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“Qal’at al-Hosn”
Geography and History of the Site:

Qal’at al-Hosn “Crac des Chevaliers ” is considered one of the castles built outside the city and the most famous in the Levant during the period of the Middle ages, so it is mentioned in the Arab, Latin, Greek and Armenian historical battles. The Knights of Hospitallers owned it from 1142 till 1271. It is also mentioned in registries of this military monasticism, which collected the whole events that were connected, directly or indirectly, with this place.

These days it is known under new name “Qal’at al-Hosn”. It is located in the middle way between the Syrian Coast and the city of Homs. It overlooks, as a last castle that belong to the Middle Ages at Coastal Mountain Range, on the plain that connects between the Coast (Tartous and Tripoli) and the region of Homs. It is a passage known as “Homs Gap”. This strategic importance of the castle was the reason of many struggles between the Franks and the Muslims. The site was first occupied in the first third of the 11th century, when prince of Homs established a camp for Kurds  and gave it the name “castle of the kurds”, according to the Arab sources in the Middle and Modern ages. So, the origin of the word “Crac” Latin sources was taken from “Krad”.

General view of crac des chevaliers

The defenses towers  of crac des chevaliers

The Franks occupied the castle during the first expedition in 1099, and it was seized by Gilles-Saint de Raymond in 1110; after two years, it was added with properties of ruler of Tripoli.In 1142, the castle was given to the knights of Hospitallers within a general policy to centralize and watch the crusade provinces that were ruled by the monasticisms of the Hospitallers, the knights of the temple and the Teutoniques. It was the only castle, through financial abilities and military power, which was able to defend the crusaders’ properties and to maintain the castles that were damaged by disasters and the repeated Islamic invasions. The Hospitallers kept the castle more than one century and executed many expeditions to support the site, then they turned it into an important residence place for the elite of the Hospitallers, and a base for operations against the Islamic kingdoms.

The Ayyubid prince Salah El-Din gave up the idea of the siege the castle in 1188, so the castle did not fall until 8 April 1271 at the hand of the Mamluk sultan Baibars, after a siege for more than one month. Understanding its strategic significance, the sultan did not destroy it, and used it to support and help him in invading the Latin Lands. So he decided to restore and enhance it in order to be a military base against the Franks.Works continued under the reign of Qalaoon, who was the last leader of the expeditions against the Franks.

He gave the final touch of the defense ability of the castle, which became a target for new restorations at the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century after a series of earthquakes. Thus the castle lost its strategic importance after the end of the period of the Franks, and it was gradually deserted, till it became void of any garrison. During the 19th century, the villagers occupied the site and lived there inside the wall till the period of the French mandate.The castle is located on trapezoid basalt hill, which is separated from the mountain by artificial trench. The castle is divided into two integral defense regions. The upper castle, built on a rock protrusion, had been organized in the middle of the site, around a central yard and with double trapezoid. It contains the religious architectural complex, which consists of a small church, a room, a corridor and a fortified headquarters built on the south side with three great towers, used as a center for military operations and a residence for the elite of the Hospitallers.

Around the high castle, the lower yard contains architectural remains of Crusade buildings as the western and northern walls and a stable, and basin on the southern side, along with the fortified entrance on the northern side.

The defenses towers  of crac des chevaliers

The contribution of the Mamluks in building the castle is evident. Most works had been carried out during the last third of the 13th century, which led to great improvement in the defenses built by the Hospitallers.The Mamluks built new walls and towers on the southern and eastern sides of the lower yard, topped with a series of passages supported by openings used for the archery and cabins for the archers. Using the castle as a local administrative center by the Mamluks helped to develop the residing buildings and the palace to be a house for the ruler at the top of the fortified headquarters.

Qal’at Salah El-Din

The defenses towers  of  Qal’at Salah El-Din

Geography and History of the Site:

It is located at a distance of 30 km east of Latakia and north of the series of the Coastal Mountain. The castle occupies a rock protrusion of an altitude of 440 m and bordered by two deep valleys from the north and the south. The top of the protrusion faces west (forming an isolated triangle of 720 m length, and 120m width and an area of 605 hectares), and it is isolated from the eastern hill with a deep trench dug since the Byzantine age. The site is divided into three distinguished places:

  • The hill: It is located in the east of the main trench and contains signs and antiquities of inhabitation and reservoirs. And according to the historical sources, the region was occupied during the period of the Franks.
  • The top yard: It is located in the eastern side of the protrusion and contains the largest number of buildings for military, civil and religious uses. This region is the most difficult to understand with regard of the architectural organization and stages of construction, because of imbricate works, resemblance in equipments and the problem of repeated re-use of the place.
  • The lower yard: It is located in the western side of the protrusion and isolated from the top yard with a beginning of a trench. Its walls are supported with four rectangular towers and a circular tower, while the flat floor contains signs and antiquities of Byzantine oratory.

    Mountains surround the castle and it is surrounded also by a natural trench from three sides, which is a deep valley, while on the east side a large trench was dug in the rock separating it from the eastern plateau, and the architecture left a pillar in the middle, on which a movable bridge rests, this trench is 156 meters long And its width is between (14 and 17 meters), and its height is 25 meters.

The Franks transformed the supreme courtyard that forms the heart of the Byzantine palace into a residential area by building a huge square fortress that includes two large water tanks, bordered by multiple semi-circular and rectangular towers, in addition to digging the eastern trench. Later on, the defenses were improved using the former fortifications built by the Byzantines and the Franks, and a large residential complex was built that includes bathrooms and reception rooms on two levels, and it resembles the Ayyubid palace in the Citadel of Aleppo, and two baths and a mosque were built around the complex during the Mamluk period with a reception tower across the western wall of the upper courtyard. The lower courtyard was fortified during the Frankish and Islamic occupations by building two towers with a gate and a perimeter wall.

The eastern castle was built on a protrusion rock that could not be accessed from the north, south nor the east because of the deep valleys, surrounding the castle from these sides, and combining watercourses of two ravines. Its distinguished location is its most principle feature that gives it fame throughout time. The external long wall around the location surrounds a rough region except for the eastern part, where most of the military and residing houses were situated. The most prominent yet most flat part from the location was chosen by the Byzantine to build the castle, while the lower yard, which represents important downward slope, contained few houses that still exist today.

The main road, which allows access to the location from the north, is so zigzag, and it turns to cover the zigzag course of the valley, which separated between the rock protrusion, where the site and the northern hill are. The old paths, which used to lead to the gates of the lower yard, could not be opened anymore because of the forest, planted on site during the mandate.

Features of the period before the Franks were unclear, but the period of the Franks, 12th -13th century was rich and the site was known to be invincible not easily defeated nor entered.

The Deep trench of Qal’at Salah El-Din

The Deep trench of Qal’at Salah El-Din

The first phase for this site dates back to the 4th century BC, during the expedition of Alexander the Great in Syria.In the 10th century, the Hamdani, who ruled the whole region of Northern Syria, occupied it beginning with Aleppo. Then the Byzantines retrieved it in 975 in the expedition of Jean Tzimisees and it remained their property till the beginning of the 12th century.The Franks had taken over the castle during the first decade of the 12th century and built new enforcements.  After 80 years of the Franks occupation, Salah El-Din took over the castle for several days in 1188, through his expedition to free the castles that defended coasts of Antioch. The castle was entrusted to Menquabress family and it remained Arab in spite of the Mongolian invasion in the middle of the 13th century, then the Mamluks took over it and its role began to relatively vanish. The site was mentioned in the 14th and 15th century as a capital of a district in Tripoli emirate, then it was deserted completely.

 Outstanding Universal Value

These two castles represent the most significant examples illustrating the exchange of influences and documenting the evolution of fortified architecture in the Near East during the Byzantine, Crusader and Islamic periods.

The Crac des Chevaliers  was built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem from 1142 to 1271. With further construction by the Mamluks in the late 13th century, it ranks among the best-preserved examples of the Crusader castles.The Qal’at Salah El-Din, even though partly in ruins, retains features from its Byzantine beginnings in the 10th century,the Frankish transformations in the late 12th century and fortifications added by the Ayyubid period (late 12th to mid-13th century). Both castles are located on high ridges that were key defensive positions.Dominating their surrounding landscapes, the two castles of Crac des Chevaliers  and Qal’at Salah El-Din are outstanding examples of fortified architecture relating to the Crusader period.

Their quality of construction and the survival of historical stratigraphy demonstrate the interchange of defensive technology through features of each phase of military occupation.

Registration Criterions to the UNESCO WHL (2006)

Criterion (ii): The castles represent a significant development in the fortification systems, which substantially differed from the European rather more passive defense systems, and which also contributed to the development of the castles in the Levant. Within the castles that have survived in the Near East, the property represents one of the most significant examples illustrating the exchange of influences and documenting the evolution in this field, which had an impact both in the East and in the West.

Criterion (iv): In the history of architecture, the Crac des Chevaliers  is taken as the best preserved example of the castles of the Crusader period, and it is also seen as an archetype of a medieval castle particularly in the context of the military orders. Similarly, the Qal’at Salah El-Din, even though partly in ruins, still represents an outstanding example of this type of fortification, both in terms of its quality of construction and the survival of its historical stratigraphy.

Integrity (2009)

Both castles are located on hill tops dominating visually the surrounding landscape. Apart from some undesirable interventions in the buffer zones, the integrity of the surroundings is well preserved. The illegal constructions (some houses, restaurants and hotels) that have been built near the castles will be demolished. There are also plans for cable cars and an open-air theatre, which would not be in harmony with the integrity of the landscape.

Authenticity (2009)

The Crac des Chevaliers  was subject to some limited restoration during the French mandate, while the relatively recent additions by local villagers were removed. The medieval structures were liberated of accumulated soil. As a whole it has well retained its authenticity.The Qal’at Salah El-Din is located in an isolated region and was not subject to any changes in recent centuries. It has partly fallen in ruins, and is now an archaeological site. It has been subject to some restoration. For example, the main gate of the Ayyubid palace was restored in 1936, imitating the original structure. This type of restoration has now been abandoned, and the main emphasis is on consolidation and conservation. As a whole, the fortress has retained its historic condition and authenticity.Arch. Lina Kutiefan

References:

عدد الزوار 244 

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