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THE MIDDLE AGES

The period of time known as the Middle Ages in Europe was one of great change in the Near East.  The expansion of the Turks and the decline of the Byzantine empire were major themes.  A group of Turks known as the Seljuks were nominally under the control of the Caliphs in Baghdad, and after they defeated a massive Byzantine army in Manzikert in Eastern Anatolia in 1071 there was little to stop their expansion into Syria. Damascus was conquered in 1075 and in 1078 Jerusalem was under their control.  This led to Pope Urban II to make his appeal to regain the Holy Land in 1095.  Meeting little concerted resistance, a crusading army began a march to Jerusalem and conquered it in 1099.  Along the way a string of forts was erected to control the overland route to Jerusalem.  Though ostensibly to protect pilgrims, the crusaders found the land so fertile that they desired to stay.  Perhaps the most famous castle they built was Krak des Chevaliers, regarded by many as the most impressive ĎEuropeaní castle in the world. In fact, there are many European castles in Syria that are architecturally in advance of contemporary European castles.  Near Eastern stonemasons with a long tradition of military construction made a lasting impact on European architecture.

Krak des Chevaliers was started in 1099 and abandoned.  It was re-occupied in 1110 and then given to the Knights Hospitallers in 1140.  Although the castle survived two major assaults in the 12th century, it fell in 1271.  The main reason the castle was built on the spur was because it is a natural defensive location, which can easily be appreciated from this image.


The chapel - here an image of the outside - dates from the time of the Hospitallers (1142-1170).  The architecture shows the beginnings of the Gothic period in the vaulting.

Al Marqab, also known under the European name Margat, controlled the coastal road between Anatolia and the Holy Land.  The site had long been used for fortresses.  It was taken by Crusaders in 1098 and was then abandoned. It was re-taken sometime before 1140, and was finally sold to the Knights Hospitaller in 1186.  It fell in 1285.


Not surprisingly, Muslims also placed emphasis on military architecture during this period, and well known structures were built under powerful rulers, particularly in Aleppo.  Under the dynasty that takes itís name from a powerful founder, Zengi (1128-1146) and his second son Nur al-Din (1146-1174), Aleppo was under the nominal control of the Sultan of Mosul and the Caliph of Baghdad, though control at this time was more of a formality than reality. In stages Crusader positions were challenged and  Damascus was soon brought under their control.  Yet perhaps the most enduring legacy of the dynasty was the rise to power of a nephew of Nur al-Din, a man originally chosen for his compliance to his superiors, Saladin.  A Kurd by birth, he was assigned the task of bringing Egypt under control, and after he did so, he ruled the most powerful nation of the Mediterranean.  After the death of Nur al-Din he was offered command in place of Nur al-Dinís infant son.  He quickly established his base in Damascus in 1176 and founded a new dynasty that bore the name of his family (the Ayyubids).  By 1187 he had re-taken Jerusalem.  Saladinís memory in the West is intertwined with his actions.  Unlike other warriors of the period he was known for his mercy, particularly to civilian populations.  Instead of wholesale slaughter - a common occurrence after battles during this period - he freed thousands.  Preferring diplomacy and negotiation to war, many of his gains were bloodless.  By the end of the 13th century a new force rose to challenge the descendants of Saladin, the Mamlukes.  Their political organization was perhaps unique in world history.  Originally taken as slaves from the Caucasus mountains and Central Asia, they were officially slaves of the Caliph.  They were effective rulers in both Egypt and Syria, and effectively stopped the Mongols before they reached Damascus in the Battle of Ain Jalud.  At the same time by popular acclaim they took the city of Damascus from the last descendent of Saladin and began operations against the Crusaders.  Under Sultans Baibars (1260-1277) and Qalun (1280-1290) European forces were finally driven out of Syria.


The Aleppo Citadel was largely the result of construction after the Mongol attack of 1260.  The Mamluke Sultan al-Ashraf Kahlil (1290-1293) is the likely patron., though substantial remains of the fortress built by Saladinís son Ghazi (1193-1215) remained to guide him.   After about 1400 the city began to encroach on the fortification, which largely became symbolic rather than military.

The front entrance of the Aleppo Citadel. The structure is designed for defence, with a deep ditch surrounding a fortress on a steep slope.  Many inscriptions attest to periods of re-construction.

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DR. MURRAY EILAND

ARCHAEOLOGIST

UNIVERSITY OF DAMASCUS

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