Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935), as a British military officer, made a significant contribution to the Arab uprising from 1916 to 1918, and made significant contributions to the Arab world to break away from the rule of the Ottoman Empire. He went down in history with the nickname “Lawrence of Arabia”. Few people know that Lawrence’s major at Jesus College, Oxford University was originally history. In 1908, the 20-year-old Lawrence rode a bicycle to roam France, inspecting a large number of local castles. In 1909, he crossed the Mediterranean and visited Crusader fortresses in Palestine, Syria and other places on foot. His graduation thesis titled “The Impact of the Crusades on European Military Architecture at the End of the 12th Century” is a microcosm of this experience. From 1911 to 1914, as an archaeologist, Lawrence participated in the excavation of the ancient Hittite capital of Karkemesh in northern Syria. If the First World War did not break out, perhaps Lawrence would become a well-written historian or university professor. However, by chance, he eventually became a legendary hero against the Ottoman Empire and liberating the Arab nation. His accomplishments in history and archaeology are often forgotten.
In 1936, the British Golden Rooster Press published Lawrence’s posthumous work “The Crusader Castle” after his death. Lawrence cherishes all the castles in the Near East and Europe he has visited, and the castle that ranks first in his mind is the protagonist of this article. “The world’s most well-preserved and most amazing castle”-the Knights of the Hospital (Crac des Chevaliers).
Knights take over Kurdistan
The Fortress of Knights is located on a hill 650 meters above sea level in the Holmes Gorge, east of Tartus, an important port in Syria. It guards the only way from Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast to Homs, the inland town of Syria, and its strategic value is very important. In 1031, Muslim rulers built the castle here for the first time. It was named “Kurdistan Fort” because the garrison was mostly Kurds at that time.
In 1099, the first crusade achieved a stunning victory. After many bloody battles, these European “armed pilgrims” seized Jerusalem and surrounding lands from Muslims, and established four main crusade regimes in the Levant-the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, and Edsab Country, Tripoli.
The four major “Crusade countries” are thousands of kilometers away from the home country of Western Europe, and they are surrounded by powerful enemies. The descendants of the Crusaders are called “Franks” or “Latins” by the locals. They have never occupied the majority of the population-the main residents of the “Crusader countries” are still Muslims, Greeks, Eastern Christians, Armenians…Cross After the army turned from a conqueror to a colonizer, it had to adopt a combination of grace and power to achieve a certain harmonious coexistence with the locals. For example, the rulers of the Crusaders basically preserved the autonomy of Muslim villages and entrusted them with the management of “rais” (equivalent to heads). The tax burden of Muslims in the “crusader countries” is even slightly lower than that of the Islamic countries of the same period, in order to attract labor. Trade between the “Crusade countries” and Islamic countries is also quite frequent, with merchants in Venice, Genoa, and Pisa playing an important role. Fulcher, a priest with the army of King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, once wrote: “We Westerners have become Easterners. The Romans or Franks on this land have become Galileans or Palestinians. Reims or Chartres. People have become citizens of Tyre or Antioch. We have forgotten our birthplace.” The environment of the “Crusade State” is far from the flames of fire we imagined. They have also opened up in getting along with Islamic neighboring countries. The eastern gate has created civilization and wealth.
Of course, on the other side of the coin, military expansion and deterrence are indispensable. Considering that its own forces are at an absolute disadvantage, the “Crusader Nation” attaches great importance to the role of the castle. In 1110, Tancred, Prince of Galilee, occupied the “Kurdistan”. After that, the castle was transferred to the hands of the Earl of Tripoli. However, the earl suffered from a lack of soldiers to garrison these fortresses. During the reign of Raymond II, he turned his gaze to the famous Hospital Knights in the Holy Land. The Knights of the Hospital, as a Catholic military monastic order, was formerly known as the St. John’s Hospital in Jerusalem. At this moment, in addition to carrying forward the tradition of saving the dead and healing the wounded, they also began to assume the military function of protecting the holy places and pilgrims. Although another military monastery, the Knights Templar, also made great achievements, Raymond II paid more attention to the management and defense expertise of the Knights Templar. In 1142, he transferred 4 castles to the Knights. Among them is the former “Kurdistan”. It will serve as the “Knight’s Fort” and shine in history.
Thomas Edward Lawrence.
When the Knights Hospitality took over the Knights Fort, it realized its strategic value and set it as its Syrian branch. Militarily, it is the bridgehead of Tripoli to resist the invasion of Muslims from the direction of Homs in the east. The area around the castle is rich in water resources and the land is fertile, which is far different from the drought and barrenness of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Knights recruited a large number of Muslim farmers to farm, and the Knights Fort became an economic management hub for tax collection. The 1170 earthquake once destroyed the Knights Fort, and it was repaired by the Knights. After the defeat of the Battle of Harding in 1187, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was greatly injured. King Guy was captured and Jerusalem was captured by Saladin. The “Crusader Nation” was in a precarious state. Saladin conquered a large number of Latin castles, but was afraid of the Knights’ fort and took a detour. The Fortress of Knights is one of the few fortresses still in the hands of the Crusaders, and the persistence of the Knights Hospital also ushered in the third crusade led by Richard the Lionheart. In the end, half of the kingdom of Jerusalem was restored (the capital was Akha).
The design of the New Knights Fort is full of ingenuity. The steep slopes and long narrow stone bridges can offset the enemy’s strength to the maximum. Even if the enemy forces break through the outer walls, the inner castle and towering towers protected by the moat are enough to hold on. Its inner wall is an advanced inclined design, which has a good defensive ability against Muslim heavy trebuchets.
Reconstructed as “the No. 1 in the Near East”
Unforeseen circumstances, in 1202, another violent earthquake brought heavy losses to the Knights Hospital, and the Castle of Knights was almost razed to the ground. The Knights Hospital at this time opened branches all over Europe, owned tens of thousands of manors, and had strong financial resources. They invested a huge amount of manpower and material resources to start the vast project of rebuilding the Knights Fort. When the New Knights Castle was completed, it deservedly became the first castle in the Near East. On the basis of the original Knights Castle, the Knights Hospitality added a second city wall, thus forming the structure of the so-called double castle (or “concentric circle castle”). The outer wall is about 9 meters high, and the second city wall is as high as 24. Meter. The hill that serves as the base of the castle has been artificially polished. The west and north sides are very steep, while the entrance of the castle in the east is connected to the outside world by a long and narrow stone bridge. The moat outside the castle is made of limestone to defend against the opponent’s tunnel attacks. There is also an artificial pool between the inner and outer fort. It can be used to store water in peacetime, and it is equivalent to a second moat in wartime. The southern part of the castle has the most tight defense, because the slope is gentler, which is convenient for the enemy to gather and attack. There are 3 giant towers, vertical outer walls and inclined inner walls, which provide extremely strong defense. Stunningly, the thickest part of the city wall reached an incredible 24 meters.
During the prosperity of the Knights Fort, there were about 60 knights and 2,000 defenders stationed here. The Knights Hospitality centered on it, attacking, retreating and defending. It controlled a large area of surrounding land and levied taxes on their Muslim neighbors. ;At the same time, the Fortress of Knights is also a security barrier for Tripoli. The Knights Fort is also a diplomatic venue for the Knights Hospitality to show its strength and entertain guests. Many aristocrats and celebrities once stopped here, admiring the Knights because of the towering castle. For example, in 1218, King Andrew II of Hungary, who participated in the Crusades, visited the Castle of Cavaliers. After the visit, he couldn’t help but feel excited. He likened the castle to “the key to the Christian territory” and immediately promised to take it from his own treasury. Give 100 marks to the Knights Hospital as an annuity.
The Cavaliers seem to serve as the business card of the Knights Hospital. Considering that it is not a big country like England, France, or Holy Rome, but only a Catholic monastic order, this achievement is even more extraordinary, and it has also attracted the reputation of both the enemy and the enemy.
In 1212, the German traveler Wilbrand commented on the new Knights Castle he saw: “The castle is tall and strong, with double walls and surrounded by several towers. It is located on a mountain and belongs to the Hospitallers. The regiment is also the most majestic castle in the entire country (Tripoli). It is responsible for defending against possible invasions by the old man in the mountains (the leader of the Assassin regiment) and the Muslim monarch of Aleppo. The annual tax collected from nearby amounts to 2,000 marks. There are as many as 500 carts of crops on the surrounding land. Every night, 4 hospital knights and 28 soldiers are on duty. In addition to the garrison, there are 1,000 residents in the castle. The castle has enough supplies to support it independently for 5 years. Long.”
Muslim geographer Yagut’s comment was succinct: “Everyone says this is a unique castle in the world.” In their records, many Arab historians directly refer to the castle of Cavaliers as the “mountain”.
Not only did Lawrence praise the Castle of Cavaliers, but Boas, a well-known British art history expert and former deputy superintendent of the University of Oxford, even thought that the Castles and Churches of the Crusaders were enough to compete with Parthenon in Greece. The temple and the Cathedral of Chartres in France are comparable.
Witness the fall of the Crusaders
After 1260, the internal conflicts of the Crusaders continued and went from bad to worse. Nicknamed the “Father of Victory”, the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Baibar I determined to eradicate the Crusaders and become a strong enemy of the Knights Hospital. Baibal adopted the tactics of cannibalization, constantly weakening the power of the Crusaders and annexing their strongholds. In 1270, Baibal led a large army to encircle the Knights Fort, and Mamluk even openly herdded horses in the farmland outside the castle to show provocation. At this moment, the total number of knights in the Holy Land Hospital has dropped sharply to less than 300, and they can only hide themselves in the castle. On March 3 of the following year, Baibal made a comeback with heavy siege equipment. Regardless of the casualties, Baibal’s troops used trebuchets to bomb and dig tunnels. On March 29, the Baibar army finally broke through the outer wall of the Knights Fort, and the defenders retreated to the inner fort. Although it seems to have seen the dawn of victory, the 24-meter-high inner wall and three giant towers of the Knights Fort still made Mamluk unable to cross the thunder pond. After ten days of stalemate, Baibal sent a forged letter, pretending to be the commander of the Knights Hospital in Tripoli, and allowed the defenders to surrender. The knights put down their weapons, Baibal kept his promise, and the defenders were able to withdraw peacefully. The Sultan fully realized the strength of the Knights Fort and did not destroy it. Instead, he quickly repaired the damaged exterior wall and changed the church into a mosque. The Fortress of the Knights became the fortress of the Mamluk Sultan and finally witnessed the collapse of the “Crusade State” in 1291. To this day, the exterior wall of the Knights Fort still preserves some of the “Egyptian style” restored by Mamluk.
In 1517, the Mamluk Sultanate was destroyed by the Ottoman Empire. The Turks took over the Cavaliers and stationed a new army here. The old castle continues to use its waste heat, acting as a local tax center. In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was dying, unable to maintain such a huge fortress, and the Knights Fort was gradually abandoned. When Lawrence visited the Cavaliers on the eve of World War I, although the castle was largely intact, 500 local villagers settled inside. Their daily life inevitably caused some damage to the castle. For example, the magnificent underground storage room of the Knights Hospital has been reduced to a garbage dump. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire fell apart. Although Lawrence made a promise to the Arab allies to establish the Kingdom of Syria, he was betrayed by British and French politicians. In 1920, under the authorization of the League of Nations, France established a French Syrian trusteeship (which roughly includes today’s Syria and Lebanon). In 1927, the French historian Paul Duchamp visited the Château de Château and was impressed by its majesty. At his suggestion, the French Syrian Commander-in-Chief Maurice Cammolin (who later served as the French Army Commander-in-Chief in World War II) sent Alawite soldiers to drive away the residents of the Cavaliers and handed the castle to archaeologists for repairs. In fact, the French colonial authorities have hidden selfish intentions. Most of the hospital knights who built the castle 800 years ago were French. The French government also hopes to highlight the “historical legitimacy” of its rule in Syria by restoring and propagating the castle.
From 1933 onwards, the Château du Château was managed by the French Academy of Arts. Under the organization of this authoritative French art institution, the Fortress of Cavaliers has been properly restored and revitalized, and has become a world-renowned historical landscape of the French Syrian trusteeship. Europeans polished up the dusty memories for a long time, and tourists from all over the world came in droves. Due to the business opportunities brought by the tourism industry, a small town named Ahus even appeared near the Fortress of Cavaliers. Now it has a population of 9,000, which can be called the crystallization of the Fortress of Cavaliers benefiting the neighbors.
After the end of World War II, Syria won its independence, and the Syrian government also took over the Cavaliers. It is still a local attraction and was selected as a United Nations World Heritage Site in 2006 along with the nearby Saladin Fort. In 2011, the Syrian Civil War broke out, and Fort Knights was unfortunately caught in the flames of war. It was bombarded in 2012 and was even hit by an aerial bomb in the Battle of Homs in 2013. In view of the severe situation, UNESCO has urgently included it on the list of endangered world cultural heritage. Fortunately, the Knights Fort is much stronger than people think. After investigation by reporters and experts, it was found that only the fur was injured, and the main structure was not a major problem. The fortress designed in the cold weapon era can survive the modern artillery fire, which is no less than a miracle of history.
A Latin motto is engraved on the walls of the Cavaliers: “Only arrogance can cloud wealth, wisdom and beauty.” 800 years of ups and downs, perhaps the vigor and simplicity of the Cavaliers is the reason that it has survived many trials and tribulations. The reason for not falling.