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Saint-Louis Castle

Saida

· South

Saida houses an imposing land castle that played an important defensive role of the city.

It was a key of the city's defensive system, directly connected to the Sea Castle during the crusader period.

Toponym 

The site of the fortress bears several designations that testify to its importance since Antiquity:  

Murex Hill is the name given to the hill by scholars where the fortress is erected – it was an artificial mound that was formed by the accumulation of refuse from the purple dye factories of Phoenician times.  

Qalaat Al Muizz is the name given to the fortress that was built by Fatimid Caliph Al-Mu'izz Al-Din Allah in the 10th  century AD. 

Saint-Louis castle is the name given to the current fortress that was built King Louis IX of France in 1253 AD to strengthen Saida’s defenses and to guard the southeast entrance of the city.  

Timeline 

2nd – 1st millennium – The fortress site was a Phoenician artificial mount as mentioned previously.  

1st – 3rd century AD – the site saw the construction of Roman/Byzantine era structures, more specifically the acropolis of the city, as well as a theater which one section – the vomitorium is incorporated into the modern fortress. 

10th century AD – The site saw the construction of Qalaat Al Muizz as mentioned previously. 

1253 AD – The site saw the construction of Saint-Louis fortress as mentioned previously. 

1260 AD – The fortress was largely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of the city.  

1291 AD – The castle was captured and destroyed by the Mamluks.  

17th century AD – The castle was extensively restored by Emir Fakhr El Dine II. 

1940’s – 1990’s – The castle was used as a shelter by Palestinian refugees during their exodus, and the structure suffered later on from heavy bombardments and looting throughout the Lebanese civil war.  

2014 – 2021 – The fortress’ main sections were renovated by the General Directory of Antiquities, as well as other stakeholders, with the help of a grant provided by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.

2021 – Archeologists unearthed a mass graveyard of crusader soldiers.

Structure 

The architectural plan of the stronghold has a semi-circular shape, flanked by two imposing towers connected by a long fortification, and featuring the following sections: 

Section 1 – The Tower Gate

The castle is accessible through a single gate which is part of a tower located on the north-east side of the castle.The wall connected to the tower gate bears a Crusader lapidary mark.  

The tower gate is built on top of a vomitorium - a Roman era structure referring to a passage situated below or behind a tier of seats in an amphitheatre or a stadium. The vomitorium currently houses a museum that features the remnants of Roman-era findings unearthed in Saida. 

Section 2 – The Center

The center of the castle has not yet been resorted. Several structural foundations can be noticed when walking around the site. One can clearly see Roman-era columns incorporated horizontally in the fortifications to strengthen the walls.   

Section 3 – The Donjon

The donjon is the main imposing structure of the fortress. It has a horse-shoe shape, measuring 17x14m, resting on a steep slope. At the bottom of the Donjon, the remains of a 6m ditch can be noticed that was the first line of defense.  

Around the fortress site, the remnants of Roman/Byzantine-era structures can be seen.  

*Scroll down to enjoy the pictures and tolocate the site on the map. 

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Karim Sokhn 

Tour Operator & Tour Guide 

References: 

Ministry of Tourism panel 

https://www.livescience.com/mass-grave-of-christian-crusaders 

The Tower Gate (#1 on the map)

Lapidary mark 

The vomitorium

The donjon (#2 on the map)

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