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Krak Des Chevaliers / Qalaat Al Husn

A Unique Citadel And A Distinguished Tourist Site

 As high as 2300 feet above sea level stands what is much considered the greatest fortress in the world, Krak Des Chevaliers (Castle of the Knights). With its command over the valley between Homs and Tripoli, and being a model of perfection of medieval fortification, this Castle was never besieged or taken by storm. It only fell through Baibars unique plan involving trickery.

The history of this magnificent fortress is not very well known, it was given as a  garrison by the Amir of Aleppo in 1031. This has been proven through Muslim chronicles, which named it Castle of the Kurds (Husn Al Akrad). The castle that the Kurds erected was taken over by the Count of Toulouse in 1099 and then by the Latin prince Tancred in 1110.

 

It was taken over by the Hospitaliers in 1142, for the defense against the threat of Zengi in Aleppo. After that the Krak was kept in the hands of the crusaders, although it was damaged by a couple of earthquakes, and was rebuilt in its final form in the 13th century.

It only fell to the Mamlouk Sultan Baibars who resorted to a trick in which he forged a letter supposedly from the Crusader commander in Tripoli that said that they should surrender, and so the greatest fortress in the world fell.

From the outside this fortress is intimidating in its grandeur and power. The south side of the Krak was the most vulnerable and Sultan Baybars added a strong bastion to it.

The western side is quite ordinary with its curtain wall and five cylindrical towers strengthening it. The northern wing has a postern which is situated between two square shaped towers.

The defensive plan is featured by two separate lines of defence, an outer curtained wall with several cylindrical towers, and what is known as the inner ring.

They are separated by a ditch which runs around the inner ring except in the south where there is a reservoir.

The inner fortress was used as the crusader castle. The entrance has a wide ramp and a vaulted passage that leads you to the outer ring and on to a platform that links to the inner castle. Large taluses were added to the southwest and east sides to strengthen the outer wall and to make it earthquake resistant.

There is a small chapel to the east of the entrance that was transformed into a mosque by Baibars, and of that mosque remains a mihrab and three minbars.

Opposite the chapel are three powerful towers that strengthen the south wall.

The weakest of the towers was occupied by the Master (the Grand Master of the Order). There is a spiral staircase that takes you up into his room that is round and has a cross-ribbed vault, which is supported by columns.

It is linked to the bastion by a two-story lodging that is of Gothic architecture, which was being used in France at the time. There are three beautiful windows that look out from both floors.

The third and most impressive of the towers is linked to the keep by a massif instead of a wall, on which many war machines would be put (Catapults, etc.). From this tower, the five-sided erection that Baibars later altered could be controlled.

There is access from here to the grand hall in the inner yard, this quite elegant construction is preceded by a portico which has seven ribvaulted bays. This large hall of the knights included a well, a bakery, and the latrines. On the NW side is a building known as the ‘Tower of the King’s Daughter’, the lower part of this construction dates back to the 12th century while the upper part belongs to the Arab period. From the tea room on the upper floor a beautiful view including Safita and the coast can be seen.

 

Haifaa Mafalani

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