Castle of the Day  
 

Krak des Chevaliers

Present-day location:  Salzburg, Austria

History: 

Krak des Chevalier lies on a hill known to be called Jebel Kalakh, overlooking the passage between the Mediterranean and the cities of Homs and Hama. Approximately 650 meters above the west bank of the Orontes River. It is also known to guard the only major passageway between Antakya, Turkey and Beirut, Lebanon.

The Krav des Chevalier is known as the Fortress of Kurds amongst the Arab people since it was originally built on previous foundations of a Muslim castle.

History behind the Krak des Chevalier:

The original fortress was built in 1031 for the general of Aleppo, however it was captured by Raymond IV of Toulouse during the First Crusade in 1099. When the Crusaders continued their journey to Jerusalem, the fortress was then abandoned.

Crusaders:

The crusaders were familiar with castles in their homelands, however never witnessed the castles that were constructed in the Middle East. Castles were a major key to victory in the Middle East. In order to be on the same level as those of the Middle East, they constructed larger fortifications then what they were used too back home for a stronger advantage. These castles consisted of more massive walls and round towers.

During the Crusades, the castle was known to be the headquarter of the Knights Hospitaller.

Prince of Galilee occupied the fortress in 1110. He was one of the four major seigneuries of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

Hospitallers:

The Hospitallers were a religious and military order that had its own charter in which they were in charge of caring for as well as defending the Holy Land.

After Prince of Galilee, in 1142, the fortress was handed over to the Hospitallers by the Count of Tripoli who once used the castle to defend borders. The castle then became to be known as the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller. The Krak des Chevalier was able to hold 2,000 troops. After renovations, it eventually became one of the largest Crusader fortress in the Holy Land.

-Building Phases:

The Krak des Chevalier was constantly being worked on and expanding between 1150 and 1250. Other work was known to occur due to several natural disasters such as earthquakes. They created a concentric castle with two parts; the outside which consisted of thirteen towers and the inside wall. The two walls were separated by a molt which was used as a drinking source for the horses. The gates and the inner buildings were rebuilt to fit a Gothic style. The castle consisted of a meeting hall, a chapel, storage facilities, and stables. To protect themselves from invasion, they also had storage facilities hidden below the entire structure of the Krak des Chevalier.

Military Advantage Of The Castle:

For 200 years the Hospitallers stood strong in the lands near the Holy Land against numerous amounts of Muslim assaults. The castle had many advantages both built into and around it that boosted the overall defenses of the Krak des Chevalier castle. On the outside of the castle there was a slope that was man made as a masonry slope, and created to reach 80 feet wide at the base and was very smooth.

The castle itself was fitted with a moat which was used as a defense and also for the horses to drink from, a drawbridge, and a steep passageway fitted with four gates and an iron grate that could easily slid down to create yet another obstacle to get past to enter the castle. Once inside the invaders would face another task at weaving throughout the zigzagged entry ways where the knights of the castle could fight using arrows, burning oil, and rocks. With advantage was due to the strategic advantage of the outer walls of the castle being high and strong and the secondary walls being just as strong and higher to give the defenders the advantage of height no matter what.

The castle had several failed attempts at sieges, by Saladin who lead the Muslims against the Crusader and many others who were determined on besieging the Krak des Chevalier. However, it was only until April 8th 1271, that it was captured by Sultan Bailbars. Bailbars managed to get the knights to surrender due to the fact of his massive army at his back facing only but a handful of 200 knights, compared to the 2,000 knights it could hold to defend it.

Links:

1. http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/krak-des-chevaliers-landmark.htm  - (Brief History/The Chapel of Hospitallers)

2. http://www.cometosyria.com/en/syriamap/center/krak-des-chevaliers.htm#  (The defensive advantage towards sieges)

3. http://www.tracyanddale.50megs.com/craque.html (gallery of the different parts of the castle)

4. http://www.traveladventures.org/continents/asia/krakdeschevaliers01.shtml - pictures continued

 

Bibliography:

Al Husn, Qalaat. "Krak des Chevaliers." Syria Gate. N.p., 2002. Web. 7 Oct. 2009.
     <
http://www.syriagate.com/Syria/about/cities/Homs/krakdeschevalier.htm >.

Dunn, Jerry Carmillo. "Krak Des Chevaliers." How Stuff Works. N.p., 2006. Web. 7 Oct. 2009.
     <
http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/krak-des-chevaliers-landmark.htm>.

Kaufmann J.E and H.W. Kaufmann. The Medieval Fortress. Cambridge, MA. Da Capo Press, 2001.

Sahner, Christian C. "A Medieval Castle in the Middle East." The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 31 Jan.
     2009. Web. 7 Oct. 2009. <
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123335398205734847.html >.       

Author: Christopher Deeks


  URL: http://staff.kings.edu/bapavlac/knightsandcastles/krak.html
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Last Revision: 7 October 2009
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