The castle on the hilltop
This castle is a little off the beaten path, so we caught a minibus from Tartus to another small town up the coast, Baniyas. The roads were half-flooded, but the driver didn’t mind at all. He was driving so fast that we could actually feel him momentarily lose control of the vehicle each time he plowed through a deep puddle over the highway. Eventually we reached Baniyas and transferred to another minibus that would pass the village around the castle.
It was so cloudy and misty that we didn’t see the castle until we were right below it. It was very stunning. This castle was built from black basalt rock, so it has quite a different look to it than the sandy-colored castles and citadels that we’ve seen so far. It’s perched on top of a steep, green hill overlooking small villages and the
The minibus dropped us off at the bottom of a dirt path leading up the hill to the castle. Fortunately, the rains had just stopped, so we started to trek up the path. At the time, we didn’t notice any other path going any other way, although we found out later that there had been.
I should mention here that our guidebook makes a brief, cryptic reference to a certain area surrounding the castle, near the castle graveyard, as being “snake-infested.” That’s all it said. So as the path gradually became less defined and we trudged through increasingly thick foliage and undergrowth, I was keeping an eye out for gravestones, or worse, snakes. Eventually, there really wasn’t any path at all, and Jeremy went ahead to break one. I was getting really nervous about the snakes – it’s not that I’m especially afraid of them, it’s just the mysterious way in which the guidebook mentioned them, with such a startling lack of details, that got my imagination going. It soon became apparent that we were going to end up doing almost a complete circle around the castle before we got to the entrance. In other words, we had somehow taken the wrong path. This also meant that I was sure we must have walked through the snake-infested graveyard at some point.
Finally, exhausted and little muddied, we reached the entrance and paid the 20 cent admission fee (the student price). The castle was very beautiful and quite romantic, in the historical sense of the word. Plus, we were the only people there. The weather had cleared up during our hike and so we had wonderful panoramic views over the
One of the things that I love about the sites in
By this time, it had started raining again, so we made our way down (the right way, this time, which took all of 3 minutes instead of 1 hour) and caught a minibus or two back to Tartus. We had planned to see Krak des Chevaliers that same day, but it was getting late so we decided to just see the Old City of Tartus instead. We started walking down the street towards what we thought was the sea, but Jeremy decided to ask a passerby, just to make sure. And of course, it being Jeremy, he manages to randomly ask the one guy who has lived in
After having seen many castles in Syria, I think Marqab ends up in second place, inferior only to Salah-ad-Din near Lattakia. Krak is definitely the biggest, most complete, and most famous, but there is just something about these smaller, more isolated, more romantically situated crumbling castles that appeals to our personal tastes.
We never did see a single snake, by the way, which means that all my worrying and fretting about it was for nothing!