Located up the top of a giant hill in al-Kerak, thankfully this time accessible directly by car, is the large Crusader castle, Kerak Castle. Pagan the Butler, Lord of Oultrejordain, began construction of this desert fort in the 1140’s and is living proof that you can work your way up from the bottom, having literally been the King of Jerusalem’s butler earlier in his life.
The castle has seen a lot of action over the years. The famous Kurd, Salah ad-Din (Saladin), who led the Muslim forces against the Crusaders in the Levant and also founded the Ayyubid dynasty, besieged the castle numerous times with no luck. Ridley Scott’s 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson, contains a fictional portrayal of one of these sieges.
After trying to take the castle, Saladin went on to (amongst other things) defeat a crusader army at the Battle of Hattin and capture most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. His nephew (Sa’d Al-Din) was then able to take the castle in 1188.
Orlando was somewhere else the day we visited, so predictably Veronica lost interest soon thereafter. It might have had something also to do with the bitingly cold wind as well. Regardless, the sprawling site just begs to be explored and our kids loved looking around the nooks and crannies and during the odd braver moment, venturing into some of the dimly lit spaces.
Most recently, in 2016, the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked emergency responders, police patrols and the local police station in the city before seeking shelter in the castle. Tragically, 14 people were killed, including a Canadian tourist, and a further 37, including two Malaysian tourists, were injured.
As New Zealanders we were shocked by the recent terrorist attacks that occurred in Christchurch very recently and as such felt empathy for our Jordanian brothers have experienced. We also firmly believe that solidarity across people and religions is the way in which to confront these types of despicable attacks, which are founded in ignorance and based in hate.
Supposedly, Karak Castle hosts a sight and sound event, where the castle and its towers are lit by 50 lights and accompanied by a documentary film about the history of Karak and the many civilisations that have ruled since 800 BC, including Greek, Nabatean, Byzantine, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ayubbids and finally by the Ottoman rule in the 19th century. However, try as I might, I could find nothing further on this, except the rudimentary information posted on the Jordan Tourism Board website.
If planning a visit, it’s good to know that there is some street parking at the top of the hill near the castle. We parked outside a restaurant, with the help of the proprietor and felt compelled to buy some expensive and pretty average food there. However, we were able to use their toilets for free when we came back to avoid shelling out 0.7 JD per person for the public toilets just outside the castle. Given the cost of the castle entrance is only 2 JD per person (free for children under 15) or free with the Jordan Pass, this seems ridiculously high.
Visit complete, we were then able to trundle back down the mountain before heading off to our next stop in Wadi Musa.