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Krak des Chevaliers
Ruined Concentric Crusader Castle in Syria

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Krak des Chevaliers is a Crusader fortress in Syria. It is one of the most important preserved medieval military castles in the world, and one of the most spectacular. T. E. Lawrence described it as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”. In its prime it garrisoned some 2,000 men. In places the walls are 100 feet thick.

It is also known as Kerak des Chevaliers and as Crac des Chevaliers.

It is one of many fortresses that were part of a defensive network along the border of the old Crusader states. The fortress controlled the road to the Mediterranean, and from this base, the Knights Hospitallers could exert some influence over Lake Homs to the east to control the fishing industry and watch for Muslim armies gathering in Syria.

It was built in limestone, in 1031 and extensively altered in the period 1150–1250

It is now owned by the syrian government and is open to the public (Apr–Oct: 9am–6pm ; Nov–Mar: 9am–4pm).

Although partially ruined, Krak has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.

The word Krak comrs from the Syriac karak, meaning fortress. Krak is known in Arabic as Hisn al Akrad, the Castle of the Kurds. It was called by the Franks Le Crat and then by a confusion with karak (fortress), Le Crac.

Drawing of Krak as it would have looked

 

Photograph of Krak

 

Photograph of Krak showing the great talus

 

 

Location

The castle is located east of Tripoli, Lebanon, in the Homs Gap, on top of a 650-metre-high hill along the only route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 90 miles northwest of Damascus and approximately 40 km west of the city of Homs, close to the border of Lebanon, and is administratively part of the Homs Governorate of Syria.


Google map showing the location of Krak des Chevaliers

 

Google map showing Krak des Chevaliers

 

History

The original fortress was built in 1031 for the emir of Aleppo. He installed a colony of Kurds in that year.

During the First Crusade in 1099 it was captured by Raymond IV of Toulouse, but then abandoned when the Crusaders continued their march towards Jerusalem.

It was reoccupied again by Tancred, Prince of Galilee in 1110. It lay in the Crusader state of Tripoli whose counts werea branch of the St-Gilles Family, Counts of Toulouse.. In 1142 it was given by Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, to the Knights Hospitallers.

Krak des Chevaliers was the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades. It was expanded between 1150 and 1250 and eventually housed a garrison of 2,000.

In 1163 the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Nur ad-Din Zengi, after which the Hospitallers became an essentially independent force on the Tripolitanian frontier.

By 1170 the Hospitallers' modifications were complete. In the late 12th and early 13th century earthquakes caused some damage and required further rebuilding.

Saladin unsuccessfully besieged the castle in 1188 - he decided to by-pass the castle after just a day.

In 1217, during the Fifth Crusade, King Andrew II of Hungary strengthened the outer walls and financed the guarding troops.

In 1271 the fortress was besieged by Mamluk Sultan Baibars on April 8 with the aid of heavy trebuchets and mangonels. To conquer the castle, Baibars used a trick, presenting a forged letter from the Crusader Commander in Tripoli, ordering the defenders to surrender the castle. Without this trick, Krak would probably never have fallen.

The Crusaders were allowed to leave the castle safely, provided they returned to a Christian country and not return to Arab lands. Baibars refortified the castle and used it as a base against Tripoli. He also converted the Hospitaller chapel to a mosque.

In 1935, the castle was bought by the French government. Restoration began under the supervision of Pierre Coupel, who had undertaken similar work at the Tower of the Lions and the two castles at Sidon. The castle was made a World Heritage Site, along with Qal’at Salah El-Din, in 2006, and is now owned by the Syrian government. The fortress is one of the few sites where Crusader art (in the form of frescoes) has been preserved.

Stables at Krak

 

Detail of the Citadel

 

Raymond IV of Toulouse, whose dynasty became Counts of Tripoli

 

 

Architecture

With its impenetrable walls, winding corridors, and massive towers, Crak des Chevaliers is a spectacular rxample of medieval architecture.

The Hospitallers rebuilt Krak and expanded it into the largest Crusader fortress in the Holy Land, adding an outer wall three meters thick with seven guard towers eight to ten meters thick to create a concentric castle.

The fortress may have held about 50–60 Hospitaller knights and up to 2,000 other foot soldiers; the Grand Master of the Hospitallers lived in one of the towers.

Visitors first encounter massive curtain walls encircling the fortress. These walls are punctuated at roughly 150-foot intervals by round towers. Narrow arrow loops perforate each tower, providing a tactical vantage for archers hidden inside. The most vulnerable stretch of wall is along the south end, which is thus the most heavily fortified, To protect this critical area, the Hospitallers dug a ditch and installed the largest defensive wall anywhere in the castle, nearly 100 feet thick.

The buildings in the inner ward were rebuilt by the Hospitallers in a Gothic style. These buildings included a meeting hall, a chapel, a 120-meter-long storage facility, and two vaulted stone stables which could have held up to a thousand horses. Other storage facilities were dug into the cliff below the fortress.

Krak can be classified both as a spur castle and a fully developed concentric castle. it is estimated that the Hospitallers could have withstood a siege for five years.

The southern side of the castle is the most vulnerable to attack, as this is where the spur on which the castle stands is connected to the next hill, so that siege engines can approach on level ground. The inner defences are strongest at this point, with a cluster of towers connected by a thick wall. The inner curtain wall is up to 100 feet thick at the base on the south side, with seven guard towers 30 feet in diameter.

Between the inner and outer walls at the southern side there is a large open cistern, fed by an aqueduct from outside the castle. The square tower in the South does not date from the crusader period, but was added when the Mamluks repaired the damage from their successful siege after they had taken over the castle.

The most elegant feature is the thirteenth century Gothic colonnade, or loggia, with beautiful peaked vaultsdesigned as an entrance to the great hall. The delicate arches The loggia, along with the chapel, is a visible reminder that Krak was a religious monastery just as much as a military stronghold.. A surviving Latin inscription on one of the lintels reads: "Grace, wisdom and beauty you may enjoy, but beware pride, which alone can tarnish all the rest."

On the eastern side between the inner and outer walls a vaulted ramp leads from the outer to the inner gate. The ramp makes a number of elbow turns and is defended by arrow slits and machicolations, making it a strongly defended bent entrance. On the northern side, there is a postern gate flanked by two towers. On the Western side, the ward between the outer and inner walls does not contain any buildings, but it is here that the concentric principle of defence is most evident, with the inner defences completely dominating the outer wall. The walls on all sides contain passages that act as shooting galleries or vaults leading to arrow slits.

Inside Krak

 

The Lists at Krak

 

Vaulting at Krak

 

 





Unesco World Heritage Site


Unesco name of World Heritage site: Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (added in 2006)


Justification for Inscription: "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 time of the Crusades (11th - 13th centuries). 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 (Fortress of Saladin), even though partly in ruins, represents an outstanding example of this type of fortification, both in terms of the quality of construction and the survival of historical stratigraphy. It retains features from its Byzantine beginnings in the 10th century, the Frankish transformations in the late 12th century and fortifications added by the Ayyubid dynasty (late 12th to mid-13th century). "

Click here for more UNESCO World Heritage Castles

Entrance.at Krak. Note the slight slop (for horses to manage the steps) and the murder holes above.

 

An artist's impression

 

Inside Krak

 

 

Vaulting at Krak

 

Inside Krak

 

Plan View of Krak

 

 

 

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