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Krak des Chevaliers historical reminder of the Crusades

By Catholic Online
December 20th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Krak des Chevaliers is a massive fortress located in the middle of the Syrian desert. It stands as a symbol of Crusades, an effort to bring the Christian faith to the Muslims. What made this spot so strategic was that only one route led from the city of Antioch south to Beirut and the Mediterranean. Krak des Chevaliers resides at the top of the 650-meter hill which dominates the surrounding countryside and overlooks this ancient highway.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Krak des Chevaliers is a massive fortress located in the middle of the Syrian desert. It stands as a symbol of Crusades, an effort to bring the Christian faith to the Muslims. What made this spot so strategic was that only one route led from the city of Antioch south to Beirut and the Mediterranean. Krak des Chevaliers resides at the top of the 650-meter hill which dominates the surrounding countryside and overlooks this ancient highway.

The Krak was at first a much smaller fortress, built by the Emir of Aleppo. Captured in 1110 by Tancred, Prince of Galilee and one of the most famous Crusaders, the fortress later passed into the possession of Knights Hospitaller, the most powerful religious-military orders of the Crusades. The fortress served as their base of operations in the Middle East for centuries.

Krak des Chevaliers is a typical example of Gothic architecture, uprooted from Western Europe and transferred to the Middle East. It remains to this day as one of the best-preserved examples of European medieval military architecture.

The fortress could hold 2000 soldiers. The inner protective wall is over 3 meters thick. The inner castle is protected by seven towers, each 10 meters in diameter. The storeroom is 120 meters long and could hold supplies that would permit the defenders to survive a siege for about five years, with stables that could accommodate up to one thousand horses.

Krak des Chevaliers withstood numerous attacks by Muslim forces, even a siege by the mighty Saladin in 1188. The castle fell to a cunning trick in 1271, when Baibars Mamluk, Sultan of Egypt, managed to take the fortress after sending a forged letter to the defenders in the name of their master and commander in Tripoli ordering them to surrender the castle.

After their expulsion from Syria and Levant, the never-conquered (though easily duped) Knights Hospitaller moved their headquarters to Cyprus and then to Rhodes, retreating ever westwards, until they settled on Malta, where they survived until Napoleonic times as the Knights of St. John.

Krak des Chevaliers is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

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