Burzey Castle, Idlib, Syria

Burzey Castle, Idlib, Syria

(A History of Sarin as a Weapon)

In the summer of 2010, we hired a taxi to take us from Lattakia to Aleppo, Syria. The drive up into the cool of the mountains east of Lattakia is always a treat, and we enjoyed it that day as well - the taxi did not have AC and I was sitting in the middle of the backseat between two sweaty daughters. Jeremy was up front chatting with the driver, as is the duty of whoever sits in the passenger seat of public or hired transportation in Syria. At some point in the mountains, the taxi driver remarked that we'd lost our minder - they'd been following us in another car since we left Lattakia. I suppose they finally decided we weren't up to anything interesting. I have always felt a little bad for any of the minders who were assigned to us in Syria. We must have been so boring!

But we did have an adventure planned that day: visiting the remote ruins of the 12th-century Crusader castle called Burzey.

There is not much left of the castle, but the ruins, plus the remoteness of the setting, plus the view from the top of the ridge it occupies, make it positively stunning and worth the effort of getting there. Crusader-era castles always have a way of bringing that period to life - you can see exactly why they built each castle where they did, and how battles could have unfolded. It was quite a drive, and then a further scrabble up the hill to even get to the place. The ruins themselves were rubbly (and therefore dangerous) enough that we set up camp in the shade of the old courtyard and took turns watching the girls while the other went exploring.

Syria has a vast interior, away from the big cities of the coast and capital regions. Burzey Castle seems to look over it all, including Idlib Province. The castle is 50km from Khan Shaykhun, as the crow flies.

The Crusaders built this castle sometime after 1103 on the site of an existing fortress. Saladin and his forces took it in 1188 in an extremely unlikely victory achieved through repeated assaults on the castle's steep western bank. Saladin's view during the battle would have been something like you see below.

I have stood on a lot of ruined castle keeps in Syria, but this one had the most expansive view over the widest, flattest area. I remember feeling like this was the first time I really took in the scope of the Orontes Valley. Some castles you visit because of the structure itself. Others, like this one, you visit for the lack thereof - and take in, instead, the setting and isolation, and imagine the rest.

April 7th, outsourced

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