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Up at the Krak of dawn… Krak des Chevaliers that is!

Up at the KraK of dawn… Krak des Chevaliers that is!

Krak des Chevaliers is an amazingly well preserved fortress from the time of the Crusades. This awesome fortress sits high above a pass that was part of the important route from Antioch to Beirut and the Mediterranean. The castle was the home of the Knights Hospitallers at one time, and was once besieged by none other than Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, or Saladin as we know him in the West. Saladin was a kurdish muslim, and one of the Arabic names for Krak des Chevaliers was “Hisn al Akrad” which means something like “castle of the Kurds”. Both Saladin and his predecessor Nur-adin failed to capture it… only Sultan Baybars was successful. At one point the castle housed about 4000 men, including Italians, French, Germans and English – and I believe that Richard the Lion Heart was there at one time.

The group I was with set up camp at a kind of hostel very close the castle, but of course, boys will be boys, and who can blame us – isn’t it every boys dream to be a knight in a real castle!?

Myself and couple of friends decided we would pitch our tents on the small grassy hill just infront of the castle (opposite the aquaduct that fed the castle’s cistern – behind the bush in the picture above). We had to throw our tents across a rocky ditch and then climb up onto the mound which was literally yards from the outer wall of the castle and rather exposed – it was cold and windy, but worth it.

I’m still not convinced we were supposed to be on there, but we got away with it.

After some nice mezzeh (assorted plates of food and dips) and ‘truck soup’ washed down with a couple of beers, I took an early night. The wind had gone by the time I went to bed, and there seemed to be some amazing live music at a nearby restaurant. I stood outside my tent for what seemed like hours listening and looking at the castle and the view across the valley to the distant hills that I realised must be in Lebanon.

It was quite surreal… the echoes off the castle walls sounded like the hustle and bustle of people in the castle – like ghosts from the past.

I awoke at 5.30am the next morning to check out the sun set… I stuck my head out of tent to find an amazingly colourful sky. Unfortunately not behind the castle, but got a couple of nice pictures as the soft light lit up the castle in front of my tent with a pink hue. Then I went back to bed for a little while longer… it was cold!

After packing up tents and a quick ‘truck breakfast’ we all headed off on a tour of the “fortress of the knights” – we all had fun, climbing all over the battlements and some of us dressed in our Syrian headscarves, and Nik, our driver, had come prepared with his own sword!

Here are some more pictures from Kak Des Chevaliers:

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Your photo’s bring back some great memories of mine. Before heading to Syria, I knew nothing about the Krak. It was great to just wander through the place, and having a UNESCO World Heritage site to your self was a weird feeling. The night camping in front of the walls must have been an experience. I was there in 1994, myself and a couple of friends had to get the key to the main gate from the caretaker, and unlock it before walking around inside, and then re-lock the gate when we left.

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