Many people think of castles as a European phenomena, but many don’t realize is that the design of many European castles still standing today were based on Crac des Chevaliers, one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the world. In the 11th century, Arabs built the castle upon previous fortifications on a high stone mountain about 2,132 feet above sea level. The citadel was erected mainly to control the Homs Gap, a pass that connected Syria to the Mediterranean for thousands of years. During the era of the Crusades, knights found that the Homs Gap was crucial in controlling the coast, so they occupied Crac des Chevaliers where they could better control the coast and the inland cities. When the castle was occupied by the Crusaders, a group of warrior Christians called the Hospitallers further strengthened and extended the citadel. The Crusaders found that the Arab fortifications were much more advanced than those back home, so they wisely spent their time in the citadel by learning more about Arab castle-building techniques, which they later on brought home to Europe.
Thanks to the castle’s excellent condition, present-day visitors can marvel at the fortress’s various architectural wonders. Crac des Chevaliers was given its imposing character by its elevated location and its walls and towers that reach up to the sky. Although it is partially ruined, the castle still retains much of its original structures, such as a moat that could be filled with rainwater through the use of aqueducts. The castle’s fine defenses can be seen in its two walls: the higher inner and the lower outer, which gave warriors a chance to attack enemies without having to leave the safety of the castle’s walls. Crac des Chevaliers was more than just a fortress, however, as it was also utilized as a monastery and a storehouse for horses, food, water, and other supplies. Due to its magnificent size, the castle could hold supplies that could last for up to five years for an army of 2,000 to 4,000 men. The citadel also contained a small Spartan town with a church and chapel, large halls, cisterns, stables, residential areas, courtyards, and storerooms, and many of these structures can still be seen today.