Friday 27 December 2013

Sijena Priory

The convent of Sijena was the most prestigious house of Hospitaller nuns in Europe.  A royal convent, it was founded by Queen Sancha of Aragon  in 1183. Queen Sancha herself and her daughter Dona Dulce both took the veil there. Sijena  also became the burial place of members of the royal family, including King Peter II after he was killed at the battle of Murat in 1213. Dona Sancha herself died at Sijena and was interred in a tomb before the high altar. The Prioress of Sijena exercised great power within the convent's dominions which covered  almost four hundred square miles. Nowhere was Sijena's prestige better reflected that in the legendary chapter house whose walls were said to have been covered with the most impressive early 13th Century frescoes to be seen anywhere in Europe.

Sijena's prestige increased further still during the reign of James II (1291-1327) when his daughter Dona Blanca was appointed prioress,  at the age of nineteen, and the convent was given the right of coinage within its own dominions. She built a new prioral palace with a magnificent throne room and developed Sijena into a royal residence. The choir rose to more than 100 nuns, drawn from the most noble families of the kingdom who entered the convent with  retinues of servants and built themselves private apartments that famously perched haphazardly over the convent.

The nuns wore linen rochets and carried silver sceptres. Dona Blanca herself enjoyed frequent absences at court and allowed the nuns the same freedom to travel, which their dowries permitted them to do in great state. With the extinction of the Royal House of Aragon in 1410 seven of the nuns resident at Sijena were members of the royal family.

The privileges of Sijena declined with the extinction of the royal house that had founded it.

With the fall of Malta to Napoleon the King of Spain imposed his own rule over the four Spanish priories. When the Treaty of Amiens threatened to restore their independence he king promptly converted them into the the royal Order of St. John, by a royal decree of January 1802. After the first Carlist War (1833-1839)i the governement of Queen Isabella confiscatedall church property, and so Sijena lost all of its possessions, the monastry itself was sold, and although the buyer allowed the nuns to remain they were forced to subsist on their own dowries. The nuns did eventually manage to regain possession of their house, but not their estates.

The nuns of Sijena continued their traditional way of life until the outbreak of the Civil War, when a group of republicans from Barcelona set fire to the convent destroying all the magnificent tombs and buildings adorned over centuries. An order of French nuns has established a community in the ruins.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Mascourbe Farm

Mascourbe farm belonged to the Hospitallers' Commandery of St. Felix in the Priory of Saint-Gilles. First mentioned in 1373, the farm was rebuilt by the Order of St. John at at new site, nearby,  in c 1583. The farmyard survives almost unchanged from that date, arranged around its' large courtyard. Today, as then, the main activity on the farm is the fattening of ducks.

Monday 23 December 2013

Balantrodoch (Temple) Commandery

The preceptory of Balantrodoch was the principal house of the Order of the Temple in Scotland. It is eleven miles south of Edinburgh on the wooded banks of the river South Esk. The original church had a round nave, like so many Templar churches in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There would also once have been a full range of domestic and administrative buildings, none of which have survived.

The Templars settled at Balantrondoch  some time after Hughues de Payens came to Scotland and had met David I on his tour of European powers. He was  gathering  support for the expansion of the original band of nine knights into an international Order. While there is no clear evidence, it does seem likely that King David himself made the original grant of Balantrodoch to the fledgling Order. From here the Templars  administered the extensive properties donated by the faithful across Scotland.

The Templars remained at Balantrodoch until the suppression of the Order in 1307.  It appears that Balantrodoch was one of the few Templar properties that was transferred to the Order of St John. Like all property of the Hospitallers  in Scotland Balantrodoch was administered from their preceptory (commandery) at Torphichen. The present, ruined, chapel seems to date from the early 14th Century and so would have been  built by the Hospitallers.

 In the 15th Century the Preceptor Fra.William Knollis obtained an act of parliament changing the name 'Temple' to the 'Barony of St. John.' But the name was not accepted by the locals who always called it simply 'Temple'. The Temple remained in the hands of the Hospitallers of St. John until 1535 when they, also, lost control due to Henry VIII of England's Act of Reformation. The chapel became the area's Protestant church and in 1618 the name 'Temple' became formally applied to the village. The building was in constant use as the parish church until 1840 after which it was left to fall into ruin.

It is curious that this picturesque chapel in its wooded valley is so little known compared to another village only a few miles away, Roslin. That is of course due to the Rosslyn chapel and all the fanciful stories that surround it.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Sainte Eulalie Commandery

 In 1158  Count Raymond Beranger, King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, as guardian of his young nephew Raymond Berenger II, Viscount of Millau  gave the village of Sainte Eulalie and the surrounding territory , the limestone plateau of the Larzac, to the Order of the Temple. After the suppression of the Templars, Sainte Eulalie became the property of the Order of St John in 1312 and was the most valuable legacy of the Templars to the Priory of Saint-Gilles. From 1312 until 1792 Saint Eulalie was one of the Order of St. John's richest commanderies, if not the richest in the south of France

However the prosperity was interupted as a result of the disasters of the late 14th Century. First, the Hundred Years War devastated the lands to the west of the Rhone. At first Provence managed to remain relatively unscathed but the papal schism of 1378 led to its own six year war of succession. Then from their possessions in Gascony the English were able to devastate wide areas of southern France during the 14th and 15th Centuries. The English even captured Sainte Eulalie in 1385 and stayed until at least 1389. To better protect their possessions the Order of St John  threw up 30' high defensive walls around the Commandery of Sainte Eulalie and the villages  of La Cavalrie and La Couvertoirade, the "Ramparts of Larzac." between 1442-1450, on the orders of Commander Fra.Bertrand d'Aapajon.

The oldest building at Sainte Eulalie is the church, which dates from the beginning of the Templar occupation in the 12th Century. However Commander Fra. Jean de Bernay Villeneuve decided to reverse the orientation of the church in 1642. He removed the cemetery and laid out the fountain square in its place opening a new entrance to the church in the existing apse, with a statue of the Virgin and child from Genoa placed over the door. Now the faithful could enter the church without having to pass through the courtyard of the commandery.

Another building dating from the Templar occupation is the tower in the north-west of the village, the Tower of Quarante.This was where grain was stored and where taxes and kind were collected, 1/40th of the harvest. In return the peasantry could take refuge inside.

At the heart of Sainte Eulalie is the "Palace", the residence of the commander and the resident brethren. The original, austere Templar building was rebuilt by the Hospitallers in the middle of the 14th Century. In the 17th Century commander Fra. Jean Bernay Villeneuve as part of his improvements  reorganized the building by inserting extra floor into the great hall. The first floor known as the "upper palace" was the dormitory. Fireplaces were installed in each of the new rooms.The main room in the "lower palace" was used as the refectory and chapter room.

The loveliest room in the palace is the frescoe room, a combined corridor and ante chamber completely painted with frescoes on the theme of the virtues. The work was done in 1648 at a considerable cost of 200 livres.

A small room in the round bartizan tower has interesting graffiti depicting 17th and 18th century churches which may well be based on some unfortunate confined person's memories of Malta.

The capuchin's room was fitted out c1730 and has a door constructed from reused floorboards.

The size of the Hospitaller community living at Sainte Eulalie fluctuated over the centuries. There were five brethren after the fall of Acre. But in later years it seems to have been just two, the commander himself and one other.

Beside the brethren, also living at Sainte Eulalie were the chaplains in charge of the church and the "donats" lay people who had contributed to the Order and in return were accommodated and looked after by them. There were officials including the cellerer who had the functions of a steward and the keeper of the bedchamber among others. Finally there were the servants, the shepheards, oxherds, grooms woodsmen, porters, cooks, bakers, brewers and agricultural labourers. A census of 1373 records 29 people living there including two women. The house also fed eight poor folk throughout the year.

Commander be Bernay Villeneuve also created a new entrance to the commandery, from fountain square where a vaulted passage gave access to the staircase and the upper floors and to the courtyard. The courtyard was fortified, until the ramparts were built in the mid 15th Century it was the only protected place in the village. The original entrance to the commandery is on the south side. Arranged around the courtyard are various service buildings, stabling for horses, mules and oxen, workshops, a sheep house and a poultry yard, with accommodation for the servants who looked after them.

Above the arch next to the south tower of the palace is the study of the last commander of Sainte Eulalie, Fra. Elzear de Riqueti-Mirabeau (1768-1789), uncle of the grand tribune revolutionary. After the Revolution all the escutcheons were removed from the buildings of Sainte Eulalie as outdated symbols of nobility and the ancien regime, but in most other respects this former commandery of the Templars and the Hospitallers is little changed.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Castle of Chysocheria, Calymno

The castle of Chysocheria on the island of Calymno (Kalymnos) was built by the Knights of St John after they occupied the island following the conquest of Rhodes c1310.The castle occupies a strategic hilltop with clear views over the bay of Pothia and in the other direction inland to the Castle of Chora. The castle was built on the ruins of ancient and Byyzantine strongholds. The local, Greek, population were obliged to work on the construction of the castle, to their evident dismay. In 1445 the plebs and populus produced a document of uncertain provenance, written in Greek, claiming that they were not obliged to work on the castle. A legal debate followed at Rhodes after which it was decided that the population did in fact owe castle service, but were free of all other obligations.

The castle of Chysocheria was the headquarters of the Hospitaller castellan, the island's governor. The castle's defences were put to the test in 1457 when the island, together with the islands of Nisyro, Lerro, Piskopi and the castle of Archangelus on Rhodes were subjected to large-scale Turkish raids. Further significant  raids followed in 1460. The castle eventually surrendered to the Turks in 1522.

The castle takes its present name Chysochera, from a hoard of gold coins that were discovered  under the church of Panagia Chrysocheria (Virgin of the Golden Hands) within the castle walls. The other church within the walls of Chrysocheria is dedicated to St. George.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Manoel Theatre, Valletta

The Manoel Theatre in Valletta, begun in 1731 is one of the oldest theatres in Europe. It was named after the Grand Master who built it, Fra. Antonio Manoel de Vilhena. Before it was built plays and theatrical productions were usually held in the great halls of the various Auberges. The new theatre followed the plan of the theatre at Palermo and was erected "for the honest recreation of the people." The Grand Master appointed as "Protector" of the theatre, a Knight to supervise its management. The theatre was formally inaugurated on 19th January, 1732, with a performance of Merope by Maffei.

At first productions were staged by the various Langues, but Grand Master Pinto introduced a professional company, after, it is said, repeated protests from the Inquisitor over pages and novices taking the soprano roles. The theatre became a centre of Malta's social life. The Master of the king's Chapel at Naples dedicated a number of musical dramas to the grand-masters and in the course of the 18th century a number operas by Galuppi, Paisello, Cimarosa and Pergolisi were staged.

 The theatre was also used for dances when the pit was raised by scaffolding to the level of the stage. While from the outside the theatre is almost inconspicuous on the inside it is a charming and intimate space with three floors of boxes in open galleries, flanking the five boxes of the top floor, each box painted with delightful landscapes, cornucopias of flowers and other motifs.

Garway Commandery

The preceptory of Garway in the Monow valley had been the main house of the Order of the Temple in Herefordshire. Granted to the Templars by Henry II c.1185-1187 he gave them the right to asssart 2000 acres in the Archenfield forest which had been the Crown's possession  since the revolt of Roger de Breteuil, Earl of Hereford (in 1072). In due course Garway became an important manor and administrative centre responsible for their property throughout the dioceses of Hereford and Llandaf. It is probable that the church at Garway dates from after 1162 when the Order was permitted to have its own chaplains. Originally the church was built with a circular nave in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (The foundations of the circular nave were unearthed during excavations in 1927).

The Knights of Rhodes took over the former Templar estate at Garway in 1324. As soon as they arrived the Hospitallers began a programme of building and restoring the infrastructure of the property which had fallen into disrepair after the departure of the Templars in 1307. The nave of the church, the chancel, font and the upper storey of the tower all date from the Hospitallers' rebuilding.

The church of St Michael at Garway  was used by both the Hospitaller community and as the parish church. Seating was provided in the chancel for use by members of the Order and its officials. No seats were provided for the lay congregation who stood or knelt on the floor strewn with rushes of other hedgerow plants. However there was a stone ledge against the nave walls where the elderly and infirm could sit, giving rise to the saying "let the weak go to the wall."

After Garway had been transferred to the Knights of Rhodes it lost its status as a preceptory or commandery and became a camera of the commandery at Dinmore. However Garway continued to function as a separate unit of administration and remained a commandery in all but name, in 1338 it was in the charge of a keeper,Brother William Dalmaly, a chaplain of the Order. The estate had become an extensive manor with a demesne of 720 acres of arable and 60 acres of meadow.

 There were officials including the chamberlain, bailiff and seneschal  and numerous servants. The scale of the establishment at Garway in those days can be gauged from the numerous servants who included cooks, bakers, porters, personal servants of the keeper and two attendant pages and the reaper of the manor who was responsible for the allocation of labour services of the villeins living on the demesne (home farm). In 1338 all the servants on the estate were in receipt of wages varying from 3/4d to 13/4d a year.

There were also three holders of corrodies or pensions living at Garway in 1338, one of whom Gilbert of Pembridge dined at the table of the brethren and received a pension 20/s a year while the other two received 10/s and ate at the table of the free servants. Due to the establishment's position on the Welsh marches there was a steady stream of visitors and wayfarers who made heavy demands on the houses's hospitality.

There are no remains of the domestic buildings at Garway with the exception of the circular dovecot. According to the inscription over the door "Anno domini millesimo tres entesimo vic esimo sexto factum fuit istud columbare frrem Ricardum." "In the year 1326 this dovecot was built by Brother Richard." Outside is a projecting string course high above the ground to prevent rats from getting in. Inside there are 666 nesting boxes arranged in 19 rows.

It had been a custom or the Bishop of Hereford to make a triennial visit to the parish church at Garway, recieving on each occasion 53/4d in respect of procurations, but in 1524 the parishioners memorably barred the door to him, refusing to ring the bells. In consequence the bishop retaliated by placing the church under interdict and excommunication all those who had barred his entry.


Wednesday 18 December 2013

Fort St Agatha, Mellieha

Fort St. Agatha, also known as the Red Tower was built by Grand Master Lascaris in 1647. Work was completed on the tower which stands high on the Marfa ridge in 1648 and  fitted with artillery in 1649. At that time it was the furthest fortified outpost from Valletta. Fort St. Agatha is square in plan with four square corner towers that rise from the scarped wall of the lower cordon. The single floor of the tower is formed by two barrel vaulted rooms that stand on top of the lower cordon and is entered through a central door. A spiral staircase in the wall, nearly 14 feet thick leads up to the flat roof which acted as a gun platform and a place from which signals could be sent to and from Gozo, via St Mary's Tower on Comino. In the General Alarm of 1722, Fort St. Agatha was garrisoned by 49 men and armed with five cannon.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Temple Balsall Commandery

Temple Balsall in the Forest of Arden was gifted to the Knights Templar in 1146 by Roger de Mowbray. He was a major patron of the Order and an enthusiastic supporter of the crusade, so much so that he went on crusade three times himself . On the last occasion when over 65 he was taken prisoner and had to be  ransomed by the Templars, he was buried in the Holy Land.

Temple Balsall had by 1226 became a preceptory, an administrative centre for other estates gifted to the Order in the area, and was overseen by a senior member of the Order known as the preceptor. It would have been a large establishment, the domestic buildings including the hall and the preceptor's lodging attached to it, a pantry, buttery, kitchen, larder, bakehouse, brewhouse and a dovecot with boxes for 80 birds. The hall still stands, though it was covered with a skin of bricks in the eighteenth century.

Only the preceptor and one or two others would have been members of the Order of the Temple. Most of the other members of the community living  at Balsall would have been involved in agriculture. At one time it is recorded that there were 19 people living in the home farm at Balsall. There were ploughmen and stockmen, a dairyman, a miller, a groom, two woodsmen,and a lad to make 'pottage' for the labourers. In addition there were also six pensioners who had board and lodging in return for their faithful service to the Order.

The chapel was the last to be built by the  Templar's  in England before their suppression. After falling into disrepair in the seventeenth century the chapel was restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1849. In the Order's day there were three chaplains who said Mass every day and a deacon to serve them.

With the loss of the Holy land the fabulously wealthy and powerful Order had lost the very reason for its existence, the protection of pilgrims. This weakness allowed the Order's enemies to strike. Seizing the opportunity the King of France moved against them using  trumped up charges of heresy, homosexuality and obscenity. The Templars in France were suddenly arrested in 1307, tortured and tried. Almost one hundred and twenty were burnt at the stake.

The Templars in England were also all arrested without warning in January 1308. Some were held in prison for over three years but nothing was ever proved against them. Five Templars were arrested at Balsall, a chaplain, two knights and two serving brothers. There was no mention of a preceptor. So the Order was suppressed.(An inventory made at the time of the arrests shows that the larder was well stocked for winter, including 38 sides of bacon, 2 hams,3 carcasses of beef, over 2000 herrings, over 100 dried fish and 7 cheeses.)

By an edict of Pope Clement, the Templar's possessions went to their great rivals, the Order of St John. The Knights of St John used the term commandery instead of preceptory, headed by a senior member of the Order known as a commander. At the time of the enquiry  into the state of the Order in England by Grand Prior de Thame in 1338, Balsall was headed by Commander Henry de Buckston assisted by Brother Simon Dyseny, a knight and Brother John de Sprottelee, a serving brother. The Commander Henry de Buckston was also of the rank of serving brother. There were two chaplains (not Hospitallers) who said Mass in the chapel and the rest of the domestic staff included a turnkey, cook, baker, a porter, three youths who acted as servants to the commander and a steward to hold the manor courts.

Temple Balsall was combined with their existing  commandery of Grafton, and the name 'Temple' became attached to Grafton although it had never been a Templar property. Two of the commanders of Balsall and Grafton rose to hold the office of Grand Prior of the Hospital of England, Robert Mallory, in 1433, and John Langstrother in 1470, but he was beheaded the next year after being captured at the battle of Tewkesbury, where he had fought on the losing Lancastrian side.

By 1470 Temple Balsall had ceased to be the residence of a commander, instead it was leased out to a lay tenant, John Beaufitz who live there. From then on the estate was farmed out until the Order of St. John was suppressed by Henry VIII along with the monasteries and other religious orders.

Preserved in the old hall are a number of heraldic shields which date to before 1540. The anchor device may have been awarded to William Weston, Grand Prior of the Hospital in England, 1527-1540 in recognition of his prowess at sea.

Our Lady of Graces, Zabbar

The church of Zabbar, dedicated to Our Lady of Graces  originally belonged to the parish of Zejtun. In   December 1615, at the request of the inhabitants, Zabbar was raised to a parish in its own right.

Building of this magnificent parish church began in 1641 to the design of Maltese architect Thommaso Dingli and was completed in 1696. The result is a vast and imposing church, in the form of a Latin cross, with a facade built in the Corinthian Order. The church has a choir, two side chapels, a nave with ten alters and two sacristies, surmounted by a  majestic cupola  flanked by  two bell towers.

The church contains many  relics,  among them  the body of St. Feliciano which was presented by the parish priest in 1757. Devotion to Our lady of Graces has been shown for centuries by the Maltese and particularly by seafarers, whose share of the bounty from the Order's corso enabled the magnificent parish church to be built, many of them left touching votive offerings to Our Lady, as tokens of gratitude for their survival at sea.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Crac des Chevaliers

Crac des Chevaliers has been called the supreme example of  medieval military architecture and it is one of the iconic buildings of the world. In 1909, when T.E. Lawrence, before Arabia, was a 20 year old student at Oxford he went on a summer's walking tour of  Crusader castles. In a letter  he described Crac as 'the finest castle in the world: certainly the most picturesque I have seen - quite marvelous.' What struck him  was that it was 'neither a ruin nor a show place...and were Baibars to reappear he would think it as formidable as of old.'

The castle was built by the Order of St. John, and held by them from 1142 until 1271. While the Knights Hospitaller had build the world's  first concentric castle at Belvoir, Le Crac, in its adaption to the contours of the site is considered the finest example. Le Crac had survived with remarkable completeness, (at least until  it was bombed by the Syrian air force in July and August 2013, the damage is unknown.) Crac es Chevaliers  had been  one of the few crusading castles to have been been excavated and restored using modern archaeological methods. The original fortress known as  Qalaat al-Husn, or the Fortress of the Kurds was occupied briefly by the crusaders on their march south in 1099, but  not occupied by them permanently  until 1110, as a dependency of the county of Tripoli. But the county of Tripoli, without any of the great religious sites was struggling to recruit immigrants from Provence, the heartland of the crusaders, where the Cathar heretics, were already undermining support for the crusade.

 To make up for  his deficiency in manpower, in 1142 Count Raymond invited the Order of St John  to take up the defence of his  northern border. The Arab counter attack was threatening to drive through  to the coast which would have cut his county in two and divided it from the Principality of Antioch to the north. So Raymond made over five castles to the Hospitallers, Mardabech, Lac, Felice, Chateau Boquee and Le Crac des Chevaliers itself, together with a vast frontier march in what amounted to an autonomous palatinate, the count bound himself not make make peace with the Arabs without the consent of the Hospital.  He also made over to them Rafaniyah and Montferrand  which were already in Muslim hands.

Crac des Chevaliers occupied a vital strategic position on an isolated summit, a spur of the Ansirayah Mountains, lying just to the north of the plain known to the crusaders as La Bocquee and to the Arabs as the Bekaa valley. The fortress commanded the whole area between the important Muslim towns of Hama and Homs and nearly intersected the route between Damascus and Aleppo. What think you of a town wrote Ibn-Jubair when he visited Homs, that it is only a few miles from Qalaat al-Husn, the stronghold of the enemy, where you can see their fires and whence each day the enemy may raid you on horseback. The plain was the main channel of communications between the coast and the Orontes valley to the east. The narrow entrance to the plain, the Homs gap  became the scene of some of the most desperate fighting between the Franks and the Muslims. To the south of the plain cliff wall of the Akkar Mountains are the northern extremity of the Mount Lebanon massif and the Hospitallers also held a small castle there. .

Le Crac did not actually block the Homs gap as it lay eleven miles to the north. The castle's strategic function was to provide a fighting force whenever one was needed and to act as a forward base for raids or razzias into Muslim territory. The chronicler Ibn al-Athir called the fortress a bone stuck in the throat of the Muslims. Both sides recognized  Crac des Chevaliers as a site of the greatest importance. There could have been no permanent Muslim reconquest while Le Crac remained in Christian hands.

It is unclear how much of the Arab castle had been rebuilt by the time Le Crac was handed over to the Hospitallers in 1142. But it seems that the inner enceinte was built  by the Order soon after they occupied the castle. In plan it is an irregular polygon the shape, dictated by following closely the contours at the end of the steep promontory. The curtain walls are rounded on the north side but have an obtuse angle on the south side, they are strengthened by square towers and enclose the  courtyard.

The second half of the twelfth century was a period of high seismic activity in the region, and considerable damage to the fabric of Le Crac was reported after an earthquake in 1170. But as Saladin left Le Crac  unchallenged  during his march north in 1188, the walls must have been rebuilt by then.

Around the turn of the thirteenth century the outer enceinte was added to provide a second concentric line of defence. The new outer line of defence was protected by 12 projecting semi-circular towers. Inside, these towers had rectangular halls at ground level, each provided with three loop holes, one in the center, and one each at the junction of the tower and wall, commanding the base of the wall on either side. The walls of the new enceinte also considerably enlarged the scale of accommodation within the fortress, providing more space to afford protection to the villagers and their livestock from the surrounding estates.

Once the outer enceinte was added it was possible to undertake considerable rebuilding of the original castle. The central tower of the west wall was converted to a semi-circular tower by being embedded in the massive walls. A huge  talus was piled up against the curtain wall on the west and south sides making it virtually indestructible.

Rising from the southern wall are great three towers, rounded on the external face and beautifully joined onto the masonry of the talus. These towers provided the knights with their  accommodation.Below the  south talus is a great water tank, providing a moat and a bathing place for the garrison and a watering place for the horses. Drinking water was obtained from wells in the central courtyard. The stables were built against the south wall of the outer enciente, convenient for access to the water tank and the horses' gate onto the ramp.

The western tower was used by  the castle's castellan or commander or perhaps even for the occasional visit of the Master and it contains a round vaulted chamber with four columns from which spring the arches that form the ribs of the vault, and a decorative frieze  that runs around the room at the level of the capitals. This lovely airy room is lit by a large Gothic window looking east across La Bocquee that is framed by a border of decorative roses. This windows size and decoration make a  contrast with the functionality of  the rest of the castles' openings.

On the inside,  these towers were separated from the main courtyard by a raised platform and were only connected to it by a stepped bridge. Because the knights were always a minority in a garrison comprised of  many races such means of isolation were probably a safeguard against internal mutiny rather than part of the defenses. Wilbrand of Oldenburg in 1212 reports that  the garrison of Crac des Chevaliers was  2000 combatants who would have been largely local Maronite or Syrian mercenaries, whereas the normal complement of knights would only have been between 50 or 60. In the thirteenth century the Order of St John never had more than 300 fighting men under vows in Outremer, but the force they controlled was  many times that number.

On the eastern face the most important work of the thirteenth century was the entrance ramp. The outer gate appears small and insignificant, perhaps to disguise its function as the main entrance to the fortress. The long ramp behind it leads eventually to the original entrance, after negotiating two hairpin bends, and it is alternately covered, then left open to the sky to better confuse any attackers with the contrast between dark shadow and bright sunlight. The defenses include features such as inward facing arrow slits and a portcullis chamber that could be used to lock any attackers out or trap them in. The ramp was designed with wide shallow steps to allow to easy passage of horses.

The chapel at Crac is large it opens off the small inner courtyard and was built at the end of the twelfth century. It has a simple plan of three bays with an apse at the end. The walls were once covered with paintings but these have now gone. Here the professed knights, sergeants and chaplains would have gathered every day, as the rule prescribed, for the singing of the hours. The steps in front of the chapel were thrown up in the desperate days of the final siege to make access to the ramparts easier.

The great hall of Crac des Chevaliers 90 feet long  dates from  the mid-thirteenth century and looks just like a Cistercian chapter house in France. The great hall was also presumed to have been used as a refectory by the castellan and the brethren.

The great hall opens out onto the cloister like loggia of seven arches which is the finest, and in a castle, most unexpected architectural feature of Crac des Chevaliers. Here the knights could walk talk,and enjoy the shade it provided from the Syrian summer sun.  In complete contrast to the military architecture of the rest of the castle, the cloister is monastic in style and had no parallels elsewhere in the castles of  the Holy Land.

A small inscription (in Latin) is carved in the loggia.
                                       Sit tibi copia, sit sapienta, formaque detur,    
                                        Inquinat omnia sola superbia si comitetur.
                   'Yours may all wisdom, wealth and beauty be. But pride the arch corrupter flee.'

This warning, that Pride corrupts all virtues, may have been particularly pertinent  within the walls of such a powerful fortress. The knights who were appointed to command Le Crac as its castellan were relatively young men, who then went on to hold high office within the Order. Only when age weakened a knights martial abilities would he be sent back to a Priory in Europe where his role would become to gather the revenues that would keep his brethren in the field.Two successive Masters of the Order had previously been castellans of Le Crac, Hugues de Revel (1242-47) and Nicholas Lorgne (1254-69)

Behind the great hall is a long windowless and  almost underground hall thought to have been the living quarters, latrines and communal dining room for for the soldiers and non-combatants. At one end is the bakery, the flour ground by the windmill that had been on top of the tower above.

The importance of Crac des Chevaliers was also economic.The fortified village on the north side of the castle provided protected accommodation for the agricultural workers who farmed the fertile plain below the castle. Contemporary descriptions mention several villages, olive groves, figs and many other sorts of trees. There were numerous small streams and water was plentiful. The soil was rich. The pasture was good. As the Muslim danger increased Le Crac was enlarged so that more people and animals could take safe refuge within the walls.

On several occasions the Muslims attempted to reduce Le Crac. Nur ed-Din, lord of Aleppo and Edessa, encouraged by the failure of the Second Crusade  had already tried to take it. He had destroyed the armies of Raymond, Prince of Antioch and of Joscelin of Edessa when he set up camp beneath the walls of Le Crac in 1163. The garrison was reduced to a token force and in an act of desperation they rode out and charged the Sultan's camp which was scattered, and pursued all the way to the lake of Homs. The battle of La Bocquee as it was called was one of the greatest feat of arms of the Hospitaller's at Le Crac.

In the aftermath of  his great victory at Hattin in 1187, when he annihilated the crusaders' army, Saladin  took one crusader fortress after another, until the  strength of Le Crac's defences deterred him from even making an attack.

 Le Crac proved to be impregnable, until April 1271. In February of that year Sultan Baibars had determined  to drive the crusaders out of the Holy Land and his set up camp outside the mighty fortress. On the last day of March his forces undermined the tower in the south west corner and fought their way into the outer ward, massacring the Hospitallers, taking prisoner their serants, but letting  the villagers go free, to maintain cultivation.

Baibars may well have been daunted when faced with the awesome prospect of the southern talus. According to some accounts the Sultan sent the remaining Hospitallers holding out inside the inner enceinte a forged letter from Tripoli, ordering them to surrender.. On 8th April, with the certain knowledge that no reinforcements were  going to come to their rescue, the Hospitaller garrison received a safe conduct and rode out of their most famous castle for the last time.