The fortress of Antarsous (Tortose)

English text : David Cobbold

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Syrie, Muhafazah of Tartus (Tortose), city of Tartus

Syrie, Muhafazah of Tartus (Tortose), city of Tartus (Tortose).

The modern name of Tortose is derived from the name of Antarsous or the antique Antaradus, quoted in the chronicles of the Crusades.
The Templars started building this fortress in 1183. On completion it was one of the most significant strongholds of the Order during the existence of the Latin Kingdom of the East.
Its remains are still standing. They represent one of the most curious and most visited military structures in Syria from the time of the Crusades.

The fortifications of Tartus

Today Tortose is a garden city lavished by all the benefits of nature and resplendent with Eastern flora.
Amid these surrounds, encircled by palm trees, is the old cathedral of Our Lady of Tortose. The Cathedral is an old and splendid stone vessel from the XII century.
During Christian times it was a great place of veneration and pilgrimage. Jean, Lord de Joinville, belonged to those who visited at the time of the crusade of King of France (Saint) Louis IX. At the time de Joinville wrote that there was much noise about a miracle that occurred there the day Louis IX disembarked in Egypt.
The Tortose fortress rises with the north-western angle of the city. It consists of a double enclosure, each one with a moat cut into the rock and filled by water coming from the sea. There is also a keep of colossal proportions.
The walls of this double enclosure are built with enormous stones and flanked with squared or rectangular defence towers.
The first enclosure, basically trapezoid in shape, girded the middle-aged city on three sides; the fourth faced the sea to the west.
A broad moat between the city and the fortress was crossed by a roadway leading to its only entry.
This approach was totally exposed to fire from the defenders. Access was also cut by a drawbridge covered by a barbican or a palisade.

section of walls and moat

The actual entrance of the fortress was located at the foot of a large tower.
The arc of the door was decorated with a blossomed cross detached from a clover.
This entry was defended by a machicolation, a portcullis and metal-tipped leafs of wood as well as being reinforced by sliding bars.
On the first floor, a room for shooting connected to the covered access way of the first enclosure making it possible to effectively protect the door and its defences.
The first enclosure was hung on a solid mass of cut rocks covered by masonry.
The wall was three meters thick and bored with great loopholes for the use of machines of war. The wall was surmounted by a covered passage with a crenellated parapet.

The preserved fragments of the second enclosure or interior enclosure, along with the crenellations and covered passage, indicate that the total height of the original wall was approximately 30 meters.
constructions along the walls A moat, built according to the same principle as the first, also skirted the second enclosure. This enclosure was considerably higher which ensured the defence of the first line.
Immense stores and arched buildings were built inside this second enclosure and all along the moat.
These various buildings on the same level opened onto the interior court of the castle, thus forming what one can call the parade ground.

At the north of the structure, by the sea, rose all the large buildings worthy of an important fortress: keep, vault, large room...
The large room, a vast arched building, was used as the chapter house. It was also used as the reception and banquet room where foreign emissaries and ambassadors were accommodated. The large room also was also a room of pageantry where conquered trophies and the standard of the Order were displayed.
The large room was 44 meters long and 15 meters wide. It was made up of two naves separated by a line of 5 columns and it was lit by six large windows opening onto the court.
Only one of these windows survived more or less intact. On it one can still distinguish on the central archstone a lamb carrying a streamer with the cross (paschal lamb).
Near this room, on the south-eastern side, was the rather austere vault. Its construction style resembled that of the large room.
The nave was made of four spans and finished straightforwardly, i.e. without apse. It was lit by high windows in lancets.
In the middle of the interior court, one can still distinguish the central well of the castle.
At the end of the structure, on the side of the sea, rise the vestiges of the large squared keep, which inspired the spirit of contemporary chroniclers who saw it.
In the basement of this keep, underground warehouses opened to the sea. Their location at sea level enabled a maritime supply to the defenders.
As with the two enclosures, the keep was also protected and isolated from the rest of the fortress by a vast moat.

Section of the great hall

In 1188, after his victory at the Horns of Hattin the previous summer, Saladin besieged Tortose. The defence by the Templars, cut off in the keep, was so strong that Saladin ceased his attack.
In front of the keep walls, in exchange for the rendering of Gaza, Saladin released the Master of the Order of the Temple, Gerard de Ridefort, the King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan as well as other knights captured at Hattin.
Tortose was occupied by the Templars until the final fall of the Christian territories. It was still resisting takeover a few days after the fall of Acre. Tortose eventually fell into Muslims hands on June 05, 1291.
In 1300, after withdrawing to Cyprus, the Templars, lead by their Master, Jacques de Molay and other Crusaders under the orders of Prince de Tyr, Aimery de Lusignan tried an assault from the coast. They succeeded in retaking Tortose, but they didn't hold it a long time because of the counter-attack of the Egyptian sultan Malek el-Mansour.
At the end of 1302, the Templars had to evacuate the small island of Ruad, also mentioned like island of Aradus, which was right in front of Tortose. From Ruad the Templars has previously launched their assaults against the coast.

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