|View of Margat castle, photo by Éva Galambos|
King Andrew II of Hungary, leader of the Fifth Crusade (1217-1218) spent some time in the castle, and made a sizable donation to the Hospitallers. It is interesting to note that the mother of Andrew II, Anne (Ágnes) of Chatillon stems from the Principality of Antioch, as she was the daughter of Raynald of Chatillon - the same Raynald executed by Saladin in 1187, a year before his army reached Margat.
The castle was built into a huge edifice by the Hospitallers, organized around a large circular keep (donjon). The main buildings of the castle - including the great hall, the chapel, the chapter house, the dormitories and the kitchen - survived largely intact to this day. Since 2006, the Syro-Hungarian Archaeological Mission, led by Balázs Major has been conducting research and excavations at the site.
The big breakthrough came in 2008, when frescoes were discovered inside the castle chapel. The frescoes are the remains of a large Last Judgment, likely painted at the end of the 12th century by western painters. So far large areas of the depiction of Hell have been cleaned on the wall to the left of the apse, and traces of Heaven have been uncovered on the opposite wall. Jaroslav Folda, in his book Crusader Art in the Holy Land from the Third Crusade to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291 (Cambridge-New York, 2005) dates the construction of the chapel to 1186-87, so immediately after the Hospitallers took over the castle. He also describes the frescoes known before the current excavation campaign, located in the sacristy. The newly discovered frescoes are not only on a much larger surface than those known before, but their rare iconography makes them the most important discovery in the field of Crusader art. Their style is also different from those described by Folda as the work of a Byzantinizing locally trained painter (p. 33).
Thanks to the kindness of one of the restorers working on these frescoes, I am able to include a few illustrations here. These photos were all taken by Éva Galambos, and have never appeared before.