The Krak of the Knights
Once described as the key of Christendom, the concentric castle known as the Krak of the Knights stood on the 2,000-foot-high 611-meter southern spur of the Gebel Alawi, commanding the strategic Homs Gap in the Orontes Valley between Syrias Mediterranean coast and the hinterland. The easternmost in a chain of five castles, it was well placed to control the trade routes between Asia Minor and the Levantine Coast. The formidable fortress represented the height of achievement in medieval military architecture and was described by Lawrence of Arabia as one of the best preserved and wholly admirable castles in the world.
Medieval warfare was a cycle of conquest and consolidation. Builders were as important as soldiers to an army and throughout the religious wars known as the Crusades 1096 1291 both sides built scores of fortified strongholds, the ruins of which can be found throughout the Middle East. In 1095 Pope Urban II decreed that he would absolve anyone who fought to reclaim the Holy Land for Christendom, a promise that ignited two centuries of conflict. On the face of it, there was a religious reasonpilgrims could not reach Jerusalembut Urban IIs decision was also prompted by a combination of ulterior political motives. The Byzantine Empire was staggering in the face of Turkish expansion European feudal lords were anxious to profit from their military strength, and some states wanted to exploit their naval might in the Mediterranean. And there was opportunity for the papacy to make the most of rising religious fervor to gain control of the mind of western Europe.
Kings and barons squandered the lives and the wealth of their subjects as they led all social classes against Islam. From time to time the Crusaders controlled parts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, capturing Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks in 1099 and holding it until Sal