Located in high mountainous terrain on a ridge between two deep ravines and surrounded by forest, the site has been fortified since at least the mid 10th century. In 975 the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes captured the site and it remained under Byzantine control until around 1108. Early in the 12th century the Franks assumed control of the site and it was part of the newly formed Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The first crusader lord was Robert the Leprous, and it remained in his family until 1188. The Crusaders undertook an extensive building programme, giving the castle much of its current appearance. In 1188 it fell to the forces of Saladin after a three-day siege. The castle was again besieged in 1287, this time both defender and belligerent were Mamluks. In 2006, the castles of Qal'at Salah El-Din and Krak des Chevaliers was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The site is owned by the Syrian government.
The rock pylon that held up the drawbridge.
The citadel was built on a ridge some 700 metres (2,300 ft) long between two deep gorges. It guarded the route between Latakia and the city of Antioch. The spur on which the castle is built is connected to a plateau in the east. The Byzantines defended the site by building a wall across the east side of the ridge. The walls created an irregular enclosure and were studded with flanking towers. Adjacent to the fortification, at the eastern end of the ridge was a settlement. One of the most magnificent features of the fortress is the 28 m deep ditch, which was cut into living rock. The creation of the ditch has been attributed to the Byzantines. This ditch, which runs 156 meters along the east side, is 14 to 20 meters wide and has a lonely 28 m high needle to support the drawbridge.