The little town of Hama lies along the Orontes river in Syria. Fifth-largest in the country, with a population numbering a bit less than half a million, it’s in a relatively fruitful area and is an important area for potato and pistachio crop growth. Throughout the Middle East, though, it’s most well known for its Norias, or crackling water wheels, that have been built all across the river.
Alas, during my stay, the wheels did not crackle. Due to ongoing draught, there was very little water in the river, and the entire area smelled like… perhaps let’s not go into that. Despite being a lovely town, this was perhaps the only area in Syria where I felt a bit less comfortable: you could see many of the locals made their living out of tourism, and there just were not that many tourists around. As such, as the single tourist you try to spend quite a bit more than usual, but still you can’t buy from everyone.
My main goal for coming here was to visit the Krak des Chevaliers, one of the main highlights of this trip for me, so I spent just about one evening in the city.
Krak is an imposing sight, even from far off. A well-known crusader fortress lying in Syria with as backdrop the anti-Lebanon mountains. It just doesn’t get much more beautiful than that. TE Lawrence once described it as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”, and TE Lawrence’s word is good enough for me.
When walking around the castle halls, the sound of horse hooves, that peculiar rumbling, is never far away. At least in an imaginary sense. This castle has known a lot of life, back in its days. It housed approximately 2000 foot soldiers, and above all was the home base of the Knights Hospitaliers, initially a Christian organization that provided care to pilgrims to the Holy Land.
Somewhat later, they turned their mission around and became a military grouping designated to protect the Holy Land itself. Doing this, they became contemporaries to the much better known Knights Templar. Even today, their legacy lives on as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.