Design influences

Despite the increasing sophistication of 13th-century Crusader fortifications, their designs still reflected the immediate circumstances; efforts to impose distinctive categories upon Templar or Hospitaller military architecture are misleading. Much more depended on local conditions, available local stone, and the origins, backgrounds and traditions of architects, masons and even labourers.

It has sometimes been suggested that the adoption of round towers in the early 13th century reflected Armenian influence, and the importance of non-western European military architecture has already been discussed in the preceding volume (Fortress 21: Crusader Castles in the Holy Land 1097-1192). Yet influences flowed in several directions and while there was Armenian influence on castles in the Principality of Antioch, there was comparable Crusader influence upon Armenian fortifications in neighbouring Cilicia. Elsewhere in the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia, the large castle of Silifke was largely built by or for the Hospitallers, who also rebuilt Tal Hamdun (Toprakkale), where a Mamluk castle later largely replaced the Hospitaller one. The Templars built a castle at Amoude, were largely responsible for a castle at Trapesac, and made minor alterations to the existing Islamic castle at Haruniya; all of which were at various times within the Armenian kingdom. However, these tended to be different from one another, again reflecting the primacy of local considerations.

ABOVE The outer wall of the small castle of Castel Rouge (al-Qal'at Yahmur) has only one corner tower (above). Its barrel- vaulted interior is rather cramped but is provided with arrow slits for crossbowmen (left).

The castle of le Destroit (Khirbat Dustray), was constructed on the low coastal ridge of central Palestine to control the coastal road between Haifa and Jaffa. It played a major role during the Third Crusade. It stood on a rock-cut base and many of its internal structures were partially cut from the rock. The narrow coastal ridge was itself cut by a ditch, perhaps during the early 13th century; this served as a sort of dry moat on the southern side of the castle.

Islamic influence is more obvious, though the identity of those responsible for a specific structure can remain problematical. For example, the castle of Belfort overlooking the western side of the Litani gorge in southern Lebanon began as a simple 12th-century tower-keep, approximately 12m square. Later additions included a vaulted hall and a broad enclosed area with rounded towers. A rock-cut fosse contained cisterns and during the 13th century further outworks strengthened the southern side of Belfort. This resulted in a barbican in the upper ward dominating the lower ward. A new chapel was added and eventually both wards were almost filled with vaulted structures. However, archaeological work has shown that by the time the Crusaders finally lost the castle of Belfort, it already included a hexagonal tower added by the Ayyubids during their previous domination of the site. Much of the outer works and the entrance ramp are now lost. However, relics of a vast strengthening programme carried out by the Mamluks during the second half of the 13th century remain.

There were as yet no European parallels for the cramped, box-type machicolations seen at Crac des Chevaliers, though these did exist in the Islamic citadels of Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere. In fact the similarities are so striking that the same stonemasons might have been employed by both Muslims and Christians. Some doubts have been raised about the windmill on a tower at Crac des Chevaliers, though the evidence is strong. Windmills originated in Iran and spread to Europe during the Middle Ages, so perhaps Crusader castles like Crac des Chevaliers played a part in this process of technological transfer.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!