Advantages It's a crusader castle
Disadvantages A bit clinical and unatmospheric
|Is it worth visiting?|
Kerak (also rendered in English as Karak from the Arabic Al-Karak) is about 85 miles south of Amman on the Kings Highway. Having found the town , you cannot miss the castle. The town has grown up around the castle, which sits in the most defensible position at the narrow southern tip of a raised plateau, about 900 metres above sea level overlooking the main trade route between Egypt and Syria as it rounds a bend in topography.The place is associated with the biblical references to Kir (or Kir Moab or Kir Heres) and was known to the Romans as Characmoba.
Construction began in the 1140s under Pagan the Butler, who held Transjordan under Foulques (Count of Anjou & King of Jersusalem), who selected his site for its ability to control the trade routes from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca. As always, successors in title continued to strengthen the holding, adding towers and cutting through the bedrock to provide cloven ditches to the North.In 1176 Renauld de Châtillon gained possession of Karak through marriage and used the base to harass the trade caravans and, in contravention of existing treaties between the Muslim and Christian states, to organise an expedition around the Red Sea, capturing Aqaba before having the audacity to launch an attack on Mecca – a foolish move that brought down the wrath of Saladin himself. Saladin's siege in 1183 played host to one of the most famous incidents in the romantic history of chivalry.
The siege was eventually relieved by Isabella's half-brother King Baldwin IV but Saladin's forces were to finally capture it a few years later.There's mention of the fortifactions being strengthened in the 13th century, but then three of the towers fell to an earthquake.
It then seems to disappear from the historical record, languishing in a forgotten part of a country no longer in the forefront of world affairs until the mid-to-late 19th century.
Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt took it in 1840 and set about destroying the fortifications, but managed to hold it only for a few years.
Then again, the world seems to have moved on.
Unfortunately, I'm not that much of an anorak when it comes to mediaeval castles. It takes something a bit special to excite me... either an atmosphere, or a piece of history that I feel a connection to, or a legend... and for some reason or other Kerak just didn't hit it.Inside, you see what you'd expect to see: impressive vaulted corridors, which look much less so in the flash of photograph than in the dingy reality, high windows and shooting niches, that speak of long gone ceilings and floors, smoke dark kitchens with left-over grinding stones and putative ovens, a guide telling you what a given room was used for and symptoms that tend to make you (or me) think, well, I'm not so sure about that, chapels and churches. There are dark corridors cut into the rock, and the ruins of a domestic range of 'royal' apartments, believed to be of Nabatean date.
It's a strangely unatmospheric place.If you're staying in Kerak, you'll want to take it in, but even if you take your time to wander around the museum just inside the entrance (a good modern interpretation with lots of English language explanation covering the archaeology of the Karak region – the land of Moab – from the prehistoric period until the Islamic era), it won't detain you for more than a couple of hours.
There's little in the way of facilities within the castle, but as you're in the centre of town this shouldn't matter.The castle is open 8am to 4pm and the meagre entrance fee of JD1 for foreigners and 150Fils for the locals seems hardly worth the bother of collecting. I heartily approve of sites having differential pricing for locals and tourists, and whilst I disapprove of tourists being fleeced, I can't help thinking that the Jordanian tourist board can push the tourist price up a bit yet, before we'll start balking at paying it.
~(c) Lesley Mason
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