Arab Castles and Water wheels
Trip Start Jul 29, 2008
97Trip End Sep 01, 2009
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" The castle was built in ancient times, possibly during the Phoenician period (early first millennium BC). The Phoenicians are said to have surrendered it to Alexander the Great about 334 BC. According to legend, the Macedonian phalanxes had been unable to storm the castle even after a long siege.
In despair, Alexander prayed at the local temple of Hercules (the Phoenician Melkarth). The following evening, Hercules appeared to Alexander in a vision and showed him the location of a nearby cave where his legendary club was hidden. Alexander sprung out of bed and sure enough, found the cave and the club where the vision had shown him. Next morning, Alexander lead a charge against the castle armed with Hercules's club. The stone gates were no match for a demigod's weapon, and thus the castle finally fell to the Macedonian conqueror.
Not much is known about what happened to it between this period and the return of the Byzantines in the 10th century AD. Emperor John I Tzimisces gained control of the place from the Aleppan Hamdanid dynasty, and built the first of its defensive structures. It then fell in the hands of the Crusaders at around the beginning of the 12th century. "
Well, I thought this story was interesting, unlike the rest of the castle. However, the location makes this castle special. Perched on top of a limestone hill, the castle awaited our visit hiding in the mist. Our tour bus was unable to negotiate the steep hill and tight switchbacks, so we jumped into Suicide Hiace vans for the hair raising trip down the hill and up the other side to the castle. Why, oh why, do I get in the front seat?
We stopped at the cutting to view the needlelike drawbridge. It is thought that the Crusaders cut this steep gulley into the limestone to provide stone for the castle walls and as a defensive option. Quite how they managed to haul the stone up and place it on the walls so high above is beyond me.
Entering the castle we were disappointed, this is due mainly to Krak des Chevaliers being so special. However, the views were stunning and we all performed like idiots shouting group echoes across the canyons.
The site is undergoing extensive restoration at present and will be quite something in years to come. Unlike the castles in the desert, controlling the trees, grass and water ingress here is the major problem. Our guide explained that they only have a short season for excavation and archaeological digs each year, so progress is slower than they would like.
I liked the place and it was our first really green castle, although I could not find the cave or club of Hercules.
After a quick picnic lunch, supplied by the tour guide and the bus driver, we wormed our way down another series of switchbacks as hair raising as the ones in the vans.
Olive, orange and apricot groves, perched on narrow terraces all the way down the hill. Of course, absolutely nothing was in season. This is what happens when you follow spring around the world.
Maybe our next major trip will be in autumn. The roads were full of small Japanese and Chinese motorcycles, seemingly styled on the English motorcycles of the 70s. There is no local bus service here, so the motorbikes are extensively used.
Wheat fields filled the windows as we travelled across the plain to the ancient Roman town of Apamea. This city was the stud depot for many ancient kings from around 300BC.
Clearly there is a lot of money in stud work, as this site is famed for one of the longest Roman colonnades in the world. The colonnade just went on and on forever. Six hundred combat elephants (courtesy of Hannibal) and 30,000 mares with 300 stallions made their home here. That's a whole lot of stable cleaning.
Apamea Teashop is also the home of one of the coolest cars in Syria, an old 1950s Pontiac. Capitols from the ancient Roman ruins serve dual purpose here as tourist attractions and coffee tables.
The photos do not do the site justice, apart from the poppy fields. A word of warning however, don't go running through the fields, as they are home to some of the most evil thistles the world has ever invented. The prickles on these babies go right through all but the thickest leather.
The day finished with a short visit to Hama. Ancient moaning waterwheels have been lifting water up to aqueducts for irrigation since 1,100 AD. Pumps have taken over this duty now and only during festival days are they switched on.
We were lucky and the visit coincided with a festival. One of the noisiest and prettiest places we have seen so far. Click on the video for an idea of what this place sounds like.
Hama is an interesting place with a very conservative Sunni faction. There was quite a rebellion in the 1980s. Worth a bit more reading, but not something someone talks about when in Syria.