On a foggy morning in November, a small white car is approaching the checkpoint of Kafra, five kilometres from the Krak des Chevaliers. In the car are Professor Hazem, Deputy Director and archaeological engineer of the site and four volunteers from SOS Chrétiens d’Orient. As the car approaches, the engine roars noisily as it climbs valiantly up the hill. Unchanging in majesty, the silhouette of the building is gradually revealed before their eyes.
Every month, some volunteers have the privilege of working for a week on maintenance at the Krak des Chevaliers. Unique in the world by its size and state of conservation, this colossal building, most of which was built during the times of the crusades, is one of the countless jewels that gives Syria its reputation as the crossroads of civilizations.
This week, it was at the foot of it’s commanding towers that the volunteers cleaned up the great inner courtyard, in the centre of the castle. Today, they remove vegetation and clean the land so that the visitor's eye can see the stones of the once remarkable architectural lines.
Isaure, with the broom in her gloved hand, patiently scratches the earth and gradually a stone which is revealed. "This is something really special, this stone was put there almost 900 years ago by Europeans. Every once in a while, we stop working, and we think about this incredible reality." It is not simply a matter of using a pitchfork and a pickaxe, we don’t want to damage the treasure that reveals itself to us. With brushes, or just with their hands, the volunteers are trying to return this place to its original beauty.
Luc, a stonecutter, passes his hand on the wall of limestone and basalt and imagines the colossal efforts of his predecessors. "Even eight centuries later, this castle still stands. Since then, we have not invented anything better or sustainable. I'm taking a nice lesson!”
Professor Hazem, who has been working here since 2005, gives us a hint about the ravages of war. During two years, the site was occupied by the terrorists. The Krak was also the theatre of many massacres, and the neighbouring villages of the Christian Valley were not spared the usual procession of the horrors of terrorism.
In the heart of the castle, the chapel offers incomparable acoustics. The first construction of the Krak, at a time when one still had the meaning of God, it revealed frescoes covered then by the ottomans. "We took time to pray and sing in the chapel. I can't help but hear the Latin prayers of the knights echoing in these vaults. It's very moving.”
At the fall of the sun, the old stones blush their beauty. After four days of work, the place has found some of its old glow. Louis stopped for a moment to marvel at one last time of the sculpted vault of the great hall of Knights. All volunteers measure their unique chance to participate modestly in the development of this exceptional legacy. All of them make a promise to come back.