Krak des Chevaliers also Crac des Chevaliers, is a Crusader castle in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The site was first inhabited in the 11th century by a settlement of Kurds; as a result it was known as Hisn al Akrad, meaning the "Castle of the Kurds". In 1142 it was given by Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, to the Knights Hospitaller.
It remained in their possession until it fell in 1271. It became known as Crac de l'Ospital; the name Krak des Chevaliers was coined in the 19th century. Renewed interest in Crusader castles in the 19th century led to the investigation of Krak des Chevaliers, and architectural plans were drawn up. In the late 19th or early 20th century a settlement had been created within the castle, causing damage to its fabric.
The 500 inhabitants were moved in 1933 and the castle was given over to the French state, under which a programme of clearing and restoration was carried out. When Syria declared independence in 1946, the castle left French control. Krak des Chevaliers is located approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) west of the city of Homs, close to the border of Lebanon, and is administratively part of the Homs Governorate. Since 2006, the castles of Krak des Chevaliers and Qal'at Salah El-Din have been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The castle sits atop a 650-metre (2,130 ft) high hill east of Tartus, Syria, in the Homs Gap. On the other side of the gap, 27 kilometres (17 mi) away, was the 12th-century Gibelacar Castle. The route through the strategically important Homs Gap connects the cities of Tripoli and Homs.
To the north of the castle lies the Jebel Ansariyah, and to the south Lebanon. The surrounding area is fertile, benefiting from streams and abundant rainfall. Compared to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the other Crusader states had less land suitable for farming; however, the limestone peaks of Tripoli were well-suited to defensive sites.
Writing in the early 20th century, T. E. Lawrence, popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, remarked that Krak des Chevaliers was "perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world, [a castle which] forms a fitting commentary on any account of the Crusading buildings of Syria".
Castles in Europe provided lordly accommodation for their owners and were centres of administration; in the Levant the need for defence was paramount and was reflected in castle design. Kennedy suggests that "The castle scientifically designed as a fighting machine surely reached its apogee in great buildings like Margat and Crac des Chevaliers."
Between 1142 and 1170 the Knights Hospitaller undertook a building programme on the site. The castle was defended by a stone curtain wall studded with square towers which projected slightly. The main entrance was between two towers on the eastern side, and there was a postern gate in the north-west tower.
The current chapel was probably built to replace the one destroyed by an earthquake in 1170. Only the east end of the original chapel, which housed the apse, and a small part of the south wall survive from the original chapel. The later chapel had a barrel vault and an uncomplicated apse; its design would have been considered outmoded by contemporary standards in France, but bears similarities to that built around 1186 at Margat.