Terrorists endanger Templar sites

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A photo I took inside Karak castle in 2013

The news that Karak castle in Jordan had been attacked by members of the so-called Islamic State is horrifying and shocking. Much worse that a Canadian tourist, Linda Vatcher, was killed in the skirmish along with members of the Jordanian security forces. Linda’s son Chris was also injured. Our thoughts go to them at this terrible time.

I visited Karak (or Kerak as I spelt it then from the Arabic) in 2013. It’s a stunning place to see and underneath is a warren of mysterious tunnels. The fortress was the stronghold of the notorious Raynald of Chatillon who apparently wasn’t averse to chucking his enemies off the battlements. And I can assure you that the drop is steep and vertiginous. It eventually fell to the forces of Saladin but not without a long and bitter fight.

IMG_3797Sadly, I will not be returning to Karak anytime soon. This is one of many Templar sites across Syria and Jordan that are off limits as war rages in the region. The splendid Krak des Chevalier was reportedly damaged during fighting in 2014, the BBC reported. While the outside walls looked pretty much intact, the interior had taken a pounding and there was rubbled strewn everywhere.

We might say – well, tough for those buildings but people come first. And that would be right. However, the deliberate demolition and vandalism perpetrated by so-called Islamic State against historic buildings is calculated to destroy the spirit of the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi peoples. The terrorists know that when they release film of Roman, Templar or ancient Muslim sites being reduced to dust, that it cuts deeply.

This is part of their year zero strategy to convince us that everything before them was false and sacrilegious and that history now begins with their self-proclaimed “caliphate” – rejected by most Muslims worldwide. So we must do whatever we can to defend these great places and assist in the rebuilding and repair after the wars have dissipated. We must preserve the past to build the future.

Fans of the Templars and fans of the Saracens will need to come together to protect the heritage of the Middle East that means so much to all of us.

And on that note – Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2017!

 

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Top Templar destinations this summer – my tips!

English: Acre, Hospitallers' citadel Deutsch: ...
English: Acre, Hospitallers’ citadel Deutsch: Akko, Kreuzritterfestung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Convent of Christ in Castle Tomar, Portugal. B...
Convent of Christ in Castle Tomar, Portugal. Built in 1160 as a stronghold for the Knights Templar, it became the headquarters of the renamed Order of Christ. In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Convent of Christ in Tomar”. World Heritage Site . . Retrieved March 20, 2007 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s just imagine you have an unlimited summer holiday budget and could visit five top Templar destinations – where should you go?  Well – here are my Templar tips for 2013:

Carcassone in France

A hilltop medieval city owned by the Trenceval family in the Middle Ages that subsequently became a flashpoint during the crusade against the Cathar heresy. It’s incredibly beautiful and though heavily restored, looks like one of those walled towns you see in illuminated manuscripts. I went there on a stag weekend but remained sober long enough to appreciate the sights!

Tomar in Portugal

I’ve been to Tomar every year since 2009 though I’m taking this year off to give the town a rest from me. Overlooking Tomar is a great hulk of a Templar fortress with its walls intact and a fortified, octagonal chapel with exquisitely painted walls. Bolted on to this chapel are the very well preserved ruins of a 16th century convent. The town is quite sleepy but this makes it all worthwhile. My advice – make it part of a wider visit to Lisbon.

Acre in Israel

The modern town of Akko in Israel is home to a castle built by the Templars and Hospitallers. The whole structure is pretty much intact and underneath is a very odd, long tunnel. Quite what it was for still has archaeologists guessing. Base yourself in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and make this an obligatory day visit.

Kerak in Jordan

A sprawling Templar built castle with a vertiginous drop to the town below. It held out for years against the armies of Saladin but then eventually succumbed and there are various Ayyubid additions. Again, as with Acre, there is evidence of more Templar tunneling.  In fact, the hill is riddled with tunnels.

Royston cave in England

This place really has historians flummoxed – a seventeen foot high cave re-discovered in 1790 and covered in the most bizarre carvings of what we think are saints and biblical representations. There are any number of theories about what the Templar builders were depicting here.

 

Mysterious tunnels under Templar castle

Kerak is the crusader castle in modern day Jordan from which the notoriously cruel crusader Raynald of Chatillon used to throw people off the battlements. A great limestone hulk built on a ridge and protected by steep valleys, it’s riddled with tunnels underneath. The foundations were crusader and as I wandered through these passageways, I was left wondering what on earth these Christian warriors were up to.

They did have plenty to worry about. Saladin besieged it several times though as my photos show, it would have been almost impossible to storm. The drop from the walls is truly vertiginous. But in 1188, the castle was taken and never returned to crusader hands.

After it was captured by the Muslims, it became a great Mamluk fortress and they made some impressive additions.  However the bulk of this great structure was made by crusader and Templar hands and is well worth a visit.

 

Castle built by Saladin – a picture gallery

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Here is Ajlun castle built in 1184 by a nephew of Saladin to see of the crusaders and protect local iron mines from the crusaders. A jewel in Ayyubid history – that’s the dynasty founded by Saladin. As you know, Saladin would go on to retake Jerusalem from the crusaders and put many Templar knights to the sword.

One special plea to the Jordanian authorities – please remove the rubbish piling up near the castle. It’s such a beautiful monument and I’m sure those large bins can be put elsewhere! Don’t let that put you off a visit.

Ajlun castle
Looking out over the countryside
Ajlun castle
On top of the fort
Ajlun castle
Boiling oil was poured down here on to invaders
An atmospheric stairway
An atmospheric stairway
The main entrance
The main entrance
The imposing walls
The imposing walls
Please get rid of that rubbish!!
Please get rid of that rubbish!!

Were bombs used in the Crusades?

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

OK – you read that headline and thought…sensationalist tosh! But no, it’s a serious point and the evidence is pretty strong.  I visited Ajlun castle in Jordan last week – a fort built by one of Saladin‘s generals guarding nearby iron mines. There’s a small museum in the castle and it includes some mysterious circular bottles made of glass and mud.

These strange vessels have been found all over the Levant – and in areas where fighting occurred between Saladin’s Ayyubid forces and the crusader kingdoms. Some have been found to have traces of mercury while others were filled with oil or so-called “Greek fire” – a petroleum like incendiary substance used originally by the Byzantines.

Their narrow base allows them to roll fast when they hit the ground and the small size of the top doesn’t really allow for serving any liquid. It’s quite clear to many historians that these were used for military and not any domestic purpose. They were – basically – bombs.

Please excuse slight blurring on the close up shot but they were in glass cases in a dark room and there’s only so much my camera can cope with.

Ajlun castle bomb Ajlun castle bomb

 

More from the biblical city of Gadara – modern Um Qais

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Staying with Gadara – the city where Jesus cured two demoniacs. Other Roman remains here include the main street with identifiable shops and a basilica later converted into a Byzantine Christian church.