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This fantastic 12th-century castle is Syrian troops’ latest conquest

Crak des Chevaliers. (Getty Images)

Syrian troops have captured a famous 12th-century castle near the Lebanese border that had been controlled by rebels since 2012, the Associated Press reported Thursday. It's another sign of the progress that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been making against opposition fighters trying to unseat him.

Citadels that have stopped medieval crusaders, been damaged by Mongol invaders or used by Ottomans as military barracks have been put to use again -- and so been put under attack again -- in Syria's now three-year-old civil conflict, as my colleague Abigail Hauslohner reported last year from Beirut. Experts told her that the archaeological landscape in Syria is one of the richest in the world. At that point, rebels said the south wall of Crak des Chevaliers had been nearly destroyed.

The United Nations called last week for a stop to the destruction of Syria's cultural heritage.

“All layers of Syrian culture are now under attack - including pre-Christian, Christian and Muslim,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; Irina Bokova, the UNESCO director general; and Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.'s special representative for Syria, said in a statement.

A video posted last Friday on YouTube by a user whose name is "Protect Syrian Archaeology" says it's a look at the inside of the castle after a bombing.

And one from March 12 from the same account says it shows the bombing of Crak des Chevaliers. It shows smoke rising from the castle.

Crak des Chevaliers is a UNESCO World Heritage site; it was built from 1142 to 1271 and, the U.N. says, "ranks among the best-preserved examples of the Crusader castles."

Hauslohner described the strategic significance of the castle:

The Orontes River valley, which forms part of the border with Lebanon, has been a strategic passage for so long that Egypt’s pharaohs fought for it, later inscribing the scenes of battle across the walls of their temples.

“All the kingdoms of settled Syria wanted to control the famous route that is known as the Homs gap between the coast and the Orontes valley,” said Helen Sader, an archaeologist at the American University in Beirut. “That is why the crusaders built the Crak des Chevaliers on this route to protect it.”

Terri Rupar is The Post's national digital projects editor.
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