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View of Masyaf Castle
Masyaf Castle (Arabic: قلعة مصياف) is a medieval structure in the town of Masyaf in Hama Governorate, Syria, situated in the Orontes Valley, approximately 40 kilometers to the west of Hama. It served to protect the trade routes to cities further inland such as Banyas. The castle itself stands on a platform about 20 meters above the surrounding plain. The citadel became famous as the stronghold from which Rashid ad-Din Sinan, known as the Old Man of the Mountains ruled. He was a leader of the Syrian wing of the Nizari Hashshashin sect, also known as the Assassins, and a figure in the history of the Crusades.
Evidence suggests that the lower layers and foundations of the castle are of Byzantine origin. Later levels were added by the Nizari Ismailis, Mamluks, and Ottomans. The castle was captured by the Assassins in 1141 from Sanqur (who had held it on behalf of the Banu Mundiqh of Shayzar) and was later refortified by Rashid al-Din Sinan. Masyaf and the surrounding town functioned as the capital of a Nizari emirate from the middle of the 12th century until the end of the 13th century. Saladin besieged it in May 1176 but the siege did not last long and it concluded with a truce. Current research indicates it was held by the Nizari Ismailis at that time.
In 1260, the castle was surrendered to the Mongols. Later that year in September, the Nizaris allied with the Mamluks to drive the Mongols out from Syria and reclaim the castle. Baybars took hold of the castle in February 1270. In 1830, an Egyptian expedition led by Ibrahim Pasha did some damage to the castle. Restoration funded by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Historic Cities Support Programme began in 2000.
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