A pilgrimage to the Middle Eastern countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, years before the on-going Syrian civil war which began in March, 2011, historically takes us to one of the world’s one hundred most important places to visit before you die, i.e., Crac des Chevaliers, which means “Castle of the Knights”, said to be the best preserved medieval fortress on earth located in Syria, home to world’s oldest civilizations dating back to 6,000 BC. T. E. Lawrence, popularly known as “Lawrence of Arabia” remarked that Crac des Chevaliers is the “most wholly admirable castle in the world.” In 2006 the fortress was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in addition to other five Syrian sites that have been inscribed on the world heritage list; namely, the ancient capital city Damascus, the ancient city of Bosra, Palmyra Ruins, ancient city of Aleppo, and the ancient villages of Northern Syria.
Crac (also “Krak”) located 90 miles west of Damascus, sits strategically atop the 2,130 ft. cliff that dominates the surrounding countryside. The view from its towers is stunning! The castle encompasses an area of 3,000 sq. meters (32,300 sq. ft.) and has two main parts – an outer sun-bleached stone wall with 13 towers and an inner protective wall and stronghold (keep). The two walls are separated by a deep hidden moat (now full of stagnant water). The fortress has a courtyard and a chapel (still retaining its pulpit), many storage rooms, sleeping quarters, some latrines, cisterns for storing water, corridors, bridges, and stables. The fortification could accommodate a garrison of 5,000 soldiers with their horses, equipment and enough provisions and supplies that could allow the defenders to survive a siege for about five years.
The castle has experienced a succession of invasions and ownership since the original fortress was built in 1031 by the Emir (prince or governor of a province) of Aleppo, a Syrian governorate. Later it was captured by a French count named Raymond and then retaken by the Christians under another Crusade leader by the name of Tancred. In 1142 due to financial trouble the castle passed into the possession of “Knights Hospitaller”, a religious medieval chivalric order of the crusades that cared for the sick and looked after the pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Crusades were a series of religious military expeditions sanctioned by the Latin church during the medieval period to check the spread of Islam and to retake the control of the Holy Land in the eastern Mediterranean. Back in the 1930’s the castle was bought by the French government and later donated it to the Syrian state in 1947.
For all history buffs the Crac is a must-see castle which you definitely have to see when in Syria. However, travelling to Syria, currently a war zone, is extremely unwise and impossible at this time.