Krak of the Knights

Robin Fedden pays a historical visit to the monumental Frankish fortress, symbol of Christian dominance in the Holy Land for over a century.

For two hundred years the Crusaders maintained themselves on Muslim soil. Even more clearly than the medieval chroniclers, the vast ruined castles - they left behind speak of the rise, the glory and the eclipse, of their kingdom—the Kingdom of Jerusalem. From the outset this kingdom had two serious, and ultimately fatal, weaknesses which the Franks attempted to offset by a deliberate policy of castle-building. On arriving in the Holy Land, and before the initial elan of their advance was spent, the Crusaders made no serious effort to capture Aleppo and Damascus. This, to adapt Creasy’s phrase, was one of the “Decisive Blunders of History.” The capture of these towns would have brought into being a well-found Crusader kingdom, with the friendly Mediterranean on one flank and three hundred miles of Syrian desert on the other—a desert in which no large attacking force could operate. Such a kingdom would also decisively have separated the Muslims of Cairo from those of Baghdad, thus cutting the world of Islam in two. As it was, Aleppo and Damascus, the cities on the desert fringe, remained in Saracen hands. Constricted between the sea and a hostile hinterland, the Kingdom was placed at a permanent disadvantage. An eastern flank open to constant attack made the provision of numerous and powerful casties necessary.

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