When people talk about castles, they are often referring to the widely known castles in France, Germany, and England. But some of the world's most hauntingly beautiful castles aren't even located in Europe. One such castle, the Krak des Chevaliers, is a fantastic limestone fortress that is a gem of history and elegance in Syria.
Many different cultures and tribes have lived in the Middle East through the centuries, including the Babylonians, Hebrews, Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, Hittites, Kurds, and others. Such a varied array of cultures were the foundation for the unique architecture that has been preserved for centuries in the Krak des Chevaliers. The castle is located in the Homs Gap east of Tripoli, Lebanon, on a 650-metre high hilltop that lies along the only passageway from Antioch to the Mediterranean Sea. The castle is part of a network of fortresses that were built in the 12th and 13th centuries along the border of the Crusader states. Because the fortress controlled the only road leading to the Mediterranean, the Hospitallers were able to maintain influence over the Lake Homs area eastward, to take power of the fishing industry, and keep an eye out for Muslim armies that were gathering inside Syria.
Many battles were fought in the areas around the Krak, and the Romans and Byzantines built numerous fortresses in the Hellenic design in order to resist the military pressure from Persia, which led to the prevalence of the architectural design that was used by Islamic armies following their conquering of the area between 634 and 639 AD. Builders working for the Umayyad dynasty turned the structures of the castle into magnificent palaces complete with landscaped gardens, although the castle is in the middle of the desert. Under the rule of Abbasid in 750 AD, the construction continued. The original conversion of the castle into a fortress was completed in 1031, and the fortress was captured and reoccupied twice during the Crusades, when it served as the headquarters location for the Knights Hospitaller.
The Hospitallers later expanded the Krak into the biggest Crusader fortress located in the Holy Land. They added a 3-meter thick outer wall with seven different guard towers. In the 12th century, a moat was installed, which was covered by a bridge that led to outer gates. The inner buildings located between the inner and outer gates were built in a Gothic style, and included a chapel, a meeting hall, a storage facility, and stone stables large enough to hold up to 1,000 horses. Because of the fortifications, experts estimate that the Hospitallers might have been able to withstand a siege for as long as five years.
The interiors of the Krak are far less imposing than the exteriors, and they feature lovely Gothic colonnades covered with Latin inscriptions. Winding corridors lead to a small Romanesque chapel that was converted in the early 1700s to a mosque. The fortress is one of the few sites in the world where Crusader art―in the form of frescoes―has been preserved for centuries. Owned by the Syrian government, it is one of the most important and most well-preserved medieval military castles worldwide, and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Tourists can reach the Krak des Chevaliers easily via a day trip from Hama, Tartus, or Joms.