Description of Qalat Salahuddin
If I could tell a tourist one place to visit in Syria outside of Damascus, it would be this: Qalat Salahuddin, the Castle of Salahuddin. When we did a poll with each other on what place we liked the best after visiting Homs, Hama, Palmyra, Lattakia, Allepo etc, the consistent answer was ‘My favorite place we visited was Salahuddin’s castle’. Why? I really don’t know exactly…
The first thing is that this castle is REMOTE. Now note that Damascus is remote, and then that the other cities in Syria are even more remote, and then the countryside is like ‘foreign planet, national geographic stuff’ remote and then go one further… and you have the remoteness of this place. To get there we had to take a big charter bus to Lattakia then take a mini-bus service to the city and then a taxi to Lattakia’s micro station used by locals for outlying areas. From there we took one of those little micros (public vans) to some village in some mountain. There we get dropped off in the middle of their ‘main street’ which has like 2 stores.
Then we had to bargain with some local taxi sharks to get a deal to take us to the Qalat AND to wait for us and bring us back since there is absolutely no transportation there. SO, we’re bargaining and bargaining and they’re giving us ridiculous prices like 3000 liras, 2000, then 1000 then they’re at 800. So then this old bedouin village type woman comes and is like ‘what do you want’ and I tell her we want to go to Qalat Salahuddin, how much should it be. And she’s like 400-500 tops and she’s like ‘BOYO! come over here and bring these nice ppl for 500′. haha just like that. So our driver guy starts driving and we are deep in mountains and forest somewhere, sometimes we pass a house or two.
Finally we’re like at the top of an evergreen mountain somewhere and the driver says ‘Look! over there, there it is.’ And we can see the castle way on top of the mountain all the way on the other side of a deep ravine. (See the pics & vids). Then the road turns sharp around 180 degrees! and we’re driving almost parallel to the way we came and then it turns sharply again 180 and we realize we’re driving back and forth, back and forth but we’re also slowly descending into the valley. Then we’re at the bottom and we cross this little bridge and pond and then we start driving up this mountain, back and forth, back and forth. (These roads are called ‘switchbacks’ according to the guidebook).
Then all the way at the top of the mountain we drive through this narrow valley with straight stone walls. These walls we later learned were HAND carved by the Crusaders through sheer mountain rock as a defense. There’s one very high narrow stone pillar obelisk which is what the draw-bridge used to rest upon. So we stop and park and then there are these stone steps that are carved into the mountain all the way to the top and we climb those to finally enter the castle.
Salahuddin never actually built this castle, nor did he ever actually live there for a period of time. Originally it was a strategic defense for various conquerors like the Byzantines and then it was taken over and fortified by the Crusaders who wanted to take control over the Muslims of this area. Salahuddin took an army all the way up here and being the great brilliant warrior he was, separated them into two parts. He took one to the front and sent the other half secretly to the other side with huge catapults and stones that were like 600 pounds! Once the lower castle was destroyed, Salahuddin sent in his people in and yayyy the Muslims took over.
The castle has stunning views of the forests that surround it. We also saw various buildings that would have been the stables, a mosque, minaret, water cistern (where they kept the supply of water for the year), towers, the donjon keep (an inner fortress of a fortress with thick, thick walls where the fighters could wait out an attack), a tea house, baths, courtyards, and iwans (doorways that open onto courtyards). We went around a full circuit to all the different parts as quickly as we could because we were given 2 hours. All the while imagining where the soldiers were, how they lived up here, imagining the horses, how the great battle took place, how Salahuddin entered.
It’s just living, breathing history and it felt like we were the first to discover it. Sigh.