Click here for larger imageKrak des Chevaliers (also known in Arabic as Hisn al-Akrad) is a castle in Syria originally built for the Emir of Aleppo in 1031 CE but acquired and extensively rebuilt by the Knights Hospitaller in 1144 CE. Considered virtually impregnable, it was the largest Crusader castle in the Middle East and a bulwark against the expansion of the Muslim states during the 12th and 13th centuries C.E. It was once the home of Richard the Lionhearted and the castle is today listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The photo to the left, shot from the top of the castle, shows how it commands the high ground of the area.

Click to enlarge imageThis is the interior of the castle, leading to the living quarters. Above the entry arch is the crest of Richard the Lionhearted (a bit more visible if you enlarge the image). The Castle has a series of of inner and outer walls that made it difficult to breach the gates, should you survive the assault as you made your way up the mountain


Click on image to enlargeInside the central courtyard is the entrance to the main meeting hall for the king and the knights. Here they gathered for war councils and banquets. Behind the central meeting hall are the cavernous kitchens and dining halls for the foot soldiers. Below this complex are found the stables and storage areas. It is an amazingly self-contained structure, located high on a mountain overlooking central trade routes. It proved capable of withstanding a 5-year seige.

Click here for a larger imageHere is an interior shot of the royal meeting hall with its vaulted ceilings and open space. As you can see, even on sunlit days very little light filters through the sparse skylights. As a result, the Crusaders relied a great deal on candles and torches. I thinks this is partly a function of the thick-walled construction techniques, and partly a design choice to ensure protection from any group who breached the walls.

Click to enlargeOne level above the meeting hall were the King's Quarters, a large area atop  the castle that afforded a view that stretched from the edge of Lebanon to the east, and northward nearly as far as Hama, our next destination. Here I am, the knight errant, rescuing a damsel in distress--in this case buying a cup of tea to fend off the chilly October weather in the mountains.


Click on image to enlargeFrom Krak des Chevaliers we descended the mountain and drove to the town of Hama, a forty five minute journey. There we spent the night at the Cham Palace before traveling the 100+ kilometers to Aleppo the next day. Hama is famous for their ancient water wheels, two of which are shown here. Their construction dates from the earliest civilizations of the region.

It is difficult to get a sense of the sites above from static pictures and, unfortunately, there are not enough panoramas on Google Maps to make a coherent virtual tour of the castle.  In lieu of this, we are embedding a video of a Syrian war correspondent, Oleg Blokhin, which provides a somewhat more coherent pathway through the castle. At the very least, it provides more detail on the castle and places the castle in the context of the current civil war in Syria. I doubt we will ever get to see the Krak des Chevaliers in the state that we witnessed it in 1999.

Video of Krak des Chevaliers circa 2018 by Oleg Blokhin

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