WASHINGTON (April 21, 2006)–Visitors to the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall will catch of glimpse of life in the Middle Ages when two large, intricately detailed models of a Crusader castle and a bustling medieval bazaar go on display on May 12. The “Castles of the Crusades: A View in Miniature” exhibit runs through Sept. 4.
A model of the Crac des Chevaliers (Castle of Knights), the largest and best-preserved Crusader castle ever built in the Middle East, located in what is now Syria, shows the castle in 1271 as it is being besieged by the Mamluk sultan, Baybars. The 1:25-scale model covers about 20 x 20 feet and contains some 2,000 hand-painted figurines depicting scenes of military and civilian life, including Christian and Muslim fighters and pilgrims and peasants with their cattle sheltering in the castle.
The model, which reconstructs every detail of the castle architecture and what people and life of the period were like, shows attackers destabilizing the outer castle walls and advancing to the center of the castle using heavy siege machines. Inside the castle one can see the large dormitory that housed 2,000 people, the castle yard, the knights’ hall and the kitchens.
The model was built by German architect Bernhard Siepen and a team from the International Castle Society, based in Aachen, Germany. They worked from maps, drawings and diagrams, as well as videos and recent on-site measurements.
Siepen and his team also constructed the model of the Bazaar of Aleppo, which presents the color and bustle of market life as it was in this important Middle East crossroads at the end of the Middle Ages. Aleppo, now the second-largest city in Syria, was then a vibrant commercial meeting point of the Islamic and Christian worlds. It was an important stage on the Incense Road from Arabia and the Silk Road from China. It also received goods from India, Yemen and Iran, and important trade roads linked it to Baghdad to the east, Damascus to the south and Konya to the northwest.
The 13 x 13-foot model shows a section of the bazaar that includes the Friday Mosque, Citadel Hill, the large inn where merchants lodged and traded, and an oriental bath. Featured in the model are 750 figurines, including such craftsmen as goldsmiths, silversmiths, ironware workers, potters, carpet makers and book traders, as well as slaves and the buying public. Also depicted are goods such as wool and textiles, furniture, meat and fish, incense, spices, vegetables, fruit and cattle. Caravans are included, along with snake charmers, story-tellers, musicians, belly-dancers, and a group of people in front of the mosque listening to a Koran reading.
Additional information on Crusader castles, medieval bazaars, knights and rulers of that era will be presented on a series of panels around the exhibit.
Siepen and members of the International Castle Society created the “French Donjon: Castle of Coucy” model that was displayed at National Geographic in 2000.
The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Dec. 25. Admission is free. For information on the “Castles of the Crusades: A View in Miniature” exhibit, the public should call (202) 857-7588 or visit nationalgeographic.com/museum.