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4 February 2016 / leggypeggy

The Krak—another victim of Syria’s very uncivil war

Tall wall at Krak des Chevaliers

Massive walls at the Krak

open area at the Krak des Chevaliers

Large open area at the Krak des Chevaliers (see the person standing slightly left of centre)

The Krak des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle and one of the world’s finest medieval castles, is one of many victims of Syria’s civil war.

Almost two years ago, the BBC did a story (with pics) about the Krak being damaged, but no one knows the full extent of destruction.

It makes me so sad. This castle is one of my favourite touristic sites in the whole world—someday I’ll do a post on my top 10 favourites. Poor John and I visited frequently when we lived in Syria in the early 1980s.

Internal wall, Krak des Chevaliers

This wall has since been damaged (see the link to the BBC story)

I was keen to visit again in 2009 when we were on our year-long overland trek through Africa, as well as some of the Middle East and Europe.

It was at the Krak, back in the 1980s, when Poor John first explained the intricacies of medieval castle construction.

I’ll start from the beginning. As you enter the Krak there are several hard and upward turns to the left.

Arch, Krak des Chevaliers

Entering the Krak

So imagine this. You are an invader and most probably right-handed. Your sword sits on your left thigh. Your horse is climbing and turning left against a wall. Your sword is trapped, but the castle residents are descending with their swords already drawn. Heck, they saw you coming.

If you were there and new to Poor John’s insights (he’s got lots of them), he’d probably go on to explain why Australia, the UK and other parts of the world drive on the left side of the road.

But you aren’t there and he doesn’t have a blog, so I’ll share the details here.

Inside the Krak des Chevaliers

Surrounded by stone walls

Driving on the left
Let’s start with the fact that the vast majority of people are right-handed. So centuries ago you’re riding along on your horse with your sword resting on your left thigh. It’s close to hand and easy for you to draw if the oncoming horseman or pedestrian is a threat or an enemy.

You mounted your horse from the left (as is the custom to this day) because your critter isn’t all that keen to have you to swing a sword-laden left leg over his right side.

Hope all this makes sense so far. But what might not make sense is why traffic in many countries now travels on the right side of the road.

That’s mostly down to Napoleon. He decided that the countries he conquered should change the side of the road on which they travelled—bringing on a move from left to right.

Road below Krak des Chevaliers

Tractors drive in the middle. See the two people on the tower?

Napoleon never conquered the UK. He also never conquered the USA, but they changed sides—perhaps to show they were breaking away from the UK’s control.

Burma (Myanmar), where we lived for several years in the mid-1980s, wasn’t ever conquered by Napoleon, but they switched sides of the road many decades ago to defy the English. And that made for a real mess of Burma’s road system and a lot of blind corners and driveways.

Such a lot of bother about today’s driving rules.

But I started this post to talk about the Krak des Chevaliers. So on with the show.

Krak des Chevaliers walls with moat below

Inner and outer walls with a partial moat in between

A bit more about the Krak itself
As part of the Crusades, the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem built the Krak between 1142 and 1271. About 30 years after construction began, an earthquake ruined parts of it. In its heyday, the Krak housed about 2000 people.

By 1250, the Hospitaller knights were falling on hard times, and the Mamluks captured the Krak in 1271. The new ‘owners’ did more construction in the late 13th century.

This amazing collection of buildings sits on a 650-metre (2130-foot) high ridge and covers 2.5 hectares (6 acres). It commands a key defensive position in Syria’s west, between the city of Homs and the Mediterranean Sea.

It showcases the best and most advanced ideas about fortification in the early 13th century. As one of the first fully concentric castles (with two or more inner and outer walls for defence), it had a massive influence on subsequent castle design.

For starters, the Krak’s concentric design allowed defenders to protect themselves equally on all sides. The outer wall is overlooked at all points by inner walls, and the space between the two walls was within easy and accurate bowshot.

Krak des Chevalier entrance

Enormous stone walls

In addition to its sophisticated design, the Krak has great physical and visual strength, with its enormous stone walls, top-notch construction and innovative defensive systems. Many would-be conquerors, such as Salah al-Din, gave up all thought of taking on the castle when they saw it. Instead they moved on to easier prey.

As a castle/fortress, the Krak has been a remarkable success. I read that ‘Any fortification that can deter a potential attacker by its appearance alone must be counted a success, and in this respect Krak is supreme.’

Krak des Chevaliers outer wall

The Krak’s outer wall

Krak des Chevaliers for a distance

The Krak from a distance with the village below

The Krak has also been home to many locals over the years. Our guide in 2009 remembered living at the Krak as a child, and even pointed out blackened ceilings in ‘rooms’ in which his mother cooked meals.

I can no longer remember why he and his family were living there, but have read that some of the Krak’s former ‘residents’ established the village of al-Husn at the foot of the Krak.

After visiting the castle, we had a meal in small restaurant nearby. The food was amazing—some of the nicest dishes we had on this visit to Syria. The restaurant owner said most of the recipes were from his mum.

I wonder if the restaurant is still there? I’m guessing that in spite of the damage the Krak has suffered during the civil war, it probably still ranks among the best examples of a Crusader castle.

Such wonderful memories, even if they are scarred today. Here’s hoping we can visit it again one day, and revisit the restaurant too.

Krak des Chevaliers overlooking Al-Husn

Overlooking Al-Husn

 

98 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet / Feb 4 2016 11:09 pm

    What a wonderful post Peggy. Great pictures and history but best of all for me was why we drive on the left (the CORRECT side) and why others drive on the right (the INCORRECT side…)
    You learn EVERY day!!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. pagedogs / Feb 4 2016 11:16 pm

    Magnificent … and tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. gerard oosterman / Feb 4 2016 11:26 pm

    A great journey and how dreadful all this is under threat..

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 1:26 pm

      We can only hope that the peace talks make some headway.

      Like

  4. Midwestern Plant Girl / Feb 5 2016 12:06 am

    Thanks for the great read! So sad that people don’t respect history. .. like my mom used to say “if you’re going to fight, do it outside”. Couldn’t the fight be moved over a bit to avoid a historical place? Obviously, I know nothing of war.
    I loved the whole ‘left side’ discussion! I’m a lefty and have my own challenges in life 😉. ‘They’ say we lefties get 7 Years removed from our lives from the stress of living in a right handed world. I use it to my advantage. When going to a large park, garden, mall or preserve, I walk to the left. Most people start walking to the right and I avoid crowds that way.
    Although, I have driven on the left in St. Thomas. Very strange seeing U.S. signs, but driving on the opposite side!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:33 pm

      I love your mom’s philosophy.
      And I think lefties should rule. I always walk to the left and it confuses the heck out of people in the USA.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Andrew Petcher / Feb 5 2016 12:24 am

    I have always been intrigued by medieval warfare and castle sieges. Why bother I think? Why not just ignore it and march straight past to wherever you wanted to go. Why stop for a pointless fight.
    I have driven on the left all my life of course but it always feels equally as natural to drive on the right. Perhaps Napoleon’s cavalry mounted from the right so as not to crush their baguette?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:35 pm

      Precisely. why stop for a pointless fight—and they’re still doing it today. Your baguette theory has some legs.

      Like

  6. Traveling Rockhopper / Feb 5 2016 1:01 am

    Such a beautiful place!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. draliman / Feb 5 2016 2:44 am

    It looks like (it was) a wonderful place. It’s a shame so many will never get to see it as you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 1:06 pm

      Oh I think it is still a wonderful place. Damaged, yes, but not blown up. It should survive, I hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. poshbirdy / Feb 5 2016 4:04 am

    Lovely pictures and an amazing background information. Loved this post

    Liked by 1 person

  9. afterthelasttime / Feb 5 2016 4:28 am

    Thank you as always, Peggy! I remember just like yesterday John explaining the reasoning behind driving on the left and since Mark Reid had already tried a couple decades previous to John’s perfect explanation I understood instantly. So tell John thank you for me!
    Having you show us this incredible castle along with giving such terrific insight it makes one even more sad for the loss.
    Just as in Europe during the first and second World Wars and of course Japan in WW II we’re always reminded ‘War is Hell’ and the world loses such treasures beyond the incredible loss of life.
    The US Civil War was the largest loss of life during a modern day war and the south was devastated.
    ‘War is Hell’ and we’re sadly reminded of that fact at every turn in history.
    Again, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:45 pm

      War really is hell, and we never seem to learn from history. I do hope, though, that the Krak is tough enough to have withstood most of the fighting.

      Like

  10. Laurie / Feb 5 2016 4:50 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article. It’s not only entertaining but educational. I look forward to more about Syria.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:46 pm

      I plan to do more posts about Damascus and Palmyra.

      Like

  11. Carol Ferenc / Feb 5 2016 5:46 am

    This is so interesting, Peggy, and your photos are wonderful. It’s very sad to think this magnificent piece of history is in jeopardy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:49 pm

      From what I’ve read, I think the outer walls are okay, but the interior has suffered. So hoping they are only ‘flesh wounds’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol Ferenc / Feb 6 2016 7:43 am

        I hope so, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. wfdec / Feb 5 2016 6:12 am

    Yes, what they all said. I don’t understand how they could have cut those huge stones without the tools that we would use today. But can you tell me if the blocks of stone have mortar in the joints or are they like the pyramids which I believe are just all interlocking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:55 pm

      It’s a combination of construction. I think the oldest parts are interlocking and new parts have mortar, but I haven’t been able to confirm. Poor John—are you ready for this—says he doesn’t remember for sure.

      Like

      • wfdec / Feb 5 2016 2:21 pm

        Don’t you “Poor John” him. I took my false teeth out this morning and I don’t remember where I put them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Feb 6 2016 4:51 pm

        He’s always Poor John.

        Like

  13. Dorothy / Feb 5 2016 6:50 am

    dorothysstories.wordpress.com

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Curt Mekemson / Feb 5 2016 7:35 am

    Here’s hoping with you for your revisit. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on what appears to be a very interesting castle… not to mention your thoughts on driving the left and right sides of roads. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 12:56 pm

      More than anything, I want the daughter who was born there to be able to visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. mommermom / Feb 5 2016 7:42 am

    Such a wonderfully informative post Peggy! So much information. How wonderful that you were able to spend time here. Such sadness to know that so many treasures have been destroyed as the result of man’s greed and hunger for power that they’re willing to trample over national treasures as well as people to get what they so desire. Interesting information about driving on the left side of the road. I didn’t know that.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Curious to the Max / Feb 5 2016 1:42 pm

    Peggy, I echo every one of the comments made! Wonderfully informative (and entertaining) post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 8:52 pm

      Aw thanks for stopping by. I always love your post too.

      Like

  17. Libby / Feb 5 2016 5:31 pm

    Fascinating post about an amazing place, Peggy. Sad that these treasures are suffering, along with the local people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 6 2016 8:48 am

      Horrible to lose the monuments but the suffering of the people is the worst aspect.

      Like

  18. Mon Ange / Feb 5 2016 8:01 pm

    Beautiful place, sadly tragic story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2016 9:28 pm

      A very tragic story. I hope the days ahead are better.

      Like

  19. anna / Feb 5 2016 11:54 pm

    I hope it survives and gets rebuilt. Too valuable to lose!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Sy S. / Feb 6 2016 1:32 pm

    Thanks for “Getting On With The Show” and about “Krak des Chevaliers.” Just amazing how much of the world I do not know about. What a huge castle and the strategy/design to build a well defended fortress. I wonder where they get their water from? Do you think within the castle there is a well of some kind? For food I guess it has to be stored, if they stay within the castle walls for a very long time.

    Aside- First I am a Lefty, and I am used to dealing with many things designed for right handed people. However, only one thing comes to mind that is in favor of lefty’s… the computer mouse which is most often placed on the right side of the keyboard. This allows me “the lefty” to use my left hand to take notes and also use the mouse. Second, when I get on a bicycle it is by lifting my left leg over the seat. So when I tried to get on a horse from the right side and lifting my leg over, the horse raised his front two legs and spun around.

    Sy

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 6 2016 5:31 pm

      No idea where they got their water. There must be a well.
      Left–right? I’m a bit of both which is mostly useful.

      Like

  21. fiftywordsdaily / Feb 6 2016 10:20 pm

    Brilliant post again – so witty and informative. Many thanks, Nick

    Liked by 1 person

  22. philosophermouseofthehedge / Feb 7 2016 4:31 am

    Great pictures. Architecture is always fascinating -what a fortress.
    So sad some are bent on destroying anything they dislike and have no appreciation of /fear the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 8 2016 12:59 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. The Krak is an amazing fortress. The destruction in Syria is so heartbreaking and, even more, so senseless.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Sheryl / Feb 8 2016 3:05 pm

    Wow, the Krak is an impressive fortress in a very picturesque locale. It is sad that a historic site like this has been damaged. .

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Rashminotes / Feb 8 2016 8:25 pm

    Very nice post Peggy.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. chattykerry / Feb 10 2016 11:38 am

    Wonderful, wonderful post. You have been so fortunate to visit such amazing places all over the world. Inspiring and poignant.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Vicki / Feb 10 2016 9:54 pm

    Wonderful post (as always). Hopefully the castle ruins won’t be ruined forever in this stupid war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 12 2016 7:46 am

      Luckily the castle is not in territory occupied by Islamic State. They set out to destroy on purpose. Whereas the Syria civil war is people fighting one another and buildings just get in the way. I’m expecting the Krak to survive. Just don’t know when the area will be calm enough for repairs or visits to take place.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. The Whitechapel Whelk / Feb 11 2016 11:35 pm

    Incredible photos and it makes for an interesting read. Thanks for this.

    Artful Dodger

    Liked by 1 person

  28. The Sock Mistress / Feb 12 2016 8:23 pm

    It breaks my heart to learn of the damage that goes on to these irreplaceable historical places in times of war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 12 2016 9:20 pm

      It breaks my heart too. Hoping that today’s talk of a cease fire comes to pass.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder / Feb 13 2016 2:46 am

    An architectural splendour! We, humans, are destroying so many things on this planet in the name of war, civilization, technology … 😦

    By the way, loved your blog as I landed here following Lynn’s post… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 10:33 am

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting. And yes, the destruction is so senseless.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. milliethom / Feb 13 2016 9:09 am

    Absolutely wonderful post, Peggy – and ‘right up my street’! The historical detail is fascinating. I agree, it’s tragic that such wonderful buildings as the Krak should succumb to such destruction. I’ve never seen the BBC documentary, but I imagine it’s excellent. The concentric castle that comes to mind in the UK is Beaumaris, on the island of Anglesey. That is also 13th century – but I won’t elaborate here, except to agree that as a defensive structure, concentric castles are superb.
    Thank you for sharing this informative post, Peggy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 10:34 am

      Thanks Millie for your wonderful comment and for the tip about Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey. I’ll have to add that to my must-see list. Hope your break from blogging was productive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • milliethom / Feb 13 2016 10:50 am

        My break was good, thanks, Peggy, and I wrote quite a lot. I still have a long way to go with the book, though, so another break is looming soon. And I do miss my blog! 😦

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 10:53 am

        Your readers miss you too, but we understand.

        Like

  31. toutparmoi / Feb 13 2016 4:17 pm

    What marvellous photos of Krak des Chevaliers – I’m going to share this post on Facebook. I saw a TV programme on castles a year or so ago with a reference to the Krak having sustained some recent war damage, but nothing since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 5:35 pm

      So glad you stopped by. The Krak is an amazing castle. We can but hope that the damage is not extreme and that the civil war ends soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • toutparmoi / Feb 13 2016 6:29 pm

        Syria is a tragedy. But I don’t see the war as a civil one – more like a bunch of rival interests from the superpowers down fighting to protect their own interests or advance their own causes while the Syrian people suffer.
        BTW I love your blog – I’m glad I finally stopped by.

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 10:48 pm

        Syria is a complete tragedy and you are absolutely right about the rival interests. The media may call it a civil war (as I have) but it’s really a battle of the superpowers. And the Syrian people are left to suffer and flee.

        Liked by 1 person

  32. Petrichor / Feb 13 2016 8:53 pm

    Wonderful post

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 10:39 pm

      Thank you. Writing about it brings memories flooding back. And a few tears.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Petrichor / Feb 14 2016 12:19 am

        I get it,Peggy!

        Liked by 1 person

  33. spearfruit / Feb 13 2016 11:42 pm

    Amazing post Peggy, such great information and history here. Thank you for sharing this – I learned something new today! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 13 2016 11:59 pm

      Hi there! I think you were commenting here at about the same time that I was commenting on your blog. I’ll enjoy following you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • spearfruit / Feb 14 2016 3:23 am

        Yes, I believe we were – great minds think alike! I will spend some time here reading your posts – very interesting! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  34. gallivance.net / Feb 17 2016 6:02 am

    What a great post, Peggy! I’m fascinated by medieval architecture and had never read your (and Poor John’s) explanation of left vs. right. It makes so much sense. When we moved to Khartoum they had recently changed from driving on the left (under British rule) to driving on the right and it was a nightmare. Roundabouts were particularly tricky. I would love to visit the Krak, and maybe that will be possible in our lifetime. ~Terri

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 17 2016 7:06 am

      I may have shared it here, but the left–right explanation belongs to Poor John. He’s a voracious reader and, even better, he REMEMBERS what he reads and shares it with anyone who listens. I’m handy. 🙂 And yes, a switch from one side of the road to the other is a recipe for accidents.

      Here’s hoping the Krak returns to being a tourist destination soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  35. abyssbrain / Feb 18 2016 12:10 pm

    Over the years, many historical places and structures have been destroyed either intentionally or unintentionally because of wars. This is especially more apparent during the last several decades since weapons these days are a lot more destructive and don’t care about collateral damage.

    This is just another one of the sad realities of war…

    Great post btw.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 18 2016 1:58 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. You are so right. Destruction is nothing new, but the weapons take it all to a new level.

      Like

  36. IreneDesign2011 / Feb 19 2016 7:41 pm

    Very interesting travels, as you have had so far. I will go through all of them at your blog by time 😀

    Like

  37. dmill96 / Feb 21 2016 5:29 am

    Fascinating explanation of castle design. I’ve seen a few in Europe but nothing like this. It is sad to think these things are being destroyed and even worse the people who live nearby.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 21 2016 8:41 am

      Thanks for stopping by. Few castles are as impressive as The Krak, and I’m hoping it’s sheer size has protected from too much damage.

      Like

  38. vinneve / Feb 21 2016 11:16 pm

    Now I understand why Syria is close to your heart. I too wish that the war ends sooner than later! Yep that some wish!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 23 2016 5:53 pm

      There’s talk of a stop to fighting by midnight Friday. I wonder if they can pull it off?

      Like

      • vinneve / Feb 24 2016 2:34 am

        All we can do is hope and pray.

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Feb 24 2016 10:52 pm

        Yep, nothing else is helping.

        Like

  39. Elouise / Feb 23 2016 12:23 pm

    What a magnificent structure! Also sophisticated in the way the pieces work together. Thanks for this wonderful tour and selection of photos. You’d make a great travelogue writer. Well, duh. You are one already! Thanks, Peggy, for taking us along.
    Elouise

    Like

  40. voulaah / Feb 25 2016 9:01 pm

    thanks for these very beautiful pics
    I adore
    anita
    https://femmeetinfos.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  41. tony / Mar 1 2016 4:39 pm

    Another great post, lovely pics! Certainly, an improvement on the Russian propaganda videos of the destruction they’ve wrought. It would be nice if they could show the befores as well as the afters, maybe public opinion would change in Russia.

    One hopes at Assad’s war crimes trial, they show such pictures of before and after of what he has wrought on his country, amongst the documentation of civilians killed with chemical weapons and barrel bombs. Wishful thinking perhaps!

    Regards Tony
    http://breadtagsagas.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 1 2016 8:23 pm

      Hi Tony. Fortunately, the Krak hasn’t featured in any of the Russian videos, and I don’t think it’s too badly damaged.

      Most of the Russian footage is of Homs which has been horribly devastated. Aleppo is smashed too. I wish more before-and-after images were making their way to wider coverage. The death toll and destruction are heartbreaking and mind-boggling.

      Like

  42. vinneve / Mar 20 2017 8:10 pm

    It pains to see the destructions of this war especially to children and I am so upset today at FB post seeing a boy died in Syria of a curable disease and he just waved goodbye to his dad. Really heartbreaking. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 20 2017 8:12 pm

      Thank you for your comment. There are so many heartbreaking stories coming out of Syria. It makes me sad every day.

      Liked by 1 person

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