Michael Haag has written travel guides to Greece, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, published by Cadogan Books and The American University in Cairo Press. He has also written Alexandria: City of Memory, about Constantine Cavafy, E M Forster and Lawrence Durrell in Alexandria, which was published by Yale University Press, and “The Templars: The History and the Myth: From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons” published in Britain by Profile Books and in America by Harper Collins. Michael recently returned to the inexhaustible topic of the Crusades with ” The Tragedy of the Templars: The Rise and Fall of the Crusader States.” In this special interview for the Knights Templar Vault, Michael Haag shares his perspective on the history of the Middle East and the Crusades.
Q. Michael, thank you for kindly agreeing to be interviewed for the Knights Templar Vault. It is pretty obvious that you have a strong interest in the history of the Middle East and the Crusades. How did this interest develop and at what point did you decide that among dozens of books about the Knights Templar there is room for at least a couple more and you should write them?
A. I love the Mediterranean; the warmth and the fragrance. I am especially attracted to the Eastern Mediterranean, warmer and more pungent; also it is very old, and I am fascinated by the multiple overlays of history – often expressed in the architecture of temples, churches, synagogues and mosques, sometimes built upon one another or growing out of one another. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, all have their Mediterranean aspects and have shared in its history; all have their connections with other Mediterranean countries, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and across North Africa. All have been part of the Roman Empire, and before that all the Eastern Mediterranean was part of the Hellenistic world. So for me the Middle East is part of something much larger in time and space.
My specific interest in the crusades was inspired by the young T E Lawrence when he was not yet ‘of Arabia’. In 1909, during the summer of his twenty-first birthday, he walked 1100 miles through Palestine and Syria, visiting scores of crusader castles. After reading of his journey and his descriptions of the castles, I decided to follow in his footsteps, or rather I cheated and I drove through much of Syria in a car.
You cannot visit castles like Krak, Safita, Margat and Saone without being amazed at the scale of the endeavour, the magnificence of their design and the beauty of the landscapes they survey. I knew the ancient sites of Greece and Egypt well; Syria, I discovered, not only has ancient sites but also wonderful castles, and to visit them is to awaken stories of battles and sieges and lonely mountain vigils. That is how my interest in the crusades began. [click to continue…]