Qalaat al-Maniqeh (قلعة المنيقة) is a seldom-visited castle in the mountains southeast of Jableh (جبلة), overlooking the village of Wadi al-Qalaa (وادي القلع). While the exterior walls of the castle are fairly well-preserved and still an impressive sight from afar, the interior is mostly destroyed and/or buried (much of the interior has been used, until recently, for agriculture by local villagers). Restoration and excavation work is currently being carried out on the castle. In addition to the castle, the natural scenery provides another good reason to visit this site. As you approach the village of Wadi al-Qalaa (وادي القلع) from Jableh (جبلة) the mountain road winds behind a waterfall which, particularly in the early spring, is a beautiful sight. A couple of restaurants in view of the waterfall provide a nice place to stop for lunch before or after exploring the castle. It makes for a pleasant half-day excursion, perhaps combined with the sites in Jableh (جبلة), Qalaat Bani Qahtan (قلعة بني قحطان), and/or al-Qardaha (القرداحة).
The history of the castle is unclear. It was originally constructed by local Arabs in the 11th century, but soon was taken over by Byzantine forces. The Crusaders took control at some stage in the 12th century (perhaps as early as 1118), but sometime after 1160 it was refortified by the Ismailis when Rashid al-Din became active in the area. Somehow, it passed back into the hands of the Crusaders, perhaps as part of their accommodation of the interests with the Ismailis against their common enemies, the Sunni Muslim forces of Damascus and their allies. By 1186, it had been entrusted to the Hospitallers by Bohemond III, Prince of Antioch. The Hospitallers maintained largely amicable relations with the Ismailis and the castle may have stayed effectively under the control of the sect for it was in Ismaili hands again in 1270-1273, when it was taken by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars, during his suppression of the Ismaili presence in the mountains.
The castle, more or less rectangular in plan, is located on a ridge running northeast to southwest between two streams feeding into the valley of Nahr Hussein. The site is naturally defended by the steep slopes on all but the northeastern side. Here, a lower ridge joins it to the mountain and the defenders cut a ditch in the rock to provide a steep face to discourage assault. This was topped by a formidable wall of solid basalt construction. The defensive positions, notably the keep, were concentrated here, affording commanding views over the spectacular terraces and the mountain ravines to the north.
While the defenses to the north are relatively intact the rest of the walls skirting the central court are in a poor state of preservation. Three underground chambers remain, however, including two apparently used for the stabling of horses, judging by the loops provided to attach rings to the stonework. Much of the stone is roughly dressed and has not survived well above the base level. There is, however, some finer work around the windows that survive. Part of a tower is preserved on a lower level in the southeastern corner (overlooking the village). You can descend to the village from this point.
Getting There: Getting to Qalaat al-Maniqeh (قلعة المنيقة) is relatively straight-forward, though it requires traveling via Jableh (جبلة). Extremely frequent microbuses travel from Lattakia (اللاذقية) to Jableh (جبلة). The complicated part is that they don’t wait to load passengers at the microbus station in Lattakia (اللاذقية), but drive straight through picking up passengers along the way of their return to Jableh (جبلة). Therefore, to catch a microbus to Jableh (جبلة), you must stop one as it passes through the microbus station on the road which divides it in two. If you can’t read Arabic, you’ll probably need to ask someone for help. The trip takes about 30 minutes. From the microbus station in Jableh (جبلة), microbuses travel directly to the village of Wadi al-Qalaa (وادي القلع), located below the castle. The trip takes about 30 minutes.
From Wadi al-Qalaa (وادي القلع), there are two options for reaching the castle. A couple hundred meters beyond the waterfall entering the village, a dirt path to the left winds up the mountain to the castle (a pleasant 15-20 minute hike). Alternatively, the microbus driver could drop you further uphill at the start of the paved road leading to the castle.