Syria's Castles and Palmyra

View From Saladin's Castle 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 is staggering.
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.
Wall inside Crak de  Chevaliers         The Main Gate of the Citadel at Aleppo         View from a window in the Citadel

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 past. 

Abandoned Castle overlooks Palmyra         Long held traditions since before Jesus         Roman and Persian Images

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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About Me:  I am an ex-History teacher who wants to transform my hobby of Travel Photography into paying for my summer vacations.  If you would like to use any of my images in your magazine or web site  please contact me at

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