On this day in 1271, Baibars, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, conquered the Krak des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle in Syria.
Located near Homs, Syria, the Krak des Chevaliers is considered to be one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the world. A classic defense fortress, it was first inhabited in the 11th century by Kurdish invaders, during which time it was known as the Hisn al Akrad, or “Castle of the Kurds.”
In 1142 Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, gave the fortress to the Crusader Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Knights Hospitaller rebuilt the fortress, then known as the Crac de l’Ospital, in the 1140s. With its hilltop location, concentric layout, surrounding curtain wall, thick stone slope, moat, drawbridge, steep zigzagging passageway, four gates, and iron grating, it was a formidable fortress.
The Knights Hospitallers lived securely within the fort for more than a hundred years, withstanding numerous Arab assaults. At its peak, the fortress housed a garrison of around 2,000, allowing the Hospitallers to exact tribute from a large surrounding area. That was soon to change.
In 1260, a new Egyptian Mamluk Sultan, Baibars, seized power and united Egypt and Syria. As a result, Muslim settlements around the castle, which had previously paid tribute to the Hospitallers, no longer felt compelled to do so. In 1271, after the death of King Louis IX of France, Baibars began a campaign in Syria. His troops marched north, capturing small castles in the area before finally laying siege to the Krak des Chevaliers. He erected mongonels, a type of catapult used to project weapons into the fortress walls. He soon captured a first line of defense and continued to siege, slowly capturing additional portions of the fortress. When a fortress tower collapsed, Baibars’ army surged the breach and attacked. The Crusaders retreated into the inner court. After a lull in the fighting, a forged letter, supposedly from the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller in Tripoli, was conveyed to the garrison, granting them permission to surrender. On 8 April 1271, the Hospitallers surrendered and Muslim forces under Baibars conquered the castle.
The Muslims continued to add to the immense fortress, converting the chapel into a mosque and building minarets, and the inhabitants of the Krak des Chevaliers continued to change hands throughout its history. In 2006 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Credit: © Idealink Photography / Alamy
Caption: The “Krak des Chevaliers”, a medieval castle used by the Crusaders, is a major historical and tourist landmark in Syria.