Syria Before The Conflict Part Five, Saladin’s Castle & Memory Tricks

Are you ever convinced of something only to find that the memory has played tricks on you? Well this happened to me whilst chronicling my 2009 Syria trip. I have just discovered some notes I scribbled along the way and have found two long held beliefs to be incorrect.

First of all we visited in March and not May as I thought and secondly we visited Saladin’s Castle from Aleppo and not Hama as I had previously recalled. I therefore need to backtrack and segway in our short visit, whilst making a mental note to keep a journal on future trips!

Saladin (Salah ad-Din 1137-1193) is an Islamic hero, credited with defeating the Christian crusaders and expelling them from the country. The castle that bore his name was also great – vast, in good condition and with fabulous views for miles around.

He was the first sultan of Egypt & Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A Sunni Muslim of Kurdish ethnicity, he led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Upper Mesopotamia (Iraq), the Hejaz (Saudi Arabia), Yemen and other parts of North Africa.


We stopped as we approached by taxi from above to get a bird’s eye view and chatted to a father and his young family who sat on a bench just passing the time away. The four girls were aged about seven downwards and I will never forget their beautiful smiles as they eagerly posed for a photo, whilst their proud father beamed. They should hopefully be in or near their teens by now………..


The driver pulled into the castle environs, steering us past a giant stalactite like boulder that seemed to have sprung from the ground. Theories abound as to how it got there, my favourite being that it was God’s staff, planted in displeasure at the deeds of man. I wondered whether it was St Simeon’s holiday home, but most likely something geological had caused its bizarre position.

Saladin Castle

We entered the castle by a huge gate reminiscent of the other castles we had already visited. As we approached we noticed a camel that was being touted for rides around the perimeter. We did not partake, but I will always remember that camel as it has become my blog & Twitter avatars!


The castle looked pretty impregnable with its mighty thick walls and elevated position. Castles were fast becoming my new favourite places, a male thing I am sure.

A group of bored looking guides sat in the keep and they all shot up as we arrived, eager to make a welcome buck as tourist numbers were low. Sadly for them, Hamish & I are both devout guide shunners, preferring to just wander, imagine and read the 2-3 paragraphs in our Lonely Planet.

There was some building work going on during our visit, with a man and donkey deployed to shift rocks & rubble from A-B, with said rocks & rubble removed by pickaxe and hand. Not far removed from Saladin’s time we conjectured.

Having practised our usual drill of wandering, imagining and reading the bare minimum, the castle rewarded us with a very pleasurable ninety minutes. By this time we were a little peckish so stopped at the ramshackle castle cafe for a snack.

The people opposite us had ordered a salad and were alarmed when presented with a whole lettuce, a radish the size of a turnip and grapefruit sized tomato each! I so wish that I had a picture of both the salads and their perplexed expressions!

On the way out I said my goodbyes to my newly adopted camel friend and we then headed off to the next leg of our wonderful Syrian adventure……….


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