Crac des Chevaliers
Qal‘at al-Hisn / Hisn al-Akrâd
Homs region, Syria
Hegira 5th - 10th century / AD 11th - 16th century
Kilabite-Seljuq (AH 422–504 / AD 1031–1110); Counts of Tripoli (AH 504–37 / AD 1110–42); Knights Hospitallers (AH 537–669 / AD 1142–1271); Mamluk (AH 669 / AD1271–16th century)
Knights Hospitallers and Mamluk Sultans Baybars (AH 658–76 / AD 1260–77), Barakat Khan (AH 676–8 / AD 1277–9), Al-Mansur Qalawun (AH 678–89 / AD 1279–90) and al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun (who ruled three times: AH 693–4 / AD 1293–4; AH 698–708 / AD 1299–1309; AH 709–41 / AD 1310–41).
The castle is located between the Port of Tartous and the City of Homs, sprawling on the southern buttresses of the Jabal Ansariyya, at an altitude of 650 m, where it kept watch on the Pass of Homs, the main passageway between the hinterland of the Bilad al-Sham held by the Muslims, and the coastline possessed by the Crusaders.
The site was occupied by the Kilabites in AH 422 / AD 1031 for the settlement of a Kurdish colony, and since then, acquired the name Hisn al-Akrâd (“Castle of the Kurds”). The site's main fortification plan, however, took place after its conquest by the Crusaders in AH 504 / AD 1110 and especially after its donation to the military Order of the Knights Hospitallers in AH 537 / AD 1142. It was kept by the Crusaders for more than 120 years. Crac des Chevaliers finally fell to Mamluk Sultan al-Zahir Baybars' hands in AH 669 / AD 1271 and became integrated into the Mamluk Empire. The castle was restored and refortified to become the symbol of Mamluk power in the region and the residence of the Mamluk governors. It remained militarily occupied until the end of the Ottoman period and was then inhabited by villagers until the period of the French Mandate. It was restored and emptied of its inhabitants during the 20th century and renamed Qal'at al-Hisn during the 1950s.
Laid on a basaltic trapezoidal-shaped spur separated from the mountain on the southern side by an artificial ditch, the castle is divided into two complementary defensive areas. The high castle, built on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the site, is organised around a central courtyard and a double trapezoidal-shaped surrounding wall. It includes the most impressive buildings of the Frankish occupation. These include the religious architectural complex, made up of a chapel, a capitular room and a cloister gallery, as well as the donjon, built on the southern front and made up of three huge towers to be used as headquarters and the main residence of the Hospitallers elite. Around the high castle, the low courtyard also contains architectural remains of this Crusader settlement, like the western and northern ramparts, the stable, the pool on the southern front and the “barbacane” of the northeastern front.
The Mamluk architectural contribution to Crac des Chevaliers is substantial. The most significant works were achieved during the last third of the AH 7th / AD 13th century and led to a major improvement of the fortifications built by the Hospitallers. New ramparts and several flanking towers were erected on the southern and eastern fronts of the low courtyard, overhung by continuous galleries of machicolations and by box machicolations. The Mamluk use of Crac des Chevaliers as a regional administrative centre led to the development of residential and palatial buildings, such as the governor's house on top of the donjon, the decorated rooms overhanging the high castle, and the hammam in the low courtyard.
Also known as Hisn al-Akrâd after the Kurdish settlement of the castle during the AH 5th / AD 11th century, the major militarisation and defensive architectural reconstruction of the site took place under Crusader occupation, and especially by the military Order of the Knights Hospitallers. The Crusaders kept hold of this important strategic location for over 120 years, and it is a remarkable work of elite military architecture. It also includes a 6th- / 12th-century chapel, which bears Romanesque features, and a late 7th- / 13th-century arcade with stylistic links to French Gothic architecture.
Numerous Arabic inscriptions on the south front of the low courtyard give a chronology for the Mamluk works on the castle at the end of the 7th / 13th century. Several historical and architectural studies have helped in the definition of the monumental history of the castle.
Cathcart-King, D. J., “The Taking of Le Krak des Chevaliers in 1271”, Antiquity, XXIII, 1949, pp.83–92.
Deschamps, P., “Les châteaux des Croisés en Terre Sainte”,Vol. 1, Le Crac des Chevaliers, Paris, 1934.
Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles, Cambridge, 1994, pp.145–63.
Mesqui, J., “Le Crac des Chevaliers”, Quatre châteaux des Hospitaliers, 2003 [www.castellorient.com].
Müller-Wiener, W., Castles of the Crusaders, London, 1966, pp.59–62.
Rey, E-G., Etude sur les monuments de l'architecture militaire des Croisés en Syrie et dans l'île de Chypre, Paris, 1871, pp.39–67.
Sobernheim, M., “Matériaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum”,Vol. 2, Syrie du Nord, Mémoires de l'Ecole du Caire XXV, Cairo, 1909, pp.19–36.
Van Berchem, M., and Fatio, E., “Voyage en Syrie”, Vol. I, Mémoires de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, Cairo, 1914–15, pp.135–63.
Benjamin Michaudel "Crac des Chevaliers" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;25;en
Prepared by: Benjamin MichaudelBenjamin Michaudel
Benjamin Michaudel is a French scholar in Islamic history, art and archaeology and an Arabist. He is the author of a Ph.D. on the Ayyubid and Mamluk fortifications in coastal Syria and has been conducting surveys in Syria since 1997.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 31
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Two Mamluk Sultans against the Franks The Atabegs and Ayyubids | War and Horsemanship
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