The Castle rises amidst spectacular landscape and, together with the Crac des Chevaliers, was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2006. Indeed, the site is one of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture and one of the most visited places in Syria (around 100,000 visitors in 2008).
Its successive occupants were the Byzantines, the Franks, the Ayyubids and the Mamluks. The site is the result of numerous construction phases and the record of changes is still recognizable in most of the structures. The monument represents a unique cultural heritage for the quality of its military architecture, the variety and quality of the materials, and for the complexity of the historical stratifications, as well as for its environmental surroundings.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria (DGAM) on 1 December 1999 to provide support in the restoration of three citadels in Syria (Aleppo, Masyaf and Salah al-Din). Since that time a considerable amount of work has been completed with the cooperation of the Antiquities authorities.
The Castle of Salah al-Din is perched at an altitude of approximately 450 metres on a long rocky spur stretching from east to west and divided into two plateaux separated by a steep ridge. Only a number of historically or spatially coherent areas within the site were selected to become the focus of conservation efforts, with the intention that the DGAM would continue work elsewhere using methodologies and skills acquired during the joint project implementation. The work has been developed according to international standards and methodology of restoration and rehabilitation. The choices made were the result of in-depth analyses of the monument’s history, of its present physical and figurative state, and of its conservation or rehabilitation status.
The Castle of Salah al-Din is a very large complex containing a series of buildings and monuments of different historical periods, which call for a diversified approach and different forms of conservation and maintenance targeted to the specific requirements of each structure or category of structures. The main structures are the moat and the needle; the main gateway; the ring walls; the towers and the master tower; the Byzantine fortress and ramparts; the Islamic complex (including the mosque, the palace and the public hammam); and the Lower Town, walls and towers and the two tower-gates.
Furthermore, the Castle is still the subject of archaeological investigations and historic research.