Said T.E. Lawrence, for Knights’ Castle then.
Krak des Chevaliers
Coordinates: 34°45′25″N, 36°17′40″E
Krak des Chevaliers (also Crac des Chevaliers, “fortress of the knights” in a mixture of Arabic and French) was theheadquarters of the Knights Hospitaller in Syria during the Crusades. Qal’at El Ḥiṣn (قلعة الحصن), which is Arabic for “fortress of the knights”.
The castle is located east of Tripoli in the Homs Gap, atop a 650-meter high cliff along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of many fortresses part of a defensive network along the border of the old Crusader states.
The Middle East was always a meeting place for many different civilizations, notably the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Hebrews, the Romans, the Persians, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Kurdish, the Ottomans, the Seljuk Turks and the Franks. Such a smorgasbord of different cultures lead to the creation of the unique architecture preserved in the Krak des Chevaliers.
During ancient history, many conflicts were fought out between different nations in the general area surrounding the Krak, including the famous Battle of Kadesh. The Romans, and then the Byzantine Empire following the East-West Schism, constructed many different fortresses of Hellenic design to resist persian military pressure in that area, which led to the architectural design used by the islamic armies after their conquest of the area in 634 to 639.
Under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty, builders took advantage of the Byzantine structures and their barrage/aqueduct of the Orontes River to turn them into magnificient palaces where they managed to grow gardens in the middle of the desert.
Construction continued under the new rule of the Abbasid empire in 750, although it steadily declined as the army, composed mainly of Turkish forces that did not make as much use of fortifications, took control.
The original fortress had been built in 1031 for the emir of Aleppo. It was captured by Raymond IV of Toulouse early in 1099, during the First Crusade, but was abandoned when the Crusaders continued their march to Jerusalem. It was reoccupied again by Tancred, Prince of Galilee in 1110. Raymond II, count of Tripoli, gave it to the Hospitallers in 1144.
The Hospitallers rebuilt it and expanded it into the largest Crusader fortress in the Holy Land, adding an outer wall 3 meters thick with seven guard towers 8-10 meters thick, to create a concentric castle. One of these towers was occupied by the Grand Master of the Hospitallers. In the 12th century there was a moat covered by a drawbridge leading to postern gates.
Between the inner and outer gates was a courtyard, leading to the inner buildings, which were rebuilt by the Hospitallers in a Gothic style. These buildings included a meeting hall, a chapel, and a 120-meter long storage facility. Other storage facilities were dug into the cliff below the fortress, and it is estimated that the Hospitallers could have withstood a siege for five years.
Gothic cloister by the fortress yard. In 1163, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Nur ad-Din. After their victory the Hospitallers became an essentially independent force on the Tripolitanian frontier. By 1170, the Hospitallers’ modifications were complete, but parts of the fortress were rebuilt after numerous earthquakes in the late 12th century and early 13th
century. It may have held about 50-60 Hospitallers and up to 2000 other foot soldiers.
After the Crusades
The fortress is one of the few sites where Crusader art (in the form of frescoes) has been preserved. Edward I of England, while on the Ninth Crusade in 1272, saw the fortress and used it as an example for his own castles in England and Wales. T.E. Lawrence believed Krak des Chevaliers was the greatest of the Crusader castles and “the most wholly admirable castle in the world.” Today, the fortress is owned by the Syrian government, and it is designated as a World Heritage Site along with Qal’at Salah El-Din (Fortress of Saladin).