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Kerak Castle is an impressive 12th century Crusader-era fortification located to the south of Amman, Jordan, on the ancient King’s Highway. Today the castle operates as a visitor attraction and contains a maze of corridors and chambers within the imposing fortifications.
History of Kerak Castle
Described by a contemporary adventurer as “the most marvellous, most inaccessible and most celebrated of castles”, the site of Kerak is mentioned in the Bible, where it was said to have been besieged by the King of Israel.
The structure which is visible today took on its current guise during the Crusades in the 12th century. Initially a Crusader stronghold, the castle is situated within the city walls of Kerak and was located in an area of great strategic importance, 900 metres above sea level.
The construction of Kerak began in 1142 and it took approximately twenty years to complete. There was already a fortified town of some considerable importance on the site, which served as an administrative centre during the Roman and Byzantine eras, as well as the early Islamic period. The castle soon became the most important centre of control in the Transjordan region.
One of the most notorious figures of the period, Reynald of Chatillon, ruled Kerak from the early 1170s. Reynald was infamous among contemporaries for acts of barbarism, which included breaking treaties, and looting the caravans of worshippers bound for Mecca. One of the favourite pastimes of Reynald was said to have been throwing prisoners from the castle walls onto the rocks below.
In 1177, after one particularly notorious attack made on such a caravan during peacetime, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin, launched an attack on the crusader kingdom, which resulted in the defeat of Reynald’s forces at the Battle of Hattin. Saladin, noted for his restraint shown towards his enemies during his lifetime, spared elements of the Crusader army but personally executed Reynald himself.
After the battle, Kerak Castle also fell to Saladin after a long siege, and it would remain in Muslim hands from this point on. During the period of Muslim rule, the castle would undergo further significant alteration and restoration as well as often being involved in the mainly-internal conflicts of the following centuries. Indeed, the castle held the dubious honour of being the first target of modern gunpowder artillery to be used in the Middle East.
Kerak Castle today
Today, a visit to Kerak Castle affords the unique opportunity to thoroughly explore a well preserved Crusader fortification. There are seven different levels within the castle and visitors can wander through vaulted passageways and dungeons. Bringing a torch can help with navigating some of the smaller and darker passageways. The castle kitchens contain an olive press and ovens, and there is also a partially ruined chapel to be seen.
The glacis and the keep are particularly impressive: marvel at the steep slopes and how thick the walls of the keep were.
There is a museum located on a lower floor of the castle, and one route leads onto the keep, which provides spectacular views. Visitors can look across the Dead Sea and out to the Mount of Olives, bordering on Jerusalem, on clearer days.
The castle is open year-round, with slightly shorter houses from October to March.
Getting to Kerak Castle
The town of Kerak is a couple of kilometres away from the intersection between Route 50 and Route 35: It’s about 2 hours drive from Amman and an hour from the Dead Sea. Public buses are infrequent and sporadic, and not recommended if you want to get anywhere in a timely manner.
Original 3d image byJames Blake Wiener. Uploaded by James Blake Wiener, published on 14 November 2018. Please check the original source(s) for copyright information. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms.
Wiener, J. B. (2018, November 14). Kerak Castle in Jordan. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/image3d/359/kerak-castle-in-jordan/
Wiener, James Blake. "Kerak Castle in Jordan." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 14, 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/image3d/359/kerak-castle-in-jordan/.
Wiener, James Blake. "Kerak Castle in Jordan." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 14 Nov 2018. Web. 17 Jun 2021.
Exploring Castles in Jordan
When we were researching our travels in Jordan, we didn&rsquot just want to see the big places like the Dead Sea and Jerash. We wanted to make sure that we got to travel as deep in the country as possible. There were things that sat way at the top of our list of places to visit in Jordan. Visions of strolling through vast Roman ruins and riding horses along spectacular cliff dwellings filled our minds. This small middle eastern country had so much more in store for us than we expected. It turns out though that exploring the castes in Jordan was one of the most surprisingly fun things to do in Jordan.
The castles of Jordan are dotted throughout the harsh desert landscape of Jordan. They serve as a reminder of the incredible and vast history of this country. Some of the castles were desert homes to the wealthy elite. Some were Crusader castles in Jordan, home to the elite Knights Templar. Other castles in Jordan were luxurious bathhouses catering to nobility. We visited as many as possible during our week in Jordan. Here we lay out the 5 of the most incredible castles in Jordan for you!
KARAK CASTLE: OUR EXPERIENCE
The arrival to Karak Castle is quite imposing. We were driving through yet another unimpressive Jordanian city and all of a sudden the views opened up, and we could see the famous Crusader castle, Karak.
We drove uphill to the entrance, where we parked our car. The parking is free, and from here the official entrance is only two minutes' walk.
If you are hungry, on the opposite side of the parking lot are several restaurants. We did not have much time, so we headed to the gate, where we were asked for our Jordan Pass, and immediately were let in.
Just behind the gate are guides who will offer you their services for 10 JD.
It is only up to you if you prefer to hear more about the architecture and history from a local. We usually prefer to wander around alone, and also there are quite many information boards in Karak, which we found sufficient.
Karak is a fine example of bland of European, Byzantine, and Arab architectural styles, and even though the site is not in the best conditions, we were pleasantly surprised how some of the structures, and especially the underground parts are well-preserved.
By visiting Karak Castle, we quickly got an idea of how perfect was this place for military purposes as we could see really far from the top of the hill.
We crossed a bridge and entered the complex via Ottoman's Gate. Then, inside the castle we walked freely around, first, we visited the rooms which are above the ground, later we got lost in the maze of underground passageways and underground rooms.
Historians were able to describe the castle quite thoroughly, and thanks to it we could get a sense of how life in a Crusader castle must have looked like.
We walked around stables, barracks, kitchens, and even sites which used to be Crusader church, or Mamluk mosque. We spent most of the time in dimly-lit passages, exploring every nook of Karak Castle, which was actually very pleasant as we could escape the outside heat.
If you plan on traveling King's Highway, we strongly recommend you to visit Karak Castle, this place is truly wonderful, and you will enjoy your time no matter if you are a solo traveler or if you are getting around Jordan with your family.
Karak Castle has a charm for everyone who loves old architecture and the medieval atmosphere.
Kerak CastleView all photos
Constructed high on an urban hilltop in the mid-12th century, Kerak Castle was designed to provide a watchful eye and iron fist over the traders and travelers crossing the lands between the Dead Sea, Damascus, Egypt, and Mecca.
Kerak’s strategic location made it the target of many sieges, some more successful than others. The castle stood to see both Christian and Muslim rule, including a stint under the control of the legendary Saladin. In popular culture, Kerak Castle is notable for its part in the 2005 Ridley Scott film, Kingdom of Heaven.
The structure is an early example of a fortified Frankish Crusader Castle, using elements of European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Over the centuries, the castle grew with representative additions from its Christian, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman lords. Today, the Crusader architecture exists mostly on the upper level of the castle and is identified by its dark, rough volcanic rock, while the later Arab additions are made from white limestone.
The town of Kerak, located on the ancient King’s Highway between Amman and Aqaba, was once known as the Kingdom of Moab, as mentioned in the Bible. Over two millennia old, Kerak was home to the Nabateans, Romans, and the Byzantines before the Crusaders took it over.
Know Before You Go
Al-Karak lies 87 miles south of Amman on the King's Highway. Kerak Castle is open daily. Bring good shoes and a flashlight—parts of the castle are crumbling and dimly lit.
Kerak was the stronghold of Raynald of Châtillon, Lord of Oultrejordain, 124 km south of Amman.  The fortress was built in 1142 by Pagan the Butler, Lord of Montreal.  While Raynald ruled, several truces existed between the Christian and Muslim states in the Holy Land, none of which he made any qualms about breaking. Raynald raided caravans that were trading near the Kerak castle for years. Raynald’s most daring raid was an 1182 naval expedition down the Red Sea to Mecca and El Medina.  He continuously plundered the Red Sea coast and threatened the routes of pilgrims to Mecca in spring 1183. He captured the town of Aqaba, giving him a base of operations against Islam's holiest city, Mecca. Saladin, a Sunni Muslim and the leader of the Muslim forces, decided that the Kerak castle would be an ideal target for a Muslim attack, especially due to it being a block on the route from Egypt to Damascus. 
The Muslims had sought to take Kerak for several years, but now they stretched its defenses to the breaking point. There had long been plans of Baldwin’s half-sister Isabella to marry Reynald’s stepson in the fall of 1183. When Saladin learned of this, he prepared a siege with his large army and eight siege catapults. 
Inside the walls, a royal marriage was taking place. Humphrey IV of Toron, Raynald's stepson and heir, was to take the hand of Isabella of Jerusalem, the King's half sister. At first, food was brought out to Saladin, so he told the soldiers to not fire at the tower where the wedding was taking place. This could have been due to courtesy, or because he did not want to harm the potentially two most expensive hostages. According to the historian Ernoul, “Etiennette, mother of the young bridegroom, sent out to Saladin a present of bread and meat and wine, with a message that gave him greeting and reminded him that he once in his youth had been a prisoner in Kerak, and had, as a slave, carried her when a child in his arms." Saladin was touched by the message and ordered his army to not attack that specific tower.  Messengers managed to escape the town and take word to the King, Baldwin IV who was in Jerusalem at the time. In the following days, the Muslim forces aggressively went after Kerak's walls. They continuously sent stones and missiles through, damaging buildings on the inside. 
Baldwin immediately marched with a relief force, accompanied by his regent, Raymond III of Tripoli. A beacon was promptly lit on David 's Tower in Jerusalem as a sign that help was coming to relieve the siege.  Although suffering from leprosy since childhood, Baldwin's determination to frustrate Saladin's attempt was such that he led personally, although he had to be carried on a stretcher. In early December, Saladin got news that King Baldwin's army was on the way. Upon learning of this, he abandoned the siege and fled to Damascus. 
In the following spring of 1184, Saladin advanced through Amman, and again attacked Kerak on August 13. A relieving army arrived once again arrived to save Kerak after three weeks of Saladin's army attacking the walls with their engines.  Kerak remained a Crusader stronghold and a symbol of the West's grip in the region until falling to Muslim control in 1188.  The next time the Crusaders had to contend with a major siege, it was at the walls of Jerusalem itself.
The motion picture Kingdom of Heaven, where Balian is played by Orlando Bloom and Ghassan Massoud plays Saladin, contains a fictional portrayal of the siege.  In the film, knights under the command of Balian engaged the Ayyubids as they approached Kerak, so that defenseless citizens could retreat to Raynald's castle. The film also showed the siege not taking place, but King Baldwin IV and Saladin negotiating a settlement. Baldwin then punished Raynald for breaking the truce (with Saladin) by attacking a Muslim caravan.
There is also a "Siege of Kerak" soundtrack in the game Crusader Kings II. 
Kerak Castle - Crusader Castle
Karak Castle is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. The best preserved are underground and can be reached via a massive door. More imposing than beautiful, the castle is nevertheless an impressive insight into the architectural military genius of the Crusaders.
With some care, you can walk along the crenellated top of the West Front wall and admire the sweeping view. On clear days, you can look across the Dead Sea and see all the way to the Mount of Olives bordering Jerusalem.
Away from the castle, visitors can visit the Castle Plaza, where beautiful 19th century Ottoman administrative buildings have been redesigned to house a tourist centre, with restaurants, a crafts centre and other facilities grouped around a central plaza.
The famous Arab traveller Ibn Battuta wrote in his travel report that, in 1326, Karak could only be entered through a tunnel hewn in rock. The entrances to two such tunnels (which are now blocked) are still visible &ndash a large one next to the road approaching Karak from the southeast (Salah ad-Din Street) and a smaller one near Baybars&rsquo Tower.
The two most impressive towers (&lsquoburj&rsquo in Arabic) of Karak are Burj Al-Banawi, a round tower bearing a monumental inscription adorned by two panthers, the emblem of Sultan Baybars Burj As-Sa&rsquoub, a small fortress in its own right and Burj Az-Zahir Baybars (or Baybars' Tower), a massive structure resembling the castle keep.
Karak is still a largely Christian town, and many of today's Christian families trace their origins back to the Byzantines.
Mysterious Templar tunnels under Kerak castle
The Knights Templar have a reputation for loving tunnels. And theories abound as to whether these were just for military purposes – or did they have a deeper significance? Probably the most atmospheric Templar tunnels I’ve seen were at the castle of Kerak in Jordan – that I visited in 2013.
Templar castle riddled with tunnels
Kerak is a crusader castle in modern day Jordan from which the notoriously cruel crusader Raynald of Chatillon used to throw people off the battlements. And believe me, you wouldn’t have survived the fall. Rayland – sometimes spelt Reynald – was a minor noble by birth who got lucky through marriage.
He was wildly ambitious and notoriously cruel. When the Patriarch of Antioch, Aimery of Limoges, challenged Raynald – the fiery knight had no respect for the fact Aimery was a high ranking church prelate. He had him stripped, beaten, covered in honey and then left in the sun to be fed on by insects.
When Saladin captured Raynald – it took him no time having the wild man beheaded. An execution that Saladin performed himself.
Kerak Castle, a visit inspired by „Kingdom of Heaven” movie
Kerak Castle, Jordan
After four days in Aqaba, enjoying the Red Sea, we rented a car and started to drive back to Amman. We had a lot of objectives on our map, mostly castles, and we manged to see only the most important of them. So, our first objective was Kerak Castle, an old Crusader forteress oppened in 1142 to oversee the commercial roads between Jerusalem, Damascus, Mecca and Egypt.
From Aqaba we took the highway following the western part of the country, near the border with Israel. It’s the fastest way to reach Kerak (Al-Karak), 250 km drive away, and we needed to be fast to be able to see the castle before 16:00 when the visiting hours were ending. So, we left Aqaba at 12:00, stopped for lunch on the highway and then driving to Kerak.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
To reach Kerak, you have to drive for almost an hour outside the highway up on the mountain. So, small damaged roads with endless curves are waiting for you. If you have a bad stomach, think twice before doing this part. :p
However, once up on the mountain, in the middle of the castle ruins, you are in the right position to thank God you took the journey. You can see everything from up there, Al Karak city below and the roads looking like a small part of Transfăgărășan road in Romania. Basically, you have a 360 degree view of the horizon! And if you happen to be there close to the sunset, the view it’s breathtaking.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
The place has a good energy and you may feel like staying for a while. So, if you have a day, just enjoy the castle and also the city.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
I am fascinated about old castles, hence for me it was a blessing being there and walking inside the rooms preserved after so many centuries, and imagine how everything used to look like at that time. Even if most of them where built as strategic points of defense, I still find them fascinating.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
Kerak Castle, Jordan
But why Kerak Castle?
Well, I am a huge fan of the famous movie „Kingdom of Heaven”. One of the most important battles of that time was in this area between Saladin, the frist sultan of Syria and Egypt and the conqurer of the Kingdom of Jerusalim from the Christian’s commands, and Raynald of Châtillon, prince of Antioch. Even if the movie was not shot there, I wanted to see the place and step into the energetic footprints of the people fighting for a „kingdom of conciousness” they understood at that time it’s made by stones and buildings.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
In fact, if we are looking at the root cause of the current wars we are facing today, we can easily see we are not that far from them. We are fighting in diffrent countries for material things like land and properties, in the name of the same God that we, as human beings, understood He promised us a material kingdom. And if we look at Kerak Castle or other points of defence in history, we can understand what will be left from today’s wars. Only ruins and a history painted by the ones in a powerful position.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
As I see it, the only way out from all the ancient patterns we are repeating over and over again is by rasing our level of counciousness, which will take us out of this reality to build the Kingdom of Heaven as it should be: a kingdom of counciousness embodied in human beings led by their inner voice of their true nature manifested as kindness and compassion for their own phisical manifestaion and for all the other beings around.
Kerak Castle, Jordan
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A mere 140 kilometres from Amman, this city, which is built on a triangular plateau, is rich with history and is home to one of the three largest ancient castles in the region.
The town of Kerak lies east of the Dead Sea, marking roughly the halfway point through the king’s highway. Its crusader castle, the largest in the kingdom, was built for military purposes, and as such is not covered with decorative frills, and is a pure example of architectural and military traditions of that time. Its galleries, towers, chapels and ramparts still echo with the resolve of the Crusaders who built them almost a thousand years ago.
Situated at the narrow southern tip, lies the focal point of Kerak Kerak Castle. The city is surrounded by valleys on three sides, towering majestically at 1,000 meters above sea level. Known to have been inhabited since the Iron Age, this was an important city for the Moabites followed by being identified as a quick stop for Syrians migrating to Palestine. The area then fell under the power of the Nabateans, followed by the Byzantine Empire, where it remained a Christian town under Arab leadership.
This significant landmark is well worth a visit, if only for its legacy. Built in 1142 by Paganus the Butler, the castle was erected to replace Shobak as the heart of TransJordan and was deemed a significant castle in a series of fortresses built between the cities of Jerusalem and Aqaba. Flash forward to post World War I, AlKarak was administered by the British Empire until the Emirate of Transjordan was established in 1921. The castle displays glorious Crusader architecture and design complete with deep vaults, winding passageways, and formidable doorways. With time it further evolved to include Arab additions in white limestone. After a quick stop at the ticket booth, visitors can either take the dark steps leading down to the destination’s vaulted rooms or may choose to walk around the upper courtyard, which includes remains of a Crusader chapel.