The Templars in the East
Outremer–French for ‘the land across the sea’–was the general name for the Crusader states which ran along the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean from Asia Minor to Egypt. These were the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Edessa. Today the region encompasses Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and parts of Turkey. But the principal sites associated with the Templars that visitors can see today are in Israel and Syria, and most notably in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Outremer would have fallen much sooner than it did had it not been for the Templars. They defended the Holy Land on the battlefield, and also in numerous castles and fortified cities, remains of which survive across the region. In addition to Jerusalem and Acre, the Templars were based at Tortosa on the Syrian coast, on the island of Arwad, and inland at Safita, which, along with the Hospitaller castle of Krak des Chevalier, guarded the strategically important Homs Gap. All of these places are worth visiting today.
Jerusalem is central to the story of the Templars. Here in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Christmas Day 1119 the founding knights took their vows before patriarch and king, and in the al-Aqsa mosque atop the Temple Mount they established their headquarters. When Saladin captured Jerusalem in 1187, the Templars removed themselves to Acre, the port city which now became the principal metropolis of Outremer, and here too the story of the Templars can be traced among the stones of its walls and towers, and through the secret Templar tunnel to the harbour from where they spirited away their treasure at the final fall of Outremer.
JERUSALEM: THE OLD CITY
Jerusalem has been the centre of the Jewish faith for three thousand years, since Solomon built his Temple here in the tenth century BC. As the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the first century AD, Jerusalem also stands at the fulcrum of the Christian world. For Muslims the Prophet Mohammed’s Night Journey in the seventh century AD made Jerusalem Islam’s third holiest city after Mecca and Medina. The key Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites are all within the Old City, enclosed within its medieval walls.
The walls that enclose the Old City of Jerusalem today were rebuilt by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537–41, though they have been restored many times since. They closely follow the line of the walls as they were at the time of the First Crusade in 1099. Today visitors can gain excellent views of the city and its surroundings by walking the circuit of its walls, partly atop its ramparts and partly along the outer footing, a distance of four kilometres in all.
The ramparts can be walked from the Jaffa Gate in the west to Saint Stephen’s Gate in the east via the Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate along the northern wall. Just to the east of Herod’s Gate is the spot where, during the successful First Crusade, at around noon on 15 July 1099, Godfrey of Bouillon fought his way onto the northern battlements and was quickly followed by Tancred and his men, who pushed into the city towards the Temple Mount. Eighty-eight years later, Saladin directed his attack against this same stretch of the northern wall when he laid siege to the city in 1187, leading to its surrender on 2 October. To walk the southern half of the circuit, from Saint Stephen’s Gate back to the Jaffa Gate, you must come down from the ramparts and follow the outside of the city wall. The route takes you round the massive retaining walls of the Temple Mount at the southeast corner of the Old City.
Since medieval times the Old City enclosed within these walls has been home to four distinct religious communities, which have gathered into neighbourhoods: the Muslim quarter in the northeast, the Christian quarter in the northwest (but excluding the Armenians, who have their own quarter in the southwest) and the Jewish quarter in the south-central part of the city.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is in the Christian quarter in the northwest corner of Jerusalem and stands on the traditional sites of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which in the first century AD were outside the city walls.
The discovery of the True Cross and also the site where Jesus was entombed and rose on the third day was made by Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, during her visit to the Holy Land in 326–8. First Constantine ordered that a basilica called the Martyrium (meaning place of witness) be built to encompass the site of Golgotha, that is Calvary, the place of crucifixion, and this was dedicated on 17 September 335. The interior of Constantine’s Basilica was faced with multi-coloured marble and its coffered ceiling was covered with gold which was said to ripple and swell like an ocean in the changing light. But the great domed Rotunda, also called the Anastasis (meaning resurrection), erected over the tomb of Jesus took longer to build and was not completed until 340.
The Martyrium and the Rotunda were linked by a court and surrounded by lesser buildings, to which a tumultuous history has lent a hand, so that the church you see today has often been restored. In 614 the Persians attacked Jerusalem, stole the True Cross and set the church alight, destroying its roof and many of its decorations. The church was again put to the torch by rioting Muslims in 938 who also devastated the Golgotha Chapel within Constantine’s Basilica and the tomb chapel within the Rotunda. Yet again, and this time on the orders of the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, in 1009, the church and the tomb were destroyed. A few decades later, and with permission from Cairo, Byzantine emperors rebuilt the church on the old foundations using salvaged material.
The Templars had their origins here in this rebuilt church when on Christmas Day 1119 Hugh of Payns and his eight companions took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Calling themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ, they dedicated themselves to defending pilgrims against attack along the roads to the holy places. The Templar Church in London, consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, takes its circular design from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place in the Crusaders’ world.
Large parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were altered and rebuilt between 1150 and 1180 by the Crusaders. The entrance facade is mostly Crusader work and incorporates Romanesque and Gothic styles, the five-storey bell tower was added in 1153 and Constantine’s Basilica, the Martyrium, was rebuilt in Romanesque style, but the Rotunda was left essentially intact. This is the church you see today. During the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the church was the royal burial place, but the tombs were pillaged in 1244 when the Khorezmian Turks sacked the church and massacred the Christians huddled for safety inside.
THE TEMPLE MOUNT
The Hebrew for Temple Mount is Har ha-Bayit, but the mount is better known by its Arabic name, al-Haram ash-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. In the days of Kings David and Solomon in the tenth century BC a limestone ridge rose from the Ophel Hill in the south where David built his city (now the City of David Archaeological Garden outside the city walls) and climbed northwards as Mount Zion, reaching its peak where the Dome of the Rock stands today. Thereabouts was the threshing floor of Araunah, the last Jebusite king, where David built an altar and where perhaps Solomon sited the Holy of Holies, the shrine of the Ark of the Covenant, when he built his Temple.
Solomon carved the ridge into a platform for the Temple; the same platform was reused for the Second Temple in the sixth century BC; and then Herod constructed a vaster masonry platform atop the ancient bedrock when he built his immense renovated and extended Temple in the first century BC. Though the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, much of the masonry platform and its retaining walls remained.
Over the centuries Jews from all over the world have come to pray at the Western Wall, famously known as the Wailing Wall for the laments heard here, an exposed section of the retaining wall which has come to symbolise not only the lost Temple of Herod but the Temple of Solomon built on this spot three thousand years ago. After the Arab conquest the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque atop the mount. In Crusader times the Temple Mount became an integral part of the city, and the entire southern half of the mount was a Templar complex; indeed their very name is taken from their close association with the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is administered by the Muslim authorities, and the Western Wall, at its base, by the rabbinic authorities. Access to the Mount is allowed to all religions, although Orthodox Jews will not visit the Temple Mount at all. Only the Jewish high priest was permitted to enter the Temple’s Holy of Holies, and as its exact position remains uncertain, the Orthodox fear walking upon that most sacred of spots.
The Dome of the Rock
The sacred nature of Jerusalem is confirmed for Muslims by the Night Journey in which the angel Gabriel brought Mohammed to the Temple Mount, the site of Solomon’s Temple, from where they ascended to Paradise (Koran 17:1). Octagonal in plan and topped with a golden dome, and standing over the oblong rock from where the ascent was made, the Dome of the Rock is more a shrine than a mosque, a place where the faithful come on pilgrimage and circle round the ambulatories in prayer. It is the second most important place of pilgrimage after Mecca.
Begun in 687 by order of the Umayyad caliph Marwan and completed in its essentials in 691, the Dome of the Rock was built by Syrian craftsmen in the Byzantine tradition and was covered inside and out with mosaics of gold and coloured tesserae. The interior mosaics round the outer ambulatory are original and date to 691; they bear designs of palm trees, sprays of foliage, garlands of flowers and fruits, and bunches of grapes. Elsewhere the interior mosaics have been renewed several times, for example by Saladin though also as recently as the late 1950s, but they faithfully follow the designs of the originals. The exterior mosaics were replaced with Turkish tiles in the sixteenth century and these were renewed in the late 1950s. The present dome was put in place in 1961 but like the original it is made of wood and is covered with gilded lead.
The structure is also decorated both inside and out with calligraphic inscriptions which are composed of all the Koranic references to Jesus, including the warning to Christians (Koran 4:171) that their faith, based on the divinity of Jesus, is false: ‘People of the Book, do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about God. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary: a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His apostles and do not say: “Three”. Forebear, and it shall be better for you. God is but one God. God forbid that He should have a son! His is all that the heavens and the earth contain. God is the all-sufficient protector.’
But traditions about the rock directly beneath the dome long antedate the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. The rock is the peak of the mount now covered over by the man-made platform, and so it is the highest point in the Old City. An early Christian source, known only as the Bordeaux Pilgrim, who visited the Holy Land in AD 333, noted the Jewish attachment to the rock, writing that it is a ‘perforated stone to which the Jews come every year and anoint it, bewail themselves with groans, rend their garments, and so depart’. To Jews it is known as the Foundation Stone, for they believe that this is where David offered up his sacrifice after purchasing the threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite.
Though secular scholars may debate the exact position of Solomon’s Temple and its plan, many Jews have no doubt that the rock formed the base of the Holy of Holies and was the spot where the Ark of the Covenant stood. They also believe that during the Second Temple, when the Ark had vanished or was hidden, the stone was where the high priest sprinkled the blood of sacrifices and offered up the incense during the Yom Kippur service.
There is a chamber beneath the rock, reached by a flight of marble stairs; the chamber is about six feet high and nearly square with each side measuring about fifteen feet. The first mention of an opening in the rock was made by the Bordeaux Pilgrim, but the first documented reference to the cave beneath the rock was made by an Arab visitor called Ibn al-Faqih in 903: ‘Under the rock is a cavern in which the people pray. This cavern is capable of containing 62 persons.’ The Crusaders installed the marble entrance to the stairway and recut the chamber, which they used for confession.
After the Crusader capture of Jerusalem in 1099 the Dome of the Rock was turned into a church, the Templum Domini or Temple of the Lord, and also served as the residence of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The canons of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre established a convent in the northeast corner of the outer court and the Templars also built some living quarters here and planted gardens.
The Mystery of the Rock and Its Subterranean Chamber
There is no mention of the rock nor the chamber beneath it during the Jewish period. This is not surprising as the man-made platform on which the Temples of Solomon and Herod stood entirely covered the rock. There is evidence to suggest that the Roman emperor Hadrian reduced the summit of the Temple Mount by several feet with the purpose of erasing the Jewish nature of Jerusalem. Only then, as the upper level of Herod’s platform was cleared away, did the rock become exposed. Originally the rock had marked the summit of the mount, but once it was covered by the platform it bore no particular relationship to the siting of the altar nor to the Holy of Holies in the Temples of Solomon and Herod. As for the chamber beneath the rock, it is thought to have been a tomb cut four thousand years ago and forgotten long before Araunah had his threshing floor here. After lowering the platform, Hadrian had intended to build a shrine to Jupiter on this spot, but he never did. The rock and subterranean chamber were left exposed, leaving Jewish and Muslim traditions to lend religious significance to the site.
After the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 638 the Muslim commander, Umar, had a temporary mosque built at the southern end of the Temple Mount. Umar’s mosque was replaced sixty years later when work began on the mosque of al-Aqsa, which was completed in 715. Al-Aqsa means ‘the farthest’ and was originally applied to the entire Temple Mount, being that farthest place where Mohammed ascended into Paradise according to an interpretation of Sura 17:1 in the Koran. Al-Aqsa, a basilica with a lead dome that shines silvery in the sun, became the great congregational mosque of Jerusalem, the place of Friday prayers and the midday sermon.
Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamelukes, Ottomans and, since the 1920s, the Supreme Muslim Council have altered, extended or rebuilt the mosque, so that it is a palimpsest of thirteen centuries of architectural history. The Crusaders also played an important role. In 1099 it became the headquarters of the Crusader leader Godfrey of Bouillon, and for several years it served as a palace for Baldwin I, the first king of Jerusalem. The Crusaders called it the mosque of the Templum Solomonis because they believed that it stood on the site of Solomon’s Temple, so that when Baldwin gave the building to the new knighthood of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ in 1119 it was not long before they were calling themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon–or, simply, the Templars.
Al-Aqsa was the Templars’ administrative, military and religious headquarters for over sixty years. They made various structural alterations and extensions to provide chambers for the Grand Master and other officers of the order and their staff, living quarters for the knights, and storage rooms for food, clothing and arms, but they took care not to damage the fine Arab decorations. Some Templar work survives, most notably the annexe they built to the east of the mosque which is now incorporated in the Women’s Mosque and the Islamic Museum, and they also left their mark on Solomon’s Stables.
Solomon’s Stables were in fact vaulted cellars built by Herod the Great to support his immense platform of the Temple Mount when he extended and refurbished the Second Temple in the first century BC. The vast masonry underpinning raised the ground level at the southeast corner of the Temple Mount by 150 feet. There are thought to be four levels of vaulting, but only the topmost level is accessible, and at present this is closed to tourists. The Umayyads reused Herodian masonry to restore this topmost level in the late seventh and early eighth centuries, and later the Templars rebuilt the arches. In addition to offering structural support for the Temple Mount platform and later the al-Aqsa mosque built above this spot, the cellars may have served Herod’s Temple as storerooms. The Templars were probably the first to use them as stables, and there are still rings attached to many of the pillars which were used to tether their horses.
A tunnel runs from the southern retaining wall of the Temple Mount underneath Solomon’s Stables. At a distance of 100 feet the tunnel is blocked by pieces of stone and debris, and archaeologists have not been able to examine it further because of objections from the Muslim authorities. But from the way the tunnel was constructed, often using large blocks from the period of Herod’s Temple, archaeologists have concluded that it was built as a postern by the Templars. The entrance would have been somewhere on the surface of the Temple Mount, and its exit in the southern wall would have allowed the Templars to emerge and make sudden surprise attacks against their enemies.
The Islamic Museum
Architectural fragments and other objects removed from the various structures on the Temple Mount during renovations have been put on display at the Islamic Museum. Among these are some items of Crusader workmanship. But the finest thing about the museum is the Templar vaulted hall, which serves as the chief exhibition space. The hall was built in the 1160s and was part of that magnificent complex described by Theoderich, a pilgrim who visited the Holy Land in 1172.
On another side of the [al-Aqsa] palace, that is to say, on the western side, the Templars have erected a new building. I could give the measurements of its height, length and breadth of its cellars, refectories, staircases and roof, rising with a high pitch, unlike the flat roofs of that country; but even if I did so, my hearers would hardly be able to believe me.
In fact what you are seeing is only the western half of the hall, which after Saladin captured Jerusalem in 1187 became the assembly hall of a madrassa. The eastern half of the Templar hall was converted into the Women’s Mosque of the al-Aqsa, which it remains to this day.
Acre, or Akko in Hebrew, is on a low promontory about twelve miles north of Haifa. As the maritime gateway to Outremer throughout the Crusader period, Acre was the chief port of trade and the principal landing point for pilgrims. In 1191, four years after Jerusalem was lost to Saladin, Acre also became the capital of the truncated Kingdom of Jerusalem, and both the Templars and the Hospitallers established their headquarters here. Acre was the most powerfully defended city in Outremer, and the Templar fortress by the sea was the strongest place in the city. But in 1291, after a long siege, Acre fell to the overwhelming Mameluke forces, which effectively marked the end of the crusading venture in the Holy Land. On the orders of the victorious Mameluke Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, everyone remaining alive within the town was brought outside the walls and decapitated, and Acre was levelled to the ground.
Four hundred years later, however, the Ottomans began rebuilding Acre, often reusing the fallen stones, and standing their new walls and buildings on the Crusaders’ foundations. This has given Acre a medieval atmosphere which, together with its striking situation looking out upon the sea, helps the visitor to imagine how the Crusader city used to be. Moreover, recent archaeological work has uncovered much of the Frankish past, in particular the Crusader Underground City and the Templar Tunnel.
You can start by walking along the Sea Wall Promenade, which for the most part follows the line of the Crusader walls. At the southwest corner of the walls where they jut out into the sea is a lighthouse, and just north of it is an area of quarried rock, now underwater, which was the site of the Templar fortress. The fortress was destroyed by the Mamelukes in 1291 and what stone blocks remained were put towards building the eighteenth-century sea walls. Just opposite this spot is the entrance to the Templar Tunnel, discovered only in 1994. The bottom part of the tunnel is cut from the bedrock, while the upper part is a barrel vault built of hewn stone. The section of the tunnel that runs westwards under the sea to the Templar fortress is not accessible, but you can follow the tunnel for a thousand feet eastwards under the old Pisan quarter to where it emerges at the Khan al-Shuna, the Grain Inn, which stands on twelfth century foundations.
Built against the northern land walls is the eighteenth-century Ottoman citadel, the largest building in Acre, which was built over the remains of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Hospitaller headquarters which have been excavated and cleared by archaeologists. What stands revealed is the Crusader Underground City, an immense and majestic complex of halls, storerooms, hospice and crypt arranged in four wings around a courtyard. Vast as the complex is, this is only a single level of what was once a four-storey building. It is the largest surviving Crusader structure in Israel, and yet according to contemporary accounts the now vanished Templar fortress was far grander.
Tortosa of the Crusaders, known today as Tartus, was an important pilgrimage port and a strategic gateway between the Mediterranean and the Syrian interior. Tartus stands at the seaward end of the Homs Gap, which cuts through the Jebel al-Sariya, the coastal mountain range, while at the eastern end of the gap lies the important city of Homs and beyond that Damascus, which together with Cairo in Egypt was the mustering place of Muslim forces directed against the Franks of Outremer. In defence against this threat the Templars fortified Tortosa, whose cathedral stands as the finest survival of Crusader religious architecture outside Jerusalem, and in the mountains they built Chastel Blanc, or Safita as it is known today, which together with the nearby Hospitaller castle of Krak des Chevaliers gave the Crusaders complete control over the one important route between the interior of Syria and the sea. In 1291, the year when Outremer was overwhelmed by the final Mameluke assault, the Templars at Tortosa hung on two months longer than the defenders at Acre, and they clung on to their offshore island of Arwad for yet eleven years more.
The old quarter of Tartus, Tortosa of the Templars, is built within the remains of the Crusader citadel. A good section of its sea wall runs along the Mediterranean, while on the landward sides the citadel is encircled by an inner and outer wall. Much of these land walls survive, though they can be difficult to follow because houses have been built into the arches and bastions and are fixed against the walls themselves. The citadel occupied less than a quarter of the Crusader city and that too was surrounded by a wall, almost entirely vanished now, its southern end marked by a free-standing square tower about 500 yards to the south of the citadel and just opposite the little harbour where you can catch a launch to the island of Arwad.
Tortosa was originally in the hands of the Count of Tripoli (Trablus down the coast in northern Lebanon) who placed it in the care of the Templars following its brief occupation by Nur al-Din in 1152. The knights held out against Saladin’s siege in 1188 by bolting themselves inside the keep, which rises just behind the sea wall. Entering through an opening in the sea wall you thread your way through the tangle of streets and jumble of habitations that fill the citadel enclosure. A little square with a leafy café opens up immediately behind the remains of the Templars’ keep. On the north side of the square are the traces of a thirteenth-century Templar banqueting hall, while to the northeast are the remains of their chapel.
But what is especially worth seeing is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Tortosa, which lies 300 yards to the southeast, beyond the citadel walls but within what was the line of the Templars’ city walls. If in doubt you can ask for the kanisa, church, or the mathaf, museum, which is what the cathedral has become, though during the centuries following the withdrawal of the Crusaders from the Holy Land it served as a mosque, a stables and an Ottoman barracks. A chapel, reputedly the first dedicated to the Virgin, is known to have been built here in the third century, long before the Roman Empire officially tolerated Christianity. When two centuries later the chapel was felled by an earthquake, the disaster was proclaimed a miracle, for the altar had survived. The Count of Tripoli built upon this history when he began construction of the cathedral in 1123 to house the miraculous altar and receive the prayers of pilgrims. But the church you see today was largely rebuilt by the Templars after they withstood Saladin’s attack on Tortosa in 1188 when he destroyed most of the city, including much of the cathedral.
You enter Our Lady of Tortosa from the west, where the cathedral presents a blank wall pierced only by a small door, above which is a triangular arrangement of windows with slightly pointed arches marking the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic. The impression is more of a fortress than a church, and you notice the vestiges of corner towers that would have served a defensive purpose. Not that it was of any help to eighteen-year-old Raymond, heir to the thrones of Antioch and Tripoli, who in 1213 was stabbed to death outside this door by two Assassins.
When you step inside you discover a medieval French cathedral, the most graceful religious building of the Crusaders in Syria. It is bare of Christian ornament, and its empty volume swallows the whispers of occasional visitors. Undazzled by detail, your eyes follow the trajectories of massive arches which soar from acanthus capitals, and you are impressed with the sense that Our Lady of Tortosa was built by men who meant to stay in the Holy Land forever.
SAFITA (CHASTEL BLANC)
Safita is approached through ascending terraces of orchards and olive groves. The town of stone-built houses painted white and pink, now an attractive summer mountain resort, has grown up around the castle the Templars called Chastel Blanc, an outpost of Tortosa against Assassin territory to the northeast and contributing towards the defence of the Homs Gap. The encircling walls of the fortress are gone but their pattern remains evident in the layout of streets and houses; what remains is the massive hilltop keep, visible against the sky for miles in every direction.
As Chastel Blanc was a Templar fortress it should come as no surprise that on entering the keep you discover that the ground floor was built as a church. Its high and dimly lit vaulted nave is rounded off by an apse at the east end with a sacristy on each side. The church was never turned into a mosque nor deconsecrated, and it now serves the Greek Orthodox community which moved here in the nineteenth century after being squeezed out of the Hauran in southern Syria by the Druze. A staircase to the right of the doorway takes you up to the first floor, which served as an armoury and housed the garrison. A further staircase leads to the open terrace at the top of the tower, in part still crenellated, with panoramic views of the town and the surrounding landscape, ranging as far as Krak des Chevaliers along the horizon to the southeast and a glimpse of the Mediterranean to the west.
KRAK DES CHEVALIERS
Krak des Chevaliers, known in Arabic as Qalaat al-Husn, was a Hospitaller castle, not a Templar one, but it is mentioned here because it was part of that network of defences in the southern Jebel al-Sariya and along the Syrian coast that was the shared responsibility of the two military orders. Krak is also almost entirely undamaged and is a superb example of the concentric system, with one defensive wall set within the other, each one higher than the one before, which allowed for successive stages of retreat if need be, the defenders always having the advantage of dominating the attackers from a greater height. Situated on a mountain ridge within sight of Safita and overlooking the Homs Gap, the castle was built and expanded in phases by the Hospitallers from 1144 onwards. Its control of this strategic corridor and its forward position, so close to Homs and Hama and nearly intersecting the interior route between Damascus and Aleppo, caused one Saracen chronicler to describe it as ‘a bone stuck in the very throat of the Muslims’. Yet despite repeated attempts against it, Krak held firm, and even Saladin, after his great victory over the Kingdom of Jerusalem at Hattin in 1187, took one look at its defences and marched away.
After climbing up a dark vaulted switchback ramp and passing through a portcullis you enter the court, a narrow and economical space faced on one side with an elegant loggia, where the light sifts through fine stone tracery reminiscent of Rheims. ‘Grace, wisdom and beauty you may enjoy’, runs the Latin inscription cut into the stone, ‘but beware pride which alone can tarnish all the rest.’ Beyond the loggia is a great dining hall and behind that a huge nave-like chamber, at one time filled with kitchens and bakeries, granaries and storage jars, for siege was always expected and the major castles were stocked with provisions to last up to five years. Opposite the loggia is a barrel-vaulted twelfth-century chapel built in the Romanesque style and later converted to a mosque.
The best place to appreciate the magnificence of Krak’s position is from the Warden’s Tower where a spiral staircase rises to a graceful and voluminous chamber, the Grand Master’s apartment. Below you, like some giant nautilus, swirl the concentric circles of the castle’s defences, the vast structure seeming to sail like a battleship high above rolling waves of orchards and wheat fields, a bountiful landscape as familiar as Provence.
Krak was not taken; it was given away. In the last years of Outremer, Krak and Safita and the other mountain castles became isolated, vulnerable and undermanned outposts facing the gathering storm of an overwhelming Mameluke enemy. Finally, after Krak had been in Christian hands for 161 years, and after a month’s siege, the Hospitaller knights accepted Sultan Baybars’ offer of safe passage and in 1271 rode to Tortosa of the Templars and the sea for the last time.
Known to the Templars as Ruad, Arwad lies two miles off the coast of Syria, opposite Tartus. A fishing town almost completely covers the little island. There are no streets, only twisting lanes with narrowing passages, and in their midst the Crusader castle from where the Templars from Tortosa clung to a view of Christendom’s lost prize for eleven years longer, until 1302.
One of an endless series of launches from Tartus lands you at the island’s harbour where fishermen mend their nets near restaurants and cafés which serve the constant stream of daytrippers. Behind these are the walls of a small Muslim castle, and by this is the market, which twists back into the town. Follow this to higher ground towards the west side of the island and you come to the Crusader fortress, probably thirteenth century, with massive round corner towers. This was the last outpost of the Templars; now it is the local museum. Next to its gate is a carved relief of a lion chained to a palm, a declaration made in vain that the Crusaders were forever attached to Outremer.