawites and Christians. The area surrounding Safita (صافيتا) is known for beautiful mountain resorts, popular in the summer to escape the heat. Safita (صافيتا) makes a good base for visiting these mountain resorts, as well as the Roman temple complex at Hosn Suleiman (حصن سليمان).
Getting There: There are very frequent microbuses between Tartus (طرطوس) and Safita (صافيتا). These microbuses depart from Tartus (طرطوس) on the northbound (eastern) side of the main boulevard, just south of the main bus station. There will generally be a long line of microbuses bound for Safita (صافيتا) waiting there. The trip takes about 30 minutes. There are accommodation options in Safita (صافيتا), though they are on the expensive side.