16 December 2011

Syria--Krak des Chevaliers and St. George Monastery

Welcome back. There seems to be interest in my travels in Syria in the early 1980s, so I’ll continue.

Running from meeting to meeting across Damascus one Thursday, my Australian colleague and I stopped for lunch at a popular hotel restaurant. Coincidentally, one of his countrymen walked in, joined us and mentioned that he was organizing a Friday trip to the Krak de Chevaliers for one of his associates.
The Krak des Chevaliers on the highest point, 
seen from a distance. Syria, 1983.

I joined the conversation. What’s the Krak de Chevaliers? A Crusaders’ castle.
Really? Where is it? About 220 kilometers north, near Homs. (Translate, about 140 miles) Any chance I might tag along? Sure, another Yank is going. She’s a marine archaeologist.

I was on a roll. I’d survived last Friday’s trek to Shahba, Qanawat and Bosra, and on Saturday, went off to Hama for two days of fieldwork. I could certainly be ready for another adventure by tomorrow morning. How exciting!

St. George Monastery, 
 Syria, 1983.
Saint George Monastery

I can’t remember any of the small talk en route to the castle; no doubt, it was riveting. Worse, I can’t remember stopping a few miles from the castle to visit what my 35 mm slide is labeled the Convent of Saint George and websites now call Saint George Monastery. 

Wikipedia notes that the Antiochian Orthodox monastery traces to the 5th century. The general location has been a center of Greek Orthodox Christianity since the 6th century. The website, “Come to Syria,” provides a good description of the monastery itself, http://www.cometosyria.com/en/pages/St.+George+Monastery+syria/52/38

Krak des Chevaliers

My haziness extends to arriving at the Krak des Chevaliers, but I vividly remember roaming unescorted, being wow’ed and wishing I were still a boy with my Prince Valiant plastic sword, shield and breastplate. Seeing Wikitravel’s alert about the daily hordes of tourists that “submerge” the castle, I’m grateful that we beat the crowd by 30 years, http://wikitravel.org/en/Krak_des_Chevaliers,

Despite my gratitude, I wish I had had a tour guide or the paperback I bought later that week: Rihaoui, A. 1982. The Krak of the Knights: Touristic and Archaeological Guide. Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums, Damascus. 63 pp.

Reaching into the Rihaoui's book, Wikipedia and the UNESCO World Heritage Site website, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1229, which the castle joined in 2006, I come up with the following to accompany my photographs. (Take a look at the satellite image of the site shown at www.sacred-destinations.com/syria/krak-des-chevaliers.)

Summary Description of Castle
The ditch between the outer and inner walls, 
Krak des Chevaliers, Syria, 1983.

The limestone castle is one of the world’s most celebrated medieval fortresses, renowned for its size, architecture and condition. Standing on a tall ridge, the castle covers nearly 7.5 acres at a location where it can guard the only major pass between Antioch (Antakya), Turkey and Beirut, Lebanon.
Structures at Krak des Chevaliers, Syria, 1983.

The Crusaders’ occupancy of the site began in 1110. Earlier, the site was occupied by a small fortress, Castle of the Slope, followed around 1031 by the Castle of the Kurds. The Crusaders’ possession passed from the Count of Antioch to the Count of Tripoli to the Hospitallers, who held the castle from 1142 until it was taken by Moslems in 1271.
Inner wall tower, Krak des Chevaliers, Syria, 1983.
The Crusaders built the castle in stages over many years as needed and in response to earthquakes. At its peak, the castle housed some 2000 men.
Access ramps, Krak des Chevaliers, Syria, 1983.
Gothic cloister (left) and stable (right), Krak des Chevaliers, Syria, 1983.
The inner ward, with its structures, courtyard, wall and towers, was built on the highest land and walls modified before the outer ward was added. The outer walls, with their towers, guard rooms and stables, were added last. A ditch and, in one section, a water-supply cistern, which served as a moat, lies between the inner and outer wall.
The rooftop of an inner ward structure, Krak des Chevaliers, Syria. 1983.
In time, the castle lost its importance and became a village, which was abandoned in the 1930s. Significant restoration is more recent.
Tower of the King’s Daughter, 
Krak des Chevaliers, Syria, 1983

Wrap Up

It was a long, interesting day, even if our marine archaeologist became ill after we left the castle. We reached Damascus in time for me to wash clothes, catch a movie at the American Embassy’s Marine House and find my Australian colleague for a late dinner and review of what he would see when he visits the castle the following week.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again in about a week about my final Syria day trip.

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