Krak des Chevaliers & Qalʿat Ṣalāḥ El-Dīn – University of Copenhagen

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Krak des Chevaliers & Qalʿat Ṣalāḥ El-Dīn

Historical & archaeological value

The castle, known from the French Krac des Chevaliers, is located on a high, rocky hill in the strategic area of the Homs Gap, 60 km west of Homs. The limestone castle emerges as one of the greatest architectural remains left by the Crusaders of the 11th - 13th centuries in Syria. The site was first used as a military camp by the Emir of Homs for his Kurdish soldiers, hence the site has been known in Arabic literature as ‘ḥiṣn al Akrād’ (fort of the Kurds). The Crusaders controlled the castle in 1099 AD, and in 1110 Raymond de Saint-Gilles annexed the site to the Principality of Tripoli, later giving it to the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in 1142. It remained under Frankish control until 1271AD when the castle fell to the Mamluks who improved the fortification of the site by adding watchtowers and defensive walls. In 2006 significant preservation and conservation activities took place at the site.

Despite the commonly used French name for the site, which was coined by 19th century historians, a more national dimension has been given to the site by officially naming it in Arabic qalʿat al hīṣn (the Arabic word hīṣn also means fort).

Krak des Chevaliers ranks among the best-preserved examples of the Crusader castles. The layout includes a religious complex with church and chapel, as well as several units arranged around a courtyard such as watchtowers, stables, and rooms for storage and sleeping. The castle is built in the gothic style represented by high ceilings, pointed arches and a multitude of doors, windows and skylights to allow the proliferation of natural light. Meanwhile, bridges, ramps and winding passages demonstrate the building’s military function.

The Qalʿat Ṣalāḥ El-Dīn (Fortress of Saladin) is located 30 km to the east of Latakia on a rocky hill. The first evidence for occupation dates to the 4th century BC, during the period of Alexander the Great. In the 10th century AD the site was ruled by the Hamadanid dynasty from Aleppo and came under Byzantine control in 975 AD before being captured by Saladin in 1182 AD.

Currently the site is partly in ruins, yet it represents an outstanding example of this type of fortification, both in terms of the quality of construction and the survival of archaeological stratigraphy. It displays features from its Byzantine beginnings in the 10th century, the Frankish transformation in the late 12th century and fortifications added by the Ayyubid dynasty in the late 12th to mid-13th century.

In 2006 Qalʿ at al hīṣn and the Qalʿat Ṣalāḥ El-Dīn were recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to their outstanding importance.