The fortress of Masyaf in Syria will be known to fans of the blockbuster computer game series Assassin’s Creed. Masyaf Castle was the headquarters of the infamous Assassins in the series, and this is not fiction — Masyaf Castle was once home to the much-feared ancient order of assassins.
Hassan-i Sabbah founded a Nizari Ismaili order in Persia and Syria in the late 11th century. The Hashshashins were infamous for capturing many mountain fortresses and posing a threat to Sunni Seljuk authority in Persia. The Hashshashin, from whom the term ‘assassins’ is derived, was perhaps most known for how they dispatched their foes – through highly skillful assassinations.
It has been believed that the castle of Masyaf was built during the Byzantine period, on top of a natural limestone hill that rose above the surrounding plain and settlement, based on archaeological evidence. This provided the castle a strategic perch from which its occupants could watch over and govern the surrounding area. The Assassins seized the fortress of the Banu Munqidh of Shayzar, one of the petty Islamic kingdoms in the region during the 12th century A.D. The Sanur, who controlled the defense for the Banu Munqidh of Shayzar, one of the petty Islamic kingdoms in the area during the 12th century A.D., in 1141.
The Assassins were known across the region for the speed with which they dispatched their foes. This provided them with a level of political authority that some of the Middle East’s larger nations did not approve of. As a result, Masyaf became a target for those daring enough to try to destabilize the Assassins’ control. Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, took part in this endeavor.
Saladin’s siege of the castle in 1176 A.D., on the other hand, failed miserably. According to folklore, Saladin’s tent was infiltrated by an Assassin when he was sleeping beneath Masyaf. As Saladin was leaving the tent, he caught a glimpse of this man. On the side of Saladin’s bed, a poisoned cake or hot scones with a poisoned blade were left. Saladin was given a croissant with a message telling him that he would kill him if he did not withdraw. Saladin chose to make peace with the Assassins because he feared for his life.
Despite this, the Assassins were not unbeatable. Masyaf and three other Assassin strongholds fell to the invading Mongols in 1260 A.D. However, the Mongol victory was short-lived, as the Mamelukes destroyed them at the Battle of ‘Ayn Jalut the following year. The Assassins regained control of Masyaf after the Mongols were expelled from Syria. The Mamelukes, led by their sultan Baibars, took possession of Masyaf ten years later. Even though the Assassins disbanded, the castle remained in the landscape.
The conservation of Masyaf Castle began in the year 2000. This project consolidated and restored the deteriorating building, which was finished in 2006. Furthermore, it has given us a far greater picture of the Assassins’ occupation of the castle. For example, the team revealed a tunnel thought to be a hidden escape route. In addition, a system of pipes was discovered that carried rainwater into cisterns beneath the castle. This adds to the evidence that built the fortress to endure long periods of siege by the enemies. However, the court does have its amenities, as evidenced by the discovery of a traditional bathhouse.
It’s worth noting that Masyaf’s castle does not exist in isolation in the terrain but rather coexists with the nearby historic city of Masyaf. As a result, the conservators made an effort to maintain and enrich the old city, upgrade the markets and pedestrian areas, and develop more appealing tourist amenities, all while considering the castle’s urban surroundings. The local community would gain from the tourism business due to these efforts, and they would most likely work to protect the court because they had a stake in it. Thus, integrating the local community can preserve such historic sites for future generations.