The day started at 8am when Val, Greg and I spent 10 hours touring around south-western Syria with a local driver named Marmot (sic). The places included: the old city of Tartous; the island of Arwad (from a distance); Amrit and the Kings’ Tomb; Crac Des Chevaliers; Safita and citadel; and Qala’at Marqab.
The first stop was the old city of Tartous known to the Crusaders as Tortosa. Wonderful friendly people greeting us at every turn as we walked the thin streets.
The Kings’ tomb at Amrit was wonderful; only the three of us (we beat the tour bus). I enjoyed it more than the Valley of Kings in Egypt.
Crac Des Chevaliers – “the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies” (Paul Theroux); “the finest castle in the world” (TE Lawrence) – they sum the castle up perfectly. The first fortress was built in 1031, but it was the Crusader knights who in the middle of the 12th century largely built and expended the castle.
The predominately Christian town of Safita was next and another castle on the hill. In this town the citadel in now a Christian church.
Qala’at Marqab was the last castle for the day and was originally a Muslim stronghold, possibly founded in 1062. After falling into Crusader hands in the early 12th century, the fortifications were expanded. The main defensive building, the donjon, is on the southern side, as the gentler slopes made that aspect the castle’s most vulnerable. After several attempts, Saladin gave up trying to take Marqab. It eventually fell to the Mamluks in 1285.
The walls and towers are the most impressive element of what is left today, and the interior of the citadel is rapidly being overrun with vegetation and rubbish.
The day finished with a stop at the driver’s home, on the way back to the ship, to meet his wife, son and grandson; eat some interesting sweet food and my 2nd ever cup of coffee (WOW – strong stuff in a very small cup). Although their unit didn’t look much on the outside it was lovely inside. A wonderful Muslim family.
The people are all wonderful (not just our driver and his wife) – they all welcome us with a smile and a greeting. I must return to this lovely country, this time visiting Damascus. The good news is I have another day in Syria’s north-west tomorrow.