This month in history: The Syrian fortress of Masyaf was captured

In 1090, the Persian Ismailis acquired the castle of Alamut situated in a remote and mountainous area in northern Iran. Over the next 150 years, the Ismailis acquired more than 200 fortresses in Iran and Syria with settlements in surrounding towns and villages, thus establishing their own autonomous states in these regions. The fortresses were acquired or built in remote, mountainous regions for refuge by the Ismailis of Iran and Syria fleeing from persecution during the early middle ages. Their settlements were also a generous sanctuary for all refugees, irrespective of their creed, fleeing the Mongol invasions.

In spite of their continual struggle to keep enemies at bay, the Ismailis of the Alamut state did not forsake their intellectual and literary traditions. Their fortresses housed impressive libraries whose collections ranged from books on various religious traditions and philosophical and scientific tracts to scientific equipment.

The Mongol invasions of Persia took place during the reign of  Imam Ala al-Din Muhammad III (r. 1221-1255). Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (r.1255-1256) surrendered Alamut to the Mongols in 1256, leading to the destruction of  Nizari Ismaili state. The fortress of Masyaf was surrendered to the Mamluks (they ruled Egypt and Syria from the 13th to 15th centuries) in February 1270. After a period of Mamluk control, Masyaf became the residence of the local emirs of the Ottoman period (1299-1922).

Masyaf
Masyaf. Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

In 1999, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in cooperation with the Syrian Director General for Antiquities and Museums, began conservation work at the Citadels of Aleppo, Salah al-Din, and Masyaf. “The objective was not only to restore the monuments, but to create conditions on which the citadels could become catalysts for social and economic development. At Masyaf, conservation was complemented by new museum and tourist facilities, the creation of an [open area] including parking as well as the rehabilitation of a local market in the centre of the city.” (Archnet).

In 2008, during his Golden Jubilee visit, Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prime Minister Naji Al-Otri commemorated the completion of the restoration work.

Masyaf Aleppo
Mawlana Hazar Imam and Prime Minister Naji Al-Otri shake hands upon unveiling a plaque at the Aleppo Citadel commemorating the restoration of
the citadels of Aleppo, Salah ad-Din and Masyaf. Photo: Gary Otte/The Ismaili

Sources:
Farhad Daftary, Historical Dictionary of the Ismailis, The Scarecrow Press Inc., 2012
The Citadel of Masyaf, Archnet  (accessed February 2017)
Castle of Masyaf, The Institute of Ismaili Studies  (accessed February 2017)
Golden Jubilee Syria visit, The Ismaili (accessed February 2017)

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

 

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