Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din
According to Unesco, the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din were two crusader castles in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Crac des Chevaliers was built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem from 1142-1271. It was later added onto by other groups such as the Mamluks in the late 13th century. The Qal’at Salah El-Din was built by the Byzantines in the 10th century, and added onto by the Franks and Middle Eastern dynasties after the 12th century. These castles highlight the exchange of influences and portray the evolution of architecture in the Near East during the Crusader and Islamic periods. Illegal buildings will be removed to keep its integrity and other additions will be demolished to keep its authenticity. It is protected by the Syrian Antiquities Law and the Law of Ministry of Local Administration. Both castles were built on high ridges for defensive reasons. They are great examples of fortification systems during the Crusader time.
The Crac Des Chevaliers castle was the only way through mountains from the Mediterranean Coast that would protect travelers from weather. That castle was a popular area for tourism and was a national symbol before conflict escalated in the region. War has destroyed part of the inner cloister and some of the walls, towers, and vaulted interiors. 400,000 artifacts of the national collection were moved to avoid looting during the war by request of Syria’s director-general of antiquities and museums, Maamoun Abdulkarim. This was done in hopes of preserving some of the artifacts in the area. According to the news, the castle was initially known as the Castle of the Kurds, and the name today translates to “Fortress of the Knights.”
Unesco places a site on the World Heritage list if it fits at least one of the ten selection criteria.
Why they are considered a World Heritage Site
-Criterion (ii)- “to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;” The castles represent a development in fortifications which differ from other areas. They are great portrayals of the exchange of influences and shows the evolution of fortifications, which influenced the East and West.
-Criterion (iv)- “to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;” The Crac des Chevaliers is one of the best preserved castles from the Crusader time. The Qal’at Salah El-Din is in ruins but is a great example of fortifications, in terms of construction and its stratigraphy.
Unesco placed this site on the World Heritage Site list in 2006.
Conflict is the main factor endangering the integrity of the site. Large amounts of conflict have occurred at the Crac Des Chevaliers castle. It has been captured and recaptured by the Syrian Army, and they currently are patrolling the castle. War has destroyed part of the inner cloister and some of the walls, towers, and vaulted interiors. The Syrian Air Force has bombed the castle three times, along with ground assault. The Independent News, has stated that Isis has destroyed and damaged 6 of Syria’s World Heritage Sites, including the medieval castles. News sources say that the civil war of Syria is a result of rebels fighting to overthrow the President Bashar Assad. Modern warfare has taken a toll on the castles, among many other sites in Syria. Looters have stolen artifacts that have come from this site. Nature World News cited that refugees hid within the castle hoping that the fortified walls and the historical significance would protect them from being attacked, but they were sadly mistaken. It made the castle a target for strikes from the Syrian military instead of protecting them.
Check out this video for more information on how the war has damaged this site- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3496674/History-obliterated-Syria-s-Unesco-heritage-sites-damaged-destroyed-conflict.html
The RT News has said that there has been a lot of looting happening throughout Syria as a result of the war. Museum and sites are being looted and being traded for weapons. There has been thousands of illegal excavations happening around Syria. The market for antiquities has increased in the area as many of these artifacts are being sold. The Islamic state is destroying cultural heritage and exporting it to obtain money for their activities. If there war does not stop soon, a lot of Syria’s cultural heritage will be lost forever as the artifacts are taken out of their context.
Archaeologist’s Studying the Factors
As stated by the Nature World News, Archaeologists are studying conflict in other areas of Syria. For example, archaeologists are going to study Palmyra, which was destroyed by Syria’s war. It obtained liberation from IS in March 2016. They will examine the site and what reconstruction needs to be done to restore items. Experts call for a cooperation between organizations to preserve Syria’s heritage.
Archaeologists study conflict quite frequently. Conflict is a huge part of society. The experience of past cultures in war is parallel to modern warfare. The conflict in Brazil during the military dictatorship has been studied. But in order to study all of the groups involved, they had to study material culture along with written in Brazil. This is because written text emphasizes and focuses the rich people in the country, and material will incorporate the less fortunate.
Insight into Global Issues
As stated by Jeremy Sabloff, war has mostly stayed the same throughout time. By studying past conflict we can better understand modern warfare. Archaeologists can’t prevent war from happening, but they can help present ideas and plans to help mediate it. So Archaeological research into conflict can help the civil war that Syria is facing currently, since war is culture based and archaeologists study past cultures.
As stated by a news article, in order to preserve the past, scientists will use 3D cameras to caputure the Middle Eastern sites before they are looted. This project is the Image Database Project, which was created in the Summer of 2015. They are trying to get a picture of every artifact and site that is in danger.
As said by the Irish Times, halting the war and preserving the past is important for the future. Heritage is destroyed through war and takes away a community’s past, economy, and livelihood. The past is a large part of an area’s sense of nationalism. Taking away someone’s past can create more turmoil and disagreement.
The restoration techniques and plan that is created by studying Palmyra will help other sites that are damaged through war (Nature World News 2014). It will set a basis that other sites in Syria and other countries will be able to follow and use to restore their own sites.
By studying the repression and conflict that Brazil faced in 1946–1985 from the military dictatorship, it can help us understand the complexity of conflict and violence, which can help us learn ways to mediate and diminish modern warfare. By understanding the causes of war and what has helped solve past conflicts, we can apply those to modern conflict to help alleviate it, thus saving cultural heritage.
The fact that the Syrian Army is currently in control of the Crac des Chevaliers can be seen as a positive and negative attempt to protect the site. While the army is at the site to keep it from falling into the hands of other factions in the region, it also makes the Crac des Chevaliers a target for being attacked. The location is natural defensible and very well built for a strategic position, which is why the Syrian army has had to recapture it from rebels so many times. The army has also caused a lot of damage to the castle’s structural integrity, so them being there could also upset the people who understand its national importance.
Until the conflict in the region ends, it is not clear what the outcome of the situation at the site will be. Appeals have been made to the different factions that are fighting to try to not damage the castles, because the factions are all from the country and the sense of nationalism that the castles represent should resonate with everyone there. Until the war is over, collaboration between various organizations, including archaeologists, the government, and other groups, will be needed to make an effort of protecting the cultural heritage that is at Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din.
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