This Crusader castle in Syria, fortified in the second half of the 12th century, reveals a form perfectly suited to its function -- in this case, defense against siege. The castle's surrounding curtain wall encloses a second ring of walls and towers built around a central court.
With this concentric layout, the knights could defend the outer perimeter from Muslim attackers and then fall back, if need be, toward the center. Because the inner walls are higher than the outer, the defenders could always dominate their enemy from a superior height.
Other castle features that obstructed assailants include a moat, a drawbridge, and a steep passageway with four gates and an iron grating that slid down from the ceiling, closing the passageway completely. A series of zigzags forced invaders to move slowly, while strategic openings overhead allowed knights to shower their enemy with arrows, rocks, and flaming pitch.
Withstanding numerous Arab assaults during more than 100 years of occupation, the knights lived securely within the castle. The interior precincts have a fine Gothic balcony, a banqueting hall, a plain 12th-century Romanesque chapel, a stable that still has loops on the wall for tying up horses, and chambers that held kitchens and a five-year stock of provisions in case of siege.
The Crusaders were seriously shorthanded in the end, with only 200 knights in a castle that could hold 2,000. They finally surrendered the castle in 1271 after a brief siege by a sizable Muslim army. Although the Crusaders had maintained a 200-year presence in the Holy Land, within 20 years of the fall of Krak des Chevaliers, they had withdrawn from the Holy Land completely.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.