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Hamah Off The Beaten Path: 23 reviews and 47 photos
Shaizar Castle (March 2008)
About halfway between Hama and Apamea, towering over a small village is the Castle of Shaizar. Although the hill had been settled since at least the first century AD, the castle was only built in the 10th century by Fatimid rulers. Since then, the castle has been occupied by several empires and dynasties, including the Byzantines in their brief re-occupation of Syria. Qala'at Shaizar was an important castle in the Arab resistance against the Crusaders. The castle was later destroyed and rebuilt several times due to earthquakes and Mongol invasions. The latest restorations were made in the 13th century under the Mamluke rulers Baibars and Qalawun, but the castle was later neglected and fell into disrepair.
At 30 minutes from Hama, Qala'at Shaizar makes a nice quick day trip from the city. Even better would be a stop on your way to Apamea. Due to the shortage of time, my travel companions and I did not stop to visit the castle when we drove from Hama to Apamea in December 2006 and again in March 2008. Instead, we had to make do with a glance and quick poor-quality photos (see attached). Guidebooks state that visits are permissible and could take up to a whole hour to complete. Perhaps next time!
The Cardo Maximus of Apamea
Situated one hour north-west of Hama, Apamea is a must see for anyone visiting the region. Founded in 300 BC during the Seleucid period, this city flourished under the Romans and remained important until Crusader times. The city was destroyed in the two major earthquakes of the 12th century and was never rebuilt. The archeological site is most picturesque, with panoramic views of al-Ghab Valley and Ansariyeh Mountains, and contains one of the longest and best preserved Roman colonnaded roads in existence. Other attractions include the medieval castle built on the site of the ancient acropolis, and a museum exhibiting mosaics excavated in Apamea housed in an Ottoman-period khan. It is said that Cleopatra and Marc Antony made a stop in Apamea after their marriage. Surely, this is enough of a reason to visit! For additional photos and tips, click on Apamea.
Krak des Chevaliers
The most magnificent of all Crusader castles, and possibly of all medieval castles around the world, Krak des Chevaliers, is located just over an hour away from Hama (south then west via Homs on the motorway). Although its origins go back to the 10th century, it wasn't until the Crusaders occupied it that it was turned into this formidable defence structure. After the departure of the Crusaders, the Mamlukes continued its fortification. Hama's central location makes it a perfect departing point for a day trip to Krak des Chevaliers. Count 1h15m of driving each way. For more on this fairy tale castle, check out my Krak des Chevaliers page.
Hama-Apamea country road
Hama is a great departure point for discovering central and western Syria. There are numerous Crusader and Arab castles (which often battled against each other), and ancient sites, as well as dead cities (further north). The most famous of such sites near Hama are the Crusader Castle of Krak des Chevaliers, the Roman city of Apamea, and perhaps also the Byzantine dead city of Serjilla. The best method of transport is via private car with a local driver, which could be hired at a relatively inexpensive price. For more freedom (as we did), you could rent your own car, but beware, the roads and signs are not the best.
Farms near Hama
Any road trip outside Hama, whether to discover Crusader and Arab castles or ancient sites, one is likely to drive through the farmlands surrounding the city. Only upon seeing these highly fertile grounds does one understand why this region was named the Fertile Crescent. Attached are some photos of the Hama countryside and its farmlands.
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