3D Model of Crac des Chevaliers

A team from recently visited Crac des Chevaliers in Syria

to gather photographic data of the various masonry textures employed in the ramparts and fortifications of this Crusader-period Hospitaller stronghold. This material and information will be used in the construction of a detailed three-dimensional computer-generated model of this renowned and formidable fortress, currently being put together by Dr Stephen C Spiteri. When completed, a short video of the model will be featured on the website. A fully-illustrated article on Crac des Chevaliers is also planned to feature in a forthcoming issue of ARX.

This first model will show Crac des Cheavliers as it stood prior to its capitulation to a Mameluke army in 1271, following a brief but heavily fought out siege. In its present state, Crac des Chevaliers contains various additions and alterations made by the Saracens following its capture, most of which were completed around 1285 and in the early fourteenth century.

3D model of Crac des Chevaliers under construction.

The diversity of stone types as well as the varied dimensions, textures, and finishing of the masonry elements and building styles employed in the construction of Crac des Chevaliers make this castle a richly-woven composite structure.  The different materials and masonry styles employed in its construction also enable architectural historians to piece together an understanding of the chronological development and phasing of the castle’s structure over its long history.


Brief historical note on Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers stands on a bare black-basalt hill above the Homs Gap, an important pass through which runs the road from Tripoli to Homs, some 35 km from the Mediterranean and about 650 m above sea-level.  In its day it commanded a position of great strategic importance as it looked out over a fertile plain to the east and, as a result, was occupied even before the Crusades by a Kurdish garrison, hence its earlier name Hosn al-Akrad, the stronghold of the Kurds.  The Franks first appeared in the vicinity of the castle in the first week of January 1099.  The Muslim peasants of the surrounding districts sought refuge, together with their livestock and cattle, within Hosn al-Akrad. The crusaders under Raymond de Saint-Gilles immediately set about attacking the castle and scaling its walls.  Fearing that all was lost, the peasants threw open the castle doors and allowed part of their herd of cattle to escape.  The Franks, forgetting the battle at this opportunity for plunder, hurled themselves after the cattle.  Seeing  the ensuing confusion, the defenders made a sortie and attacked the Christian camp and nearly captured the Frankish commander.  That same night, taking advantage of the darkness, the Saracens slipped noiselessly away and in the following morning the Franks found an empty fortress.  For several days in February 1099, the Franks used the stronghold as their headquarters but it was only permanently occupied by the Christians in 1110 when Tancred, prince of Antioch, took it for the benefit of the Pons of Tripoli.  Then in 1142 Raymond I, count of Tripoli, ceded it to the Hospitallers in whose hands it remained until it was lost to Baybars in 1271.  The Hospitallers made Crac the centre of their network of castles and towers in Tripoli and entirely remodelled it over the years.

The present-day concentric castle is much different from the eleventh-century stronghold first acquired by the Order.  In all, one can distinguish four major building phases in the expansion and remodelling of the castle.  The earliest phase corresponds to the pre-crusader fortress, the Kurdish Hosn al-Akard, of which very little survives.  The second phase involves the early crusader reconstruction of the castle and most of this can be found incorporated into the walls of the inner ward. The French historian Deschamps was able to distinguish the oldest parts of the castle by studying the various methods employed in the dressing of masonry.  The oldest form was the drafted masonry found mostly on the walls of the inner ward which once formed part of the eleventh-century crusader castle.

Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Crac des Chevaliers served as a headquarters from where Hospitaller knights controlled their large territories in Syria and their many outpostsand strongholds, and also as a base for conducting raids into enemy lands.  This ‘key to the Christian Lands’ was considered to be ‘the greatest and strongest of the castles of the Hospitallers, exceedingly injurious to the Saracens’ owing to its aggressive garrison which fulfilled the Hospitaller policy of unrelenting razzie into neighbouring Muslim territories.  Increasingly during the thirteenth century, however, Crac and its sister fortress of Marqab began to attract the attentions of the Muslims, as a result of which, Hospitaller territories were repeatedly attacked and many of the Order’s subjects were carried off into slavery.  Crac itself was besieged by Saracen armies in 1207, 1218, and 1265 and finally fell to a large Mameluke army in 1271.


Other features on Crusader castles in Syria will be featuring a number of articles on various crusader castles in Syria, written and illustrated by Syrian conservation Architect Zeina El Cheikh. Amongst the castles that will be featured are the citadels of Arwad Island,  Masyaf ,  Salah Al-Din, Aleppo,  Al-Kahf Kadmous and Tartous,  Yahmour Tower and  Castel Blanc, Qala't Ousama in Homs and the Hospitaller fortress of Marqab. (C) 2010


Latest Articles








~ Additional Features ~