Krak Des Chevaliers – Syria

A Lonely Crusader Outpost Impervious to the Onslaught of Time

In 1909, before he was Lawrence of Arabia, twenty-year-old T. E. Lawrence toured dozens of the Holy Land’s Crusader castles and described Krak des Chevaliers as “the finest castle in the world. Certainly the most picturesque I have ever seen – quite marvelous.”

Sitting alone like a vast battleship on an impenetrable spur above a vast plain, it remains today the grandest and one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the world. Most of it was superbly constructed and expanded by the Knights of St. John from A.D. 1144 onward. They chose as their site the only significant break in the mountain range between Turkey and Lebanon, on an age-old caravan route between Damascus and inland Syria.

So mighty was this moated bastion, whose fortified walls are studded with thirteen watchtowers, that it was never penetrated. Two of the era’s greatest warriors, including the feared but chivalrous Saladin, were said to have taken one look and retreated without attempting an attack.

In the early 1800s Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who would go on to discover Petra and Abu Simbel, described Krak as “one of the finest buildings of the Middle Ages I ever saw.” It remains in an impressive state of preserva­tion, thanks to some light restoration carried out by the French in 1936.

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