Qal‘at Salah al-Din (Saladin)
Sahyun or Saone
30 km northeast of Latakia, Latakia region, Syria
Hegira 4th–7th century / AD 10th–16th century
Hamdanid; Byzantine; Seljuq; Crusader; Ayyubid; Mamluk
Crusader Lords of Saone (AH 508–4 / AD 1114–88); Ayyubid Mengüverish amirs (AH 584–671 / AD 1188–1272), rebel amir Sunqur al-Ashqar (AH 678–86 / AD 1279–87), Mamluk sultans: Qalawun (AH 678–89 / AD 1279–90); al-Ashraf Khalil (AH 689–93 / AD 1290–3) 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).
Saladin castle may be considered one of the most elaborate castles of the Bilad al-Sham, featuring the main characteristics of Byzantine, Frankish, Ayyubid and Mamluk architectural styles, including a variety of military, civil, religious and palatial types. The castle is located on the northern buttresses of the Jabal Ansariyya (also known as Jabal Bahra) Mountain, overlooking the minor road that intersected the mountain between the town of Latakia and the northern Ghab plain. For the most part, the castle played the role of a manorial residence for the Crusaders, the Ayyubids and the Mamluks.
During the 11th century, the site was occupied by the Byzantines who launched an ambitious fortification campaign during their expansionist efforts. They were briefly curtailed by the Seljuqs after-which the castle was conquered by the Crusaders between AH 507–8 / AD 1114 and AH 513 / AD1119. Granted as a fief to one of the Knights Hospitallers, Robert son of Foulques d'Anjou and to his successors, the castle was improved significantly, possibly with the help of the Military Orders. This Crusader stronghold was finally conquered by the Ayyubid, Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) in AH 584 / AD 1188 after a three-day siege and granted as an iqta'','en');" style="text-decoration: underline;">iqta' (property donation) to an Ayyubid prince Nasir al-Din Mengüverish. After being threatened by the Mongols in the middle of the AH 7th / AD 13th century, it was peacefully recovered by the Mamluk Sultan al-Zahir Baybars in AH 671 / AD 1272 and granted to a governor. With the advent of Sultan al-Mansur Sayf al-Din Qalawun in AH 679 / AD 1280, the anti-Sultan Sunqur al-Ashqar transformed the castle into his headquarters. Qalawun conquered it in AH 686 / AD1287. Saladin Castle was then transformed into a provincial administrative centre within the Mamluk Empire.
The triangular shaped castle is established on a rocky spur isolated from the mountain by a wide artificial ditch whose depth is about 30 m. Measuring east to west almost 700-m long and 120 m of maximal width along the eastern ditch, the spur is divided into two topographical areas that dictated the layout of the defences. The eastern high courtyard, the heart of the Byzantine castle, was transformed into a manorial area by the Crusaders with the building of a huge square keep, of two large cisterns, numerous semi-circular and oblong flanking towers and the partial digging of the eastern ditch. Later, taking advantage of the pre-existing fortifications built by the Byzantines and by the Crusaders, the Ayyubids improved the defences and built a large palatial complex combining baths and reception rooms on two levels following the same model of the Ayyubid palace at Aleppo Citadel. Two hammams and a mosque were also built around this complex during the Mamluk period with a reception tower astride the west wall of the high courtyard. The low courtyard, west, was also defensively fortified during the Crusader and Islamic occupations through the construction of two gate-towers and a surrounding wall.
After the Battle of Hattin in which Salah al-Din reconquered Jerusalem, he went on a quick and efficient military campaign over the summer of AH 584 / AD 1188 in which he defeated over a dozen Crusader strong-points all along the eastern Mediterranean coasts and Jebel (Mount) Ansariyya. This castle, formerly known as Chateau de Saone and located northeast of Latakia, fell to Salah al-Din after a three-day siege and was subsequently named after him. It is elaborately constructed and strangely triangular in shape, taking advantage of the rocky terrain over which it towers.
Many historical and architectural studies on the castle have helped in the definition of the monumental history of the site. The Syrian-French archaeological excavation of 2001 and 2002 confirmed the construction date as the first half of the 13th century. Mamluk inscriptions are located on the lintel of the mosque, the wall and rampart of the northeastern front, and the vaults of the hammam north of the Ayyubid palace.
Beddek, K., “Le complexe ayyoubide de la citadelle de Salah al-Din: bain ou palais?”, Archéologie Islamique, 11, 2001, pp.75–90.
Deschamps, P., “Le château de Saône et ses premiers seigneurs”, Syria, XVI, 1935, pp.71–88.
Deschamps, P., Les châteaux des Croisés en Terre Sainte. Tome III – La défense du comté de Tripoli et de la principauté d'Antioche, 2 Vols, Bibliothèque Archéologique et Historique, IFAPO, 105, Paris, 1973, pp.217–47.
Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles, Cambridge, 1994, pp.84–97.
Mesqui, J., Sahyun/Saone/Qal'at Salah al-Din, Rapport préliminaire de la mission, 2002 [www.castellorient.com].
Michaudel, B., Saone/Sahyun/Qal'at Salah al-Din. Etude historique de la forteresse de Saone, 2005 [www. castellorient.com].
Müller-Wiener, W., Castles of the Crusaders, London, 1966, pp.44–5.
Rey, E-G., Etude sur les monuments de l'architecture militaire des Croisés en Syrie et dans l'île de Chypre, Paris, 1871, pp.105–13.
Saadé, G., “Histoire du château de Saladin”, Studii Medievali, Vol IX, Part 2, 1968, pp.980–1016.
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.267–83.
Benjamin Michaudel "Qal‘at Salah al-Din (Saladin)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2023. 2023. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;isl;sy;mon01;24;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 GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: SY 30
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Saladin in the Holy Land The Atabegs and Ayyubids | War and Horsemanship
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