castle, located on the coastal mountain range at 37 Km away from Latakia,
is often considered one of the most prestigious castles of the
medieval period, especially the most romantic.
It is situated at the top of a very difficult route up the
mountains. Its strategic position goes back in history to the
Phoenicians who controlled this site in the 1st Millennium BC, and
were still holding it when Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC.
Not much is known about what happened to it between this period and
the return of the Byzantines in the 10th century AD. The Byzantines
under Emperor John Zimisces occupied it from the Aleppan Hamdanid
dynasty, and built the first of its defensive structures. It then
fell in the hands of the Crusaders at around the beginning of the
12th century. It is mentioned that in 1119 it was owned by Robert of
Saone who was given control of it by Roger, Prince of Antioch. Most
of what is evident was built at this time. In 1188 Saladin succeeded
in occupying it and it stayed in Muslim hands from Saladin to
Baibars to Qalaun.
One of the most magnificent features of this fortress is the 28m
deep ditch, which was cut into living rock probably by the
Byzantines (it might have been completed by the crusaders). This
ditch, which runs 156 meters along the east side, is 14 to 20 meters
wide and has a lonely 28-meter high needle to support the
drawbridge. It is best to see this needle at noon when the sun is
The entrance to the castle is through an entrance on the south
side of the fortress. On the right of the entrance is a tower which
is a crusader bastion. There is another a few meters further. There
is a cistern for water storage and some stables just next to a
massive keep that overlooks the ditch. This keep has walls of 5m
thick and it covers an area of nearly 24 sq meters. Further on to
the north you can see the gate where the drawbridge used to be. Also
evident are the Byzantine citadel which is at the center of this
large fortress, another large cistern, the crusader tea house, and a
crusader church adjoining one of two Byzantine chapels.
As for the Arab additions to the fortress they include a mosque,
which dates back to Sultan Qalaun and a palace, which includes baths
with courtyards and iwans. This has been slightly restored.