From the incredible Krak des Chevaliers and the eye-opening Citadel of Salah Ed-Din to the astonishing St George’s Castle the ruins from the Crusades are absolutely mind-blowing places to discover. Other prominent sites to visit usually include Bodrum Castle, Ajlun Castle and Arsuf, which are all fascinating in their own right. Here are the best 10 things to see and do while exploring the Crusader ruins and monuments of the world with a few additional picks thrown in for good measure.
What are the best Crusader Ruins and Monuments?
The Temple Church in Central London is named after the Knights Templar, who founded it in the twelfth century. The church became the English headquarters of this famous Christian charitable and military order. This first section of Temple Church is now known as the Round Church, built in a circular form so as to echo the shape of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. One of the highlights of a visit today is seeing the unique effigies of ten knights on its floor, each with individual characteristics. As discussed in the Dan Brown novel, “The Davinci Code”, which sets a very powerful scene at the site, these effigies do not mark the locations of actual tombs.
The walled city of Acre is as historically rich as it is visually stunning. With its winding alleys, crumbling courtyards and views of the Mediterranean, Acre can rightly claim its place among the most interesting locations from the Crusader period. The Crusaders captured Acre in 1104 and proceeded to build an impressive set of fortifications, much of which remain. This was a time of great development and prosperity, with the erection of public buildings such as bathhouses, shops and churches. However, from 1187, Acre fell to the Muslims and proceeded to change hands several more times including falling to the Crusaders yet again under Richard the Lion Heart in 1191. As a result of its colourful past, Acre has much to offer today. Visitors will enjoy simply getting lost in the ancient city, but it’s also worth hunting out the Turkish baths and Templar tunnel.
Located on the Greek island of Rhodes, the Grandmasters Palace is a spectacular medieval fortress and former headquarters of the famous Knights Hospitaller – crusading religious warriors known for their power and influence in the early medieval period. Today, this massive medieval fortress operates as a museum covering everything from early Christianity up to the Ottoman conquest. Though part-19th century reconstruction, its huge battlements are nonetheless exceptionally impressive and definitely worth exploring.
Krak des Chevaliers is a stunning example of Crusader-era military architecture and was the headquarters of the famous Knights Hospitallier during the 12th and 13th centuries. It is perhaps the best preserved example of a Crusader fortress in existence today, and is an awe-inspiring example of medieval military architecture. Built to withstand a siege for up to five years, Krak des Chevaliers stands atop a 650-metre high hill which dominated the route from Antioch to Beirut. The main enclosure was surrounded by a man-made moat which was carved out of solid rock in a dramatic example of Crusade-era engineering. Captured by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars in 1271, Krak des Chevaliers was used as a base for Mameluk expansion towards the end of the 13th Century. Situated close to the border with Lebanon, it provides a unique experience to those wishing to find out more about the Crusades.
The Grandmasters Palace in Valletta has been the seat of power in Malta since the sixteenth century. It was in 1571 that the Knights Hospitaller of St John made the Grandmasters Palace their base, a role which it would fulfil until 1798, when this religious and military order left Malta. Today, as well as being a government building, parts of the Grandmasters Palace are open to the public, particularly the State Rooms and the Armoury. The opulent and lavishly decorated State Rooms display several art collections of which many, such as The Great Siege Frescoes by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, date back to the times of the Knights Hospitaller. Meanwhile, the Palace Armoury contains the impressive collection of armour and weaponry of the Knights Hospitaller.
Kerak Castle is an impressive 12th century Crusader-era fortification located to the south of Amman, Jordan, on the ancient King’s Highway. Today the castle operates as a visitor attraction and contains a maze of corridors and chambers within the imposing fortifications. There are seven different levels within the castle and visitors can wander through vaulted passageways and dungeons. Bringing a torch can help with navigating some of the smaller and darker passageways. The castle kitchens contain an olive press and ovens, and there is also a partially ruined chapel to be seen. There is a museum located on a lower floor of the castle, and one route leads onto the keep, which provides spectacular views. Visitors can look across the Dead Sea and out to the Mount of Olives, bordering on Jerusalem, on clearer days.
Ranking among the oldest churches in the world, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre boasts an ornate beauty and rich history that is extremely hard to match. It is built on the believed site of the crucifixion, tomb and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which makes it ones of the most important buildings in Christianity. The current structure mostly dates to the Crusader period.
Also known as Saladin Castle, this Crusader-era site is a partly-preserved fortress in Syria which is an interesting example of Crusader-era fortifications. The site is thought to have first been occupied by the Phoenicians and later by Alexander the Great. The current site was built by the Byzantines and became a Crusader stronghold until its capture by Saladin in 1188.
Bodrum Castle was built by the Knights Hospitaller in 1402 in order to offer protection from the invading Seljuk Turks. Constructed according to the highest standards at the time, it remained an important Christian stronghold for over a century, serving as a focal point in Asia Minor. Today, the castle is open to the public and houses the world renowned Museum of Underwater Archaeology founded in 1962.
A grand medieval castle commissioned by Saladin and built by his nephew Izz al-Din Usama, Ajlun Castle was a fortress designed to strike fear in the heart of the Franks. A visit to Ajlun Castle will immerse visitors into the culture of siege warfare and take them back in time to one of the most destructive periods in the region’s history. The site also holds the remarkable Ajlun Archeological Museum, housed inside the castle, offering fine examples of pottery and ceramics as well as other displays and artefacts from the region.