Visiting the Jordan crusaders Castle
Jordan is home to many crusaders sites, and two of the most known are Kerak and Shobak. Kerak town lies on the ancient caravan routes used to connect Egypt to Syria. Its commanding position, almost 1000 meters above the Dead Sea Valley, made it a strategic asset of great importance. The city was the ancient capital of Moab and was also used by the Greeks and Romans.
Kerak Castle is a large wedge-shaped castle built on a ridge and protected on the east and west by steep valleys. Two deep ditches have been cut across the ridge at the north and south ends of the enclosure, isolating the castle from Kerak town and from the hill to the south.
With its location midway between Shobak and Jerusalem, Kerak formed part of a great line of Crusader castles stretching from Aqaba to Turkey. Built by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, it’s considered one of the best-preserved and largest Crusader castles in the Middle East and gradually reached its present form. The two main building phases are Crusaders (1142 – 1188 AD) and Mamluk (1263 – 1517 AD).
In fact, even with its impressive defensive fortifications, Karak could not hold out against the forces of Salah Eddin, who captured the governor of Kerak, Reynaud De Chatillon, in 1187 AD and conquered the fortress in 1188 AD, marking the beginning of the Crusaders’ loss of power throughout the area. Once inside the castle, it’s amazing wandering around the underground passages, galleries, chambers, and fortified turrets listening for the echoes of medieval battles.
Perched on an isolated and remote hill overlooking the trade routes that ran through the wadi below, Shobak Castle is breathtaking. Formerly called Mons Realis (the Royal Mountain), it was built by the Crusader king Baldwin I in AD 1115 and was the first outpost of the kingdom of Jerusalem in the Crusader district of Outrejordain.
The original entrance to Shobak Castle was through a dog-legged triple gate. After passing the entrance, you’ll notice the Crusader Church with its strategic views of the old village. Several wells were found within the castle walls, although the main water source was the spring at the foot of the hill.
One of the treasures of this site is a secret passage of over 375 steps that goes down to the spring, ensuring that the castle would have access to adequate supplies of freshwater during times of siege. You can descend inside the passage that surfaces via a ladder outside the castle beside the road to Shobak town. Tread carefully, use a torch and don’t even think about coming down here if you are claustrophobic.
Shobak castle withstood numerous attacks from the armies of Saladin before succumbing in 1189 AD (a year after Karak), after an 18-month siege and in the 14th century, the Mamluks took the castle and renovated it. Many of the outer walls now feature beautiful Kufic – Quranic inscriptions. The Mamluks built a watchtower and used the court as a school. Anyways not much of the castle is left, and it is especially imposing when seen from a distance.
Need to Know
1. Getting there: Karak Castle is 100 km south of Madaba, and Shobak is located in the south of Jordan, only 40 km from Petra. Without any doubt, the best and cheapest way to reach both castles is by rent a car. Anyways you can find some local tour operators that arrange a day trip from Amman, including Kerak.
2. Where to sleep: it’s difficult to tell because it depends on your itinerary. Check our Itinerary and get inspired!
3. Our Itinerary: We visited the castles on different days as below:
- 1° Amman – Mount Nebo – Madaba – Kerak castle – Dana reserve;
- 2° Dana reserve (3 hrs trek) – Shobak castle – Little Petra – Wadi Musa (Petra)
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