Qal'at Ja'bar (قلعة جعبر)

Qal'at Ja'bar


Location: Lake Assad, Ar- Raqqah Governorate Map


Qalʿat Jaʿbar (Arabic قلعة جعبر, DMG Qalʿat Ǧaʿbar, Turkish Caber Kalesi) is a castle on the left bank of the Assad Reservoir in the Syrian province of Ar-Raqqa. The location of the castle was an elevated place with a good view of the Euphrates valley and is now, after the damming by the Tabqa Dam, an island that can only be reached via an artificial connection. Although the square may have been fortified as early as the 7th century, the current form was built under the Zengid ruler Nur ad-Din from 1168. Since 1965, some excavations and restoration work have been carried out on walls and towers. The area said to contain the tomb of Suleiman Shah, grandfather of the first Ottoman ruler Osman I, was declared Turkish territory by the 1921 Treaty of Ankara, and Turkish soldiers were allowed to guard the monument.


History of Qal'at Ja'bar

Before Islam

It is not known exactly when the hill was first fortified. In pre-Islamic times the place was known as Dausar and lay on a route from ar-Raqqa to the west. The place was then under the control of the Ghassanids, whose leader an-Nuʿmān ibn al-Mundhir had named the castle after his slave Dūsar.


11th century and later

Later, the Numairids ruled over the castle and expanded it. It is not certain whether the namesake was Jaʿbar Sābiq al-Qušairī or Jaʿbar ibn Mālik. The Banū Numair lost the castle to the Seljuks. In 1086, its ruler Malik Shah I handed it over to the last Uqailid of Aleppo, who was on the run. The Uqailids held the castle almost continuously - except during a siege by the Crusaders in 1102 - until the late 12th century. In 1146 Zengi besieged the fortress, but was murdered by one of his own slaves on September 14th. In 1168, Zengi's son Nur ad-Din took possession of the Qal'at Ja'bar and had major work carried out on it. After the Zengids, the castle came into the possession of the Ayyubids and then into that of the Mamluks of Egypt. During the Mongol invasion of Syria the castle was heavily damaged. Restoration work was carried out in the 14th century. The castle had been part of the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century.


Tomb of Suleiman Shah

According to the Ottoman historian Ashikpaschazade, Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the first Ottoman ruler Osman I, is said to have drowned in the waters of the Euphrates near the castle in 1086 and was then buried near the castle. But apparently the Ottoman ancestor was confused here with Sulaiman ibn Qutalmish, the founder of the Rum Seljuk Sultanate. He lost a battle against his former overlords in 1086 and drowned in the river while fleeing. It is also not clear who is buried in the Mezār-i Türk tomb complex, which was rebuilt under Sultan Abdülhamid II. After the end of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, Syria became a French mandate. According to the 1921 Treaty of Ankara, Article 9 declared the area around the tomb Turkish property and allowed Turkish soldiers to guard the monument. In 1973, due to the rising water of the reservoir, the grave was moved several kilometers upstream near the village of Qara Qusaq in the north; the status as an exclave was also transferred there. When construction began on the Tishrin Dam further north of the Tabqa Dam in 1991, the burial site was again in danger. Initially, consideration was given to moving it to Turkey, but then it was decided to leave the grave in its place and renovated it. The eleven soldiers who guarded it came from a unit from Şanlıurfa and took turns every week. During the Syrian Civil War, there were threats from the Islamic State organization to take over the exclave, which were countered by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu with threats of military intervention. In autumn 2014, the mausoleum was threatened with destruction during the Battle of Kobanê. In February 2015, the Turkish army cleared the facility and recovered transportable parts in order to build a new mausoleum directly on the Turkish border.

Fighters from the terrorist group IS initially occupied the facility, but were driven out by SDF units at the beginning of January 2017.



The castle measures 370 × 170 meters, stands on a rock and is surrounded by a stone wall with 35 bastions. The shape of the castle is reminiscent of that of the citadel of Aleppo. The upper part of the fortress is made of baked bricks, the entrance to the inner part is made of a gatehouse and a winding ramp.

Of the buildings in the castle courtyard, only the remains of a wall and the lower part of a minaret built under Nur ad-Din in 1173 remained until the 20th century. The cylindrical brick minaret is related to two similar free-standing minarets from the 12th century in Syria: the minaret of the Great Mosque at ar-Raqqa and the minaret at the village of Abu Huraira (formerly Siffin) on the right (southern) side of the Euphrates , roughly opposite Qal'at Ja'bar, and the octagonal brick minaret of Balis (in the Emar area), which was built in the name of al-Adil I in 1210/11. In contrast to Mesopotamia, there are abundant natural stone deposits in Syria. The use of bricks in Islamic architecture has a certain tradition in the Syrian desert area, going back to the Umayyad desert castle of Qasr Tuba (mid-8th century), but overall it represents a foreign element that goes back to Iranian and Iraqi influence. The cylindrical or octagonal brick minarets that emerged in the region around ar-Raqqa from the beginning of the 12th century represent a break with the Syrian tradition, which was characterized by a square minaret made of stone on a high base. The brickwork visible today is the result of extensive restoration work by the Syrian General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).

The Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi described the castle in his travel book in 1648 as:
“... a towering high fortress without a moat built on a red, fearsome rock, made of stone ... inside the fortress there are 40 clay-plastered crew quarters, granaries, a small mosque and paths set into the rock with stairs for fetching water, which lead to the lead down the Euphrates.”


Restoration and excavations

When construction of the Tabqa Dam began in 1968, the flood plain - i.e. H. also at Jaʿbar Castle - several rescue excavations and restoration work were carried out. Since the castle was quite high and would therefore not be flooded by the water, but would only be surrounded, it was equipped with a protective dam and an elevated footpath between 1965 and 1974. This work was carried out by DGAM and UNESCO and cost 4 million Syrian lira. The work focused on the eastern wall and the towers. In addition, parts of the western wall were restored. To speed up the restoration work, a small brick kiln was set up near the castle. The “Donjon Alia” was also renovated in order to exhibit finds from the excavations there. However, this did not happen; The finds will instead be shown in the Aleppo National Museum and the museum in Raqqa.