Krak des Chevaliers

Even on a Friday, the muslim Sunday and actual important day of rest, not everything stands completely still. If you’re lucky then you can even make it from Damascus to Krak des Chevaliers, a massive Crusader castle and one of Syria’s most impressive attractions. Like all roads are leading to Rome, Damascene bus station Harasta is THE point to embark the coaches bringing people to all northern and western regions of Syria, such as Aleppo, Tadmur (Palmyra) or Homs (حمص), the station connecting travellers coming from Damascus with Qal’at al-Hosn, as the Crusader fortress Krak des Chevaliers (قلعة الحصن) is called by the Arabs. Originally built in 1031 by Kurds, the fortress fell into the Crusaders’ hands at the end of 11th century. Though some 150 years later they had to leave the region again, when Sultan Baibars was successfully besieging the Krak back in 13th century.

The Krak is located more or less close to the Homs-Tartus highway. Vans or mini busses to Tartus are starting from the separate garage being next to the larger overland bus station. Though mini busses or vans don’t go to Krak des Chevaliers directly. You need to make clear that you like to become dropped off at the highway exit near Krak des Chevaliers; at the latest that is possible then crossing your forefingers (a sign for junction/exit) and saying “Qal’at al-Husn”. Usually all day there you can catch a lift or private drivers taking you to the fortress and in main season you can even count on mini busses. Though, when coming alone and on a Friday (day of rest) you’ll have a bad hand at getting a normal priced (~50 Pounds) transport and prices can easily reach the 200 Pounds region. The ride from Homs to the highway exit takes about 45 minutes, while the final ride to the Krak will take another 30 minutes.
To the West of the Crusader castle you can find the Baibars Hotel (also written Beybars), offering accommodation for up to juicy 20 US$ (~1000 Syrian Pounds). Being able to watch the sun rising behind the fortress while lying in your bed makes the higher price not all-too painful though.

By the way: from the hotel’s balcony it is quite comfortable to photograph all the castle’s details. The fortress itself is not illuminated, there are only three big lamps attached to the outer walls. Those laterns are the only light source for road having no crash barrier but a sufficient downfall space (like Austrians would call it) of 200-300 meters. However, when at 5 o’clock the first sunbeams are rising behind the Krak and take control over the sky, the marvellous play of colours, ranging from navy blue to mandarin/rose, lets you quickly forget about those glaring spotlights. The fortress is quite exposed to wind as it is built on peak plateau on the Syrian heights, hence it might become thin-skinned cold in the morning hours. Catching the warmth of the first sunbeams is a big enjoyment though.

The Krak itself is a huuuuuuuuge man’s playground. Being completely unmolested by barriers, you can dive into the inner of the fortress and go for a stroll through mediaeval caves, rooms and corridors. The vista from command tower is great as in the North-East you can spot Orontes valley while being surrounded by the Lebanon height in the South. Locals say that on good days sight is that clear you can even see Cyprus looming on the horizon. History is still pretty alive when walking through the inner castle as you can have a close look at amazing constructions like cloistered courtyard, crenels, a chapel and of course the main hall housing the national emblem of Richard I of England, the Lion-hearted.

While waiting for admission I met a group of young Kurds who went on an excursion to see their country face to face. Immediately we had a conversation and took a walk around the castle. There were thousands of inchworms around us, even as thick as a carpet.

Once a year on the opposite peak plateau of Alawite Heights a public festival and a big picnic is being held. A lot of people are staying over night as in the past years there had also been a firework started.
Those who want to keep travelling can take the mini bus departing from the fortress’ bottom. Reaching Tartus, Baniyas or Latakya is no problem as well as also going back to Homs to make it to see Hama’s Norias and Aleppo’s massive citadel.

Used photo equipment: Canon EOS 20D, Canon EF-S 10-22, Tamron 17-50 f2.8, Tamron 28-75 f2.8, Sigma 80-400 OS f4.5-5.6