Saône
Qala’at Salah ad-Din (Saône) is
situated on a rocky promontory. Saladin’s Castle dominates the coastal plain to the west and the main access road across the Jabal an Nusayriyah between Latakia and Aleppo. It was thus both strategically important and tactically strong. Saône, together with Krak, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Occupation of the site dates back to the Phoenician period, but it is the Byzantine fortifications that have left the earliest impressive remains. Constructed after AD 975 under the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes as part of his campaign to retake Syria, the central citadel is located on the highest point within the castle. Part of the surrounding defensive enceinte stands within the crusader walls, cutting off the eastern end of the fortress, but the rest of the circuit (which originally defended the settlement outwith the citadel) was incorporated within the later defences. A small Byzantine chapel is located in the lower ward and another, smaller one, is to be found immediately north of the later crusader chapel.

There are two rock-cut ditches on the site, one between the upper and lower wards (the insubstantial nature of which was to prove the downfall of the crusader castle) and the major one at the eastern end, cutting off the castle from the rest of the promontory. It is uncertain how much of this ditch is Byzantine in origin.

Probably taken by the crusaders in 1108 at the same time as Latakia, it was initially held by Robert son of Fulk (aka Robert the Leprous or Robert de Saône), endowed by Roger, Prince of Antioch. The crusader enhancements were concentrated at the eastern end, with a massive donjon (or keep), a barbican accessed across the deepened rock-cut ditch (with its drawbridge resting on the spectacular masonry-capped pinnacle of living rock). Square towers were added at vulnerable points around the entire enceinte.

Robert was captured in 1119 by a former friend, Zahir ad-din Toghtekin, the Seljuk atabeg of Damascus, and killed when he refused to renounce his faith (although he did enjoy the singular honour of having his now-jewel-encrusted skull used as a drinking vessel by his ‘friend’). The castle stayed in the family until Saladin captured it from Matthew de Saône in 1188 and by then the family name had become synonymous with the castle. Arabic additions include a mosque and baths.
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