It's 2011! Happy New Year!
Today we woke up early. I had arranged the day before for a taxi to take us to Krak des Chevaliers. Krak des Chevaliers is also known as Qala'at al-Hosn.
The place is THE best Crusader castle still standing today. It is a seriously impressive place and need few hours to enjoy. Slight problem, it is 250km from Aleppo, or 220km for Damascus. We decided to hit the place from Aleppo and to finish our day 70km south of Aleppo visiting the Dead cities of Jerada and Nuweiha.
If you have a lot of time in front of you, you can make it to the fortress by public transport, but time is not on our side on this 1st of January. The same night, we have our train back to Damascus...I know, this makes a lot of back and forth, but if you read my last entry, trains are fun here...and very cheap! So we organized our own taxi. I had no idea of the "right" price, so when we settled for 70usd a day (negociated in syrian pounds at 3,000), I thought it was a decent deal for the driver and us.
Keep in mind, we did 500km in a single day, and sunset is already at 4pm.
The best part of the day I think was when we found out that it was a first for our taxi driver too. When he saw the castle, of which he had heard, but had obviously no idea of what it was...he ended up being as excited as Leslie. He actually made the full visit with us.
Krak des Chevaliers....where to start? It was first built as a fortress back in 1031 by the Emir of Homs. But it reached it's glory with the Crusaders from the 11th to the end of the 13th century. The place was never truly breached. Lonely Planet claim the place could contained up to 2000 knights at once...and being able to be besieged for months at a time.
My only regret, I think...with time they will build and build more around Krak des Chevaliers. You cannot think of the place as an isolated fortress in the middle of nowhere, and I do not think it will improve with time.
We took a good 4 hours to visit the place. I cannot tell you
of the excitement of Leslie. At home, he has his playmobil...he still play with my first medieval castle (nearly 30 years old toy), and has his own to top it up. Suddenly, here he is, in the middle of the true thing...and the true thing is in pretty good condition. We didn't see any Crusaders...but they could have come from nowhere anytime. PS...we never found a secret passage even if we were looking for them!
We first started by the outside wall. Krak des Chevaliers is a huge fortress. You have a main central fortress with it own moat, plus outside quarter, including a huge number of halls and rooms and corridor, and than you have the outside walls. Later on we continued and made it to the inner Fortress....going into which ever room possible, climbing any stairs available to us. There were few tourists around, not a huge amount, but enough to feel that we did not had the place to ourselves.
By 2pm we were on our way back to Aleppo. We stopped on the way to visit 2 Dead Cities just South of Aleppo. Jerada and Nuweiha, here not a single tourist. The place where
actually not that easy to find as it was also a first for our taxi driver, and the signposting is pretty non-existant here. Not much clear explanations of why and what about these dead cities. The local population has also re-take some of the land around, giving you a very weird feeling when you visit. You have those buildings which could have been 2 thousands years old, and next to them, or should I say into them, the local population trying to live in conditions that are not easy. The land is full of stones, not a desert, but a "moon" type environment. This was a pretty surreal visit just before sunset. I guess not many tourists make their way to here, as there is not even a ticket collection place around.
We have one more little entry for you on Syria. But Krak des Chevaliers will remain for three of us a true highlight of Syria. What an amazing place, and what a way to start 2011...I'm sure Leslie will remember this day for a long time, after all, I had to wait 37 years to set foot in Syria...not really your day to day tourist place!
Coming back soo with more....
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