Syria's Castles and Palmyra
Syria, that part of the ancient fertile crescent east of Jerusalem, West of Persia, South of Turkey and North of Mecca has been fought over countless
times and these now-silent castles are reminders of the endless series of wars Syria
has endured. The amount of castles (among other ruins) in Syria
In the Western mind a great chapter of Syria’s long history are the Crusades.
What is seen in the West as a great noble endeavor is called in the Arab
world the Frankish or, more often, the Barbarian Invasions. Castles,
both Crusader and Arab are reminders of Europe’s Holy War 700 years ago.
As Westerners cringe at the idea of Islamic Jihad, we might remember we helped
to encourage and propagate the idea. A highly readable history of the
Crusades to explore this other viewpoint is The Crusades through Arab Eyes
by Amin Malhouf.
Above: View from Saladin's Castle, one of the first Crusader castles
to fall to the Arab liberator.
Above Left: Wall of Crak de Chevailers: With its location
overlooking the only major gap and access to the Mediterranean Sea in the
Anti-Lebanon Mountains, Crack Des Chevalier’s location was a place of supreme
importance. Despite its massive walls and towers, the Crusaders finally surrendered
to Balibars in 1271 forever ending any meaningful presence of the Crusaders
in the Middle East.
Above Center and Right: A historical and cultural contrast to the Krak
is the Citadel of Aleppo. While the Krak is the Crusaders greatest
architectural achievement Aleppo’s Citadel is the Arab’s pinnacle in castle
building. Proudly towering over the town, the Citadel dominates the skyline and constantly reminds the tourist and local alike of the city’s
The original East versus West cold (and sometimes hot) war was between the
Greeks (followed the Romans) versus the Persians. A frontier town for both
the Roman and the Persian empires, Palmyra took artistic influences from
the two competing cultures. In a time when no idea, order, paper, or
good traveled faster than a horse, the city was neither fully Roman nor fully
Persian. The city’s architecture and artists combined influences from
both these empires to create something truly unique.
Isolated by the surrounding desert, the ruins of Palmyra remind the
traveler of the great caravans that once stopped at this oasis. In
its day, Tadmor, or City of Dates as the Arabs call it, was on the fringe of
both the Roman and Persian empires. The ruins of Palymyra embody this
past. While it’s architecture is distinctly Roman, the stonework has a Persian
flair. For this, and many more reasons, Palmyra is a unique Roman ruin
in an area of the world littered with them.
Left: Four clusters of columns silently stand where once caravans of
over 1,000 camels would have once crossed the colonnaded street. In
the distance stands Qala’at Ibn Maan, a 17th century castle.
The brackets that stick out of the graceful columns was where statues of
the city’s VIP's were placed. While these protrusions broke the columns
clean lines and might have seemed an intrusion to a citizen of Rome, the
statues served the people of Palmyra’s need for pageantry.
Right:: Stone carvings outside the Temple of Bel hint at traditions
long held in the Arab world.
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