Echoes from the Past E01: Crusader Castle in Jordan

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Echoes from the Past

The Crown Jewel of all the castles built in Jordan during the Crusade times. The Castle has 16 towers, with the biggest being the tower of Baybars. Kerak Castle is an interesting place to visit, but it is far from its greatness. The sieges and ages throughout it stood, heavily damaged it.

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Everything is visible from al-Karak Castle. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots
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The ruins of palace in al-Karak castle. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Name Meaning of Kerak Castle

The name of the castle comes from the town it was built in, al Karak, Karak is taken from ancient times when Arameans been here, in Aramaic word Kharkha means town. It was often called by the Crusaders and in history books as Karak of Moab.

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Al-Karak Castle was fortified so many times what it was made almost impenetrable. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots
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Mesha Stele and the Bible are among very narrow list of Moab records in history. Photo by Louvre Museum / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

History of al-Karak

While the history of al-Karak castle itself dates to 1142 AD when the crusaders built it, the point where it stands dates almost to the very edges of known history of the humankind. After all, Jordan is among the countries where the known human history began.

Moabites in al-Karak

Before the al-Karak Castle, this area was controlled by Moabites, people who lived in the Eastern region to the Dead Sea. Karak was mentioned in the Bible several times in various names as Moabites were often in rivalry with their neighbor Israelites to the west of the Dead Sea.

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Israelite states were separated from Moab by the Dead Sea, just like Israel is separated from Jordan today. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Biblical Origins

According to the Book of Genesis, both Moabites and Ammonites are Lot’s sons born to his daughters after the incest. Though poor Lot had not much to do because his daughters got him really drunk. Apparently, the girls did so because they were afraid that their bloodline will end.

Actual Facts

Based on historical inscriptions, Mesha, the King of Moabites, built a castle as a temple for their God Chemosh in 850 BC. The name translates to either “destroyer”, “subduer” or “fish-god” which could make sense if the Moabites were, in fact, the sons of Lot who witnessed an unearthly powerful destructive force once he fled Sodom and Gomorrah. You don’t want to upset whoever is responsible for that destruction, don’t you?

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According to Mesha Stelle, Chemosh got angry with people of Moab and he let them to be subdued by Israelites. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots
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Throughout ages, the rulers of the castle built many layers on top of it. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Kerak Castle under Crusaders

Little is known what happened to the Moabian Temple of Chemosh, but apparently, Franks built an impenetrable castle on it in 1142 AD. It instantly became the center of the region, replacing less fortified Montreal Castle to the South. It was built under Fulk, the King of Jerusalem and Pagan, the Lord of Oultrejordain. With the taxes imposed on passing caravans and the food grown in the region, the newly built castle helped Jerusalem to prosper.

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Al-Karak castle was built on the top of Moab Temple. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Fall of al-Karak Castle to Ayyubid Dynasty

After marriage with a widow of Humphrey III of Toron, Stephanie of Milly, Reynold of Chatillon became the Lord of Karak Castle in 1176 AD. Lusting for power, he harassed camel caravans and even attempted an attack on Mecca. This, of course, got the attention of Saladin, the Sultan of Syria and Egypt. He besieged the castle in 1183 AD but withdrew once the reinforcements from Jerusalem were close. He did the same in 1184 AD and after 4 weeks of a siege — the results were the same.

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Saladin Statue near al-Karak Castle. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots
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Before Kerak Castle was built, Montreal was the most important crusader fortress in the region. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Mamluk Warriors

Mamluks were warrior slaves in Arab armies since the 9th century, but they flourished under Ayyabid Dynasty after Saladin replaced Fatimids Sultanate infantry from North Africa to Central Asia’s Kipchak Turks. They were instantly transformed to Sunni Islam and went under a heavy training of Martial Arts and various teachings. Mamluks had higher status than other slaves and regular citizens. After the training, they were freed but had to remain loyal to their master. And so they did. Mamluks were very loyal & powerful troops.

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Al-Karak castle is one of the best examples of crusader castles wher eyou can see a mix of west European, Arab & Byzantine influence. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Mamluk Rise to Power

Nevertheless, sooner or later once you get some power, you start to want even more power. It is the destiny of the son to overthrow his father. That is exactly what happened in 1249 AD when Louis IX of France captured the city of Damietta in their attempt to conquest Egypt during the Seventh Crusade. The strategy to withdrew the defending forces from the city did not satisfy Mamluk leaders and this is how the struggle between Ayyabid Dynasty and the Mamluks started.

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Baibars tower is teh highest tower in the whole castle. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Rediscovery to Western Culture

Ever since little was known until Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt, the same guy who tricked the Bedouins into the discovery of Petra, passed by the al-Karak Castle, describing it as shattered, but imposed.

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Ridley Scott filmed in al-Karak Castle for 2005 movie “Kingdom of Heaven”. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Geography of al-Karak

It was built 950m above the sea level, on a strategically important point in the middle between Shoubak Castle and Jerusalem. It is one of the biggest crusader castles in the whole Levant, a territory in Syria and around. Because of its location just to the east of the Dead Sea, whoever ruled the Castle could control the trading routes going from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca.

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AL-Karak Castle is shattered, but imposed. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots
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Travel Blogger, Web Designer & AMP Developer | Travel & History Journal: https://www.ctdots.eu | AMP Development & Web Design Tutorials: https://ampire.city

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