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The Crusaders: Building A Genius Defense

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At the end of the 11th century, the First Crusade armies swept across the Near East. After taking Jerusalem in 1099, they controlled a Christian territory with shifting borders that they would defend until 1291. To protect themselves, they'd have to build the biggest and strongest fortresses ever constructed at the time. Each new weapon deployed by the Muslims would be systematically countered by an architectural innovation developed by the Crusaders, significantly evolving the shape and structure of their castles. Over the nearly two centuries in which those Crusades continued, a fever of construction and innovation was ignited that is matchless in the annals of military architecture.

We see it in the Crac des Chevaliers in Syria, an emblematic castle where the Crusaders, through four restoration campaigns, improved its defenses, ultimately making it impregnable: with a double protective outer wall, the shape of its towers, attack galleries, etc.

Like the Caesarea Wall in Israel, which was built in just a few months, and brought together all the latest innovations in protective enclosure walls, notably its angled doors.

Belvoir Castle, also in Israel, benefited from the know-how of cathedral builders who reinforced the entire stone structure with iron staples, a technique used in Gothic art.

Beyond their expertise in military architecture, the Crusaders were also excellent construction site managers, building their castles quickly, skillfully and solidly. How did they find the materials? How did they put them together? Wood was rare and not recommended as a defense against Greek fire, a weapon unheard of in Europe. The Sagette Castle in Lebanon, built in just four months, was made exclusively of stones from older nearby buildings, as was the Gibelet Castle in Byblos, Lebanon, one of the largest forts built at the time.

The Crusaders demonstrated extraordinary military genius in invading and holding territories in the Middle East.

Through the history of these five emblematic sites, we will discover the secrets of those ingenious builder-warriors.

 

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