One of the greatest castles in the world, Krak des Chevaliers was built in the middle of the 12th century by the Crusaders. Having captured JerusaIem and the Holy Land from the Muslims, they required strong bases from which to defend their newly won territories. The largest of a string of such fortresses, Krak des Chevaliers withstood countless attacks and sieges. Villagers settled within the partitions and remained there until the 1930s, when the castle was cleared and restored. Krak des Chevaliers was partially damaged in the Syrian civil war, but the full extent of the damage is unknown.
Krak des Chevaliers – Castle of the Knights crowns a 650 m high hill at Homs Hole, commanding the route from Antioch to Beirut. The crusading Knights Hospitallers, undertook a massive enlargement program in the mid-12th century, including a 100-ft (30-m) thick outer wall, seven guard towers, and stables for 500 horses. Interior reservoir, filled with water from an aqueduct, supplied the 4,000-strong garrison. Storerooms were stocked with food produced by local villagers, and the castle had its own olive presses and a bakery. The later Muslim occupants converted the Crusaders’ chapel into a mosque and also added refinements such as baths and pools.
The Crusaders continued their campaigns in the Middle East all through the 12th and into the 13th centuries, but Krak remained secure. In 1163, the Knights successfully fought off Nuradin, the sultan of Damascus. In 1188, the Muslim leader Saladin attempted to put siege to the castle, but finding it impenetrable, withdrew his forces. Finally, in 1271, the Mam eluk sultan Baibars I, devised a scheme. He solid a letter, purportedly from the Crusader commander in Tripoli, instructing the army at Krak to surrender. Bai bars’ forces succeeded in taking the Crusaders’ bastion without a battle.
Prince of Antioch in 1096, Tancred of Hauteville ( 1078-1112) set out with his uncle, Bohemund, and other Norman lords on the First Crusade to the Holy Land. Their target was to halt the advance of the Seljuk Turks, who had been threatening the Byzantine Empire, and to claim Jerusalem for the Christians. Tancred made a big name for himself when he captured Tarsus from the Turks. He played a major role in the siege of Antioch and led the march on Jerusalem (1099) and its occupation. A year later, when Bohemund was taken prisoner by the Turks, Tancred took control of the Principality of Antioch. He ruled supreme in northern Syria, mounting attacks on both the Turks and Byzantines. In 1110, he occupied the hilltop fortress that the Crusaders had been to transform into Krak des Chevaliers.