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Citadel of Salah Ed-Din (Saladin Castle)
Ruined Crusader Castle in Syria

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The Citadel of Salah Ed-Din is a castle in Syria, named after the great Molem leader known in the West as Saladin. There had been a fortress here in ancient timesand the crusader fortress is just one in a succession of military buildings on this side. It is a concentric castle built on spur which provides natural defences. Along with Krak it is aWorld Heritage Site.

The Arabs, the Byzantines, and the Crusaders fought to control this castle. Byzantines fortified it around the year 1000 with 3 walls, 5 meters in thickness. Crusaders later added the eastern moat. With its 24 meters high tower, its small defensive towers, squares, and stables it became invincible. Near the Byzantine fortifications are the remains of an old church used by the Byzantines, and later by the Crusaders.





The castle, built in Limestone, is located around 30 km east of Latakia, in high mountainous terrain, on a ridge between two deep ravines and surrounded by forest.

The Phoenicians and the Greeks called it "Sigon." In the 10th century it was called "Sihon," and during the Crusades it was named "Saon" after Robert of Saon, a prince from Antioch in the 12th century. The castle was renamed in 1957 in honor of Saladin, who liberated it in 1188. In Arabic it is قلعة صلاح الدين‎) Qalaat Salah Ed-Din.

Google map showing the location of Citadel of Salah Ed-Din (Saladin Castle)


Google map showing Citadel of Salah Ed-Din (Saladin Castle)


Ancient History

The castle was built in ancient times, possibly during the Phoenician period (early first millennium BC). The Phoenicians are said to have surrendered it to Alexander the Great about 334 BC. According to legend, the Macedonian phalanxes had been unable to storm the castle even after a long siege. In despair, Alexander prayed at the local temple of Hercules (the Phoenician Melkarth). The following evening, Hercules appeared to Alexander in a vision and showed him the location of a nearby cave where his legendary club was hidden. Alexander sprung out of bed and sure enough, found the cave and the club where the vision had shown him. Next morning, Alexander lead a charge against the castle armed with Hercules' club. The stone gates were no match for a demigod's weapon, and thus the castle finally fell to the Macedonian conqueror.

Not much is known about what happened to it between this period and the return of the Byzantines in the 10th century AD.





Medieval History

Emperor John I Tzimiskes gained control of the place from the Aleppan Hamdanid dynasty, and built the first of its defensive structures.

It fell into the hands of the Crusaders at around the beginning of the 12th century. In 1119 it was owned by Robert of Saone who was given control of it by Roger, Prince of Antioch.

Most of what is evident today was built at this time. The fortress was notable as being one of the few major crusader castlesnot entrusted to the major military orders of the Hospitallers or the Templars.

The Crusader walls were breached by the armies of Muslim leader Salah ed-Din (Saladin) in July 1188, and it is from this victory that the castle takes its present name.

From 1188 to 1272 the castle was controlled by the local family of Nasr al-Din Manguwiris, who ceded it to Egyptian sultan Baybars in 1273. From 1280 it was under Sonqor al-Ashqar, but was captured back by the Egyptians in 1287 by Qalaun.






One of the most magnificent features of the fortress is the 28 m deep ditch, which was cut into living rock probably by the Byzantines (it might have been completed by the Crusaders). This ditch, which runs 156 meters along the east side, is 14 to 20 meters wide and has a lonely 28 m high needle to support the drawbridge.

The entrance to the castle is through an entrance on the south side of the fortress. On the right of the entrance is a tower, a bastion built by the Crusaders. There is another a few meters further.

There is a cistern for water storage and some stables just next to a massive keep that overlooks the ditch. This keep has walls of 5 m thick and covers an area of nearly 24 m².

Further on to the north is the gate where the drawbridge used to be.

Also evident are the Byzantine citadel, located at the center of the fortress, another large cistern, the Crusader tea house, and a Crusader church adjoining one of two Byzantine chapels.

As for the Arab additions to the fortress they include a mosque, which dates back to sultan Qalawun, and a palace, which includes baths with courtyards and iwans. This has been slightly restored.

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). "

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