Karak Castle: A melting pot of war, history, and culture

(Photo: Wikimedia)
AMMAN — Karak Castle, 140km south of Amman, is not only a Jordanian landmark but also one of the largest strongholds of the medieval ages in the Middle East.اضافة اعلان

The castle, perched on the highest hill within the walls of the old town of Karak, was built by the crusaders in mid 12th century to protect the frontiers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

However, its history dates back much further than the medieval ages as it was mentioned in the Bible and other sources that date back to the early Bronze Age.

Karak is the biblical “Kir of Moab” that was targeted by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and one of the cities of “Moab”, an Iron Age kingdom.

It was also mentioned in Mesha Stele (or the Moabite Stone), a stone that carries an inscription written by the Moabite king, Mesha, and one of the most important discoveries of the 19th century.

(Photo: Pixabay)

During the Greco-Roman period, Karak was part of the Nabataean Kingdom and was conquered by the Romans in 105 AD.

Karak is also home to several Christian churches built during the Byzantine era.

As one of the 12 Jordanian governorates, Karak is the largest city in the south of Jordan with a population of 316,000 and an area of 3,217sq.km.

Karak Castle, as we see it today, is a crusader castle that was built in 1142 AD during the reign of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. It dons some additions from other Muslim dynasties that later came to rise.

It is not to be confused with Karak des Chevaliers, another crusader castle in Syria.

The main purpose of the castle for the crusaders was to control trade routes in the eastern desert of Jordan that connected Egypt to Syria.

Elevated 900m above sea level, the castle overlooks the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.

This citadel has been always an important target for the Muslim armies, but the breaking point came when Raynald de Châtillon was as appointed as the lord of Transjordan and attempted an attack on Mecca.

In the battle of Hattin in 1187 AD, Saladin defeated the crusaders and killed de Châtillon with his own dagger.

A year later, Karak Castle was besieged and finally fell into the hands to Saladin.

Under the Mamluk dynasty in the 13th century, the castle served as the administrative center for a large part of Jordan, and later became a garrison that hosted a governor and around 1,500 soldiers in the Ottoman era.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Nowadays, Karak Castle is stop for tourists traveling the ancient Kingsway between Madaba and Petra.

A visit to the castle requires a torchlight — even on a sunny day — vaults and deep tunnels make up most of the structure.

This spur castle is naturally protected by steep hill from three sides, while the northern wall is hedged by a dry moat that was the main barrier that prevented Saladin’s siege engines from breaking through.

Entering the castle via the Ottoman Gate, visitors can enjoy a grand view of the Dead Sea and Wadi Al-Karak on the right, and then continue into its other structures such as the stable, barracks, church, mosque, towers, and reception halls.

Passing under the inner doors of the castle requires caution as they were designed to be short to ensure an easy defense against invaders.

The structure consists of many reused stones that belong to different eras. One example is a stone that carries a relief of a soldier, which is believed to be of a Nabataean knight.

The castle also has a large kitchen where visitors can see round stone mills used for crushing olives to extract lighting oil. Next to the kitchen is a huge oven that once produced bread for a whole army.

In 2016, a terrorist group took refuge inside Karak Castle and targeted civilians using its arrow slits and towers. The attack killed 10 people, including police officers, Jordanian civilians, and a Canadian tourist.

To this day, the castle symbolizes Jordan’s rich history and pivotal clashes it has witnessed over the centuries.

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