I think T.E. Lawrence, better known to most of us as Lawrence of Arabia, summed it up best when he was quoted on his views of the Syrian Crusader Castle Krak des Chevaliers:
“Perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world…”
While a lot of the places I visited in Syria were randomly found and discovered as I worked my way through the country, Krak des Chevaliers (or Crac des Chevaliers depending on what guide book you’re reading) was a sight I had planned to see well before actually arriving in the country.
Situated about 40km from the Syrian hub town of Homs, I was able to get to Krak des Chevaliers in a mini-van as part of a short, one-day tour that I organised through the guesthouse I was staying at in the town of Hama which, is a little further North from the Castle’s site than Homs is.
The tour I found myself on made a few stops before we got to Krak des Chevaliers, the first being Musiyaf Castle. The castle at Musiyak is quite impressive and definitely has a lot to offer its visitors in regards to exploration value but I chose to hold off on getting to into this one as I didn’t want it to take away from the main event that I knew I would be seeing later in the day.
After checking out the sights and having some memorable interactions with the locals at Musiyaf, the group I was with made its way to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. John’s in “The Valley of the Christians” at Meshtaye.
To me, St John’s Monastery highlights how diverse the fabric of Syria’s culture and society is. Despite the majority of Syrians belonging to the Muslim faith, 27 of the 32 villages in this area are Christian, while for others belong to the Alwai sect and one other is Sunni Muslim. The Monastery is a well-maintained area that houses some impressive manuscripts and artefacts that highlight the history and influence of the Greek Orthodox Church in the region.
Little did I know, the monastery sits right below Krak des Chevaliers. With the midday sun behind it, the silhouette of the main attraction had me picking my jaw up off the floor of the mini-van.
Krak des Chevaliers was built over a site originally inhabited by Kurds. The construction of the fortifications that have made it famous today began in 1142 under the guide of its primary masters, the Knights of St John. These knights ruled the surrounding lands of Krak des Chevaliers up until 1271 when they were eventually defeated and sent packing by the Muslim armies led by Malmuk Saltan Baybars.
Despite its age and enduring periods where it was inhabited by occupants who caused various areas of the castle to become substantially damaged, Krak des Chevalier is in remarkably good condition. I spent hours walking, climbing and just simply sitting and taking the grand scale of this structure, and let’s not play around here – my boyhood obsessions with knights, dragons and castles where jumping out from the inner depths of my memory at every chance they had.
The weather could not have been more perfect than it was on the day I visited this incredible piece of medieval history, again making the list of things that was making me fall in love with this rugged country just that little bit longer.
While seeing the current events in Syria unfold on the news, one thing that I constantly worry about is that the country’s historic sites might fall victim to the destructive actions resulting from the conflicts that are occurring there. The citadel at Hama is non-existent these days after the unsuccessful uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, in 1982.
Krak des Chevaliers has seen its fair share of battles and sieges in its long past, I hope it can come through this current one unscathed as well.
Did you already know about Krak des Chevaliers? What are some impressive sites you’ve been to that dont get too much international exposure?