ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Homs

CASTLE OF THE KNIGHTS, Krak des Chevaliers, Homs, Syria

2020.05.12.

Just a few kilometres north of the Syrian and Lebanon border, atop a 650m hill in the Homs Gap between the Mediterranean and the Syrian interior stands one of the world’s best preserved Crusader castle, the Krak des Chevaliers.  Proclaimed by Lawrence of Arabia as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world,” Krak des Chevaliers was built by the Order of Knights Hospitaller, Saint John of Jerusalem, in the 1140’s after capturing an earlier fortress on the spot during the First Crusade.  Housing 3,000 knights to protect pilgrims and trading caravans in the Roman Christendom, the castle remained as the headquarters of the Knights Hospitalier until 1271 when it fell into the hands of Sultan Baibars of the Mamluks, and then to the Ottomans from 16th century onward.  The castle was abandoned in the 19th century, and soon the locals established a small village inside the complex until 1927, when the French bought and restored the castle.  Before the civil war, Krak des Chevaliers was a popular tourist destination for international tourist groups, cruise groups, independent travelers, art and architecture students, etc.   During the civil war, the castle was taken by the rebels in 2012, and was used as a military command centre, weapon storage and a transit base for Lebanese fighters.  The government force recaptured the castle in 2014 and allowed UNESCO and foreign press such to assess the war damages: blackened walls in the Knight Hall, bullet holes, graffiti, rubble allover the inner court, but the biggest loss was the destruction of the main stair.  After a series of ongoing restoration, the castle has reopened recently for visitors again.

Before reaching the castle gate, our van stopped by a roadside lookout for a distant view of the famous Krak des Chevaliers.  Even from a distance we could already appreciate the intact outer walls and well preserved guard towers.  The castle was protected by two layers of wall.  We entered the castle through an entrance on the lower level, then walked through a vaulted ramp, and reached the inside of the fortress.  Another ramp led us up to the core area, where the Knight Hall and Gothic church (later converted into a mosque) stood.  We climbed the guard towers one by one to check out the surrounding scenery.  Krak des Chevaliers was certainly the day’s highlight.

Carc des Chevaliers 1From a distant look, Krak des Chevaliers stands as the perfect Crusade castle out of a fantasy movie.  Situated in the Homs Gap between inner Syria and the Mediterranean, the castle location has always been strategic for the region.

06ME26-15The moat, imposing walls and talus of Krak des Chevaliers survived the civil war.

Carc des Chevaliers 5_01Inside the complex, the main Medieval stair is gone forever due to damages from the civil war.

06ME26-18The Knight Hall is one of the world’s best preserved example of Crusader architecture.

06ME26-19The gallery facade of the Knight Hall suffered damages from the war as well, including burnt walls and broken arches and columns.

06ME26-21The inner court of the castle was littered with rubble in 2014 when the castle was recaptured by the government army.

06ME26-23In 2006, the castle’s inner court was largely peaceful and intact.

Carc des Chevaliers 7Seen from the southeast tower of the castle, the village of Al-Husn dominated the scenery below the castle.  The word “Al-Husn” literally means “The Castle.”

06ME26-25Covered ramps connect the inner court is with the outer areas and main entrances.

06ME26-27Before leaving, we had one last photo of the castle.  The image lived long in my memories, especially when I acknowledge how delicate political situations could become in this part of the world, such that a 900 year old cultural heritage could be gone forever upon a few brutal missiles.