Paul Theroux says it is ‘..everyone’s dream castle from childhood’ and we would agree. It is huge, perched high on the mountains guarding a strategically important pass called the ‘Homs Gap’.
The place was first fortified around 1071 by a local Islamic leader. In 1110 the Crusaders (Chevaliers) arrived and took over. They created a huge, stone structure that has never been defeated. Saladin tried to take it but soon gave up and rode away north where he had more success with other fortresses. Sultan Baybars attacked the Castle in 1271 and, after a siege of a mere month, the Crusaders negotiated safe conduct for themselves and rode away to Tripoli (now in Lebanon) a mere 80km or so south west of the castle.
At the time of surrender the Crusaders had enough supplies for 5 years, but they were down to around 200 in number in a Castle designed to house 4,000. Surrounded by the Islamic armies the Castle must have felt more like a prison than a fortress. After Baybars took over he repaired the structure but what you see today is almost exactly what was built by the Crusaders – and presumably thanks to a mild climate, it is in remarkable condition.
There are two sets of monumental walls – with huge halls built inside the outer ring. There is a moat, which was fed by rain water collected on the nearby hills and entering the Castle on an aqueduct, part of the moat still holds water. The Castle has no natural water supply, but huge reservoirs which were also kept supplied by rain water collected inside and outside the walls.
Our main photo gives you an idea of the thickness of the outer walls – this is the entrance to the Great Hall entirely built inside the walls.
And in the centre of the Castle is a lovely surprise. A small Gothic-style loggia, no doubt commissioned by a Crusader with a sense of the romantic. The vaulted ceilings inside are reminiscent of Oxford College cloisters.
And finally even the Crusader lavatories have survived.