Kerak Castle (Arabic: قلعة الكرك, romanizedQal'at al-Karak) is a large medieval castle located in al-Karak, Jordan. It is one of the largest castles in the Levant. Construction began in the 1140s, under Pagan and Fulk, King of Jerusalem. The Crusaders called it Crac des Moabites[1] or "Karak in Moab", as it is referred to in history books.[2] It was also colloquially referred to as Krak of the Desert.[3]

Kerak Castle
al-Karak, Jordan
Kerak Castle
Kerak Castle is located in Jordan
Kerak Castle
Kerak Castle
Coordinates31°10′50″N 35°42′05″E / 31.180556°N 35.701389°E / 31.180556; 35.701389
Site information
Controlled byOultrejordain; Ayyubids; Mamluk Sultanate; Ottoman Empire
Site history
In use1142–1917
Battles/warsSiege of Al-Karak (1183)
Garrison information
Pagan the Butler
Raynald of Châtillon

History Edit

Crusader period Edit

Pagan was also Lord of Oultrejordain and Kerak Castle became the centre of his power, replacing the weaker castle of Montreal to the south. Because of its position east of the Dead Sea, Kerak Castle was able to control bedouin herders as well as the trade routes from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca. His successors, his nephew Maurice and Philip of Milly, added towers and protected the north and south sides with two deep rock-cut ditches (the southern ditch also serving as a cistern). The most notable Crusader architectural feature surviving is the north wall, into which are built immense arched halls on two levels. These were used for living quarters and stables, but also served as a fighting gallery overlooking the castle approach and for shelter against missiles from siege engines.

In 1176 Raynald of Châtillon gained possession of Kerak Castle after marrying Stephanie of Milly, the widow of Humphrey III of Toron (and daughter-in-law of Humphrey II of Toron). From Kerak Castle, Raynald harassed the trade camel trains and even attempted an attack on Mecca itself. In 1183 Saladin besieged the castle in response to Raynald's attacks. The siege took place during the marriage of Humphrey IV of Toron and Isabella I of Jerusalem, and Saladin, after some negotiations and with a chivalrous intent, agreed not to target their chamber while his siege machines attacked the rest of the castle. The siege was eventually relieved by Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.

Saladin besieged Kerak again in 1184. Saladin attempted to fill the ditches that prevented siege engines from getting in range of the castle wall. However, just like the first siege of Kerak, Saladin and his men left before a reinforcing crusader army could come to the castle's aid. This siege only lasted four weeks.[4]

The last siege of the 12th century was led by Sa’d Al-Din, Saladin's nephew, in 1188. Unlike the sieges before it, the Muslim army was not under the threat of crusader reinforcements. The year before Saladin had defeated an outnumbered crusader army at the Battle of Hattin and therefore the crusaders could not gather enough troops to reinforce Kerak. The Muslim army cut off supplies to the castle, and Kerak surrendered several months after. When the castle had fallen, it is believed that it was due to lack of arms, not a lack of food. With the fall of Kerak, the Castle of Montreal, which had been replaced as the centre of the lordship by Kerak, surrendered soon afterward.[4]

Ayyubid period Edit

Under the Ayyubid Dynasty, Kerak served as the administration centre for all of the regions of Jordan. When Saladin's brother, al-'Adil was awarded control of the castle, he made it the site of one of his treasuries. Kerak would continue to serve as the home of a royal treasury for the remainder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. During some internal conflict by members of the Ayyubid Dynasty in the 1230s and 40s, Kerak was one of the three princedoms that was able to remain independent. The castle was retaken by the Egyptian Sultan al- Salih Ayyub in 1249.[5] Kerak was so important to the Ayyubids that it is recorded that only the governors of Kerak and Damascus were allowed to carry their official correspondences on red paper.

Under An-Nasir Dawud, much of the defenses of Kerak were expanded and improved in 1244-45.[5] In 1227, the Sultan of Damascus al-Mu'azzam 'Isa, commissioned the construction of a tunnel that ran from the castle into the town.[dubious ][citation needed]

Mamluk period Edit

By 1263, Kerak was under the rule of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars.[5] In 1263, the Mamluk sultan Baibars enlarged and built a tower on the northwest corner. Under the Mamluks, Kerak continued to remain an important administrative centre. Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir stated that the castle held four ministries: the ministry of the army, the ministry of finance, the ministry of Kerak and the chancery. Due to the castle's importance, it also maintained a significant military force, which under the rule of al-Mughith, contained at least 700 horsemen.[5]

Ottoman period Edit

A night view of the castle

During the Ottoman Empire, it played an important role due to its strategic location on the crossroads between the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and Greater Syria.

In 1834, the leaders of the peasants' revolt in Palestine took refuge in Kerak. Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt besieged the castle, and destroyed much of its fortifications in the process.[6]

In 1893, the Ottoman authorities reestablished control over the area by appointing a mutasarrıf (governor) resident in Kerak Castle with a garrison of 1400, including 200 cavalry. Parts of the castle were reused. Some of the destruction that had occurred to the structure was due to locals removing stones containing potassium nitrate ("saltpetre"), which is used to make gunpowder.[7] Medieval historian Paul Deschamps studied Crusader castles in the 1920s. Amongst the important research done by Deschamps, in 1929 he and architect Francois Anus created the first accurate plans of Kerak Castle.[8]

Jordan Edit

On December 18, 2016, the castle was the site of a terrorist attack. Fourteen people were killed and 34 were injured, the majority being Jordanian security forces and local civilians. A Canadian tourist was also killed.[9]

Architecture Edit

The upper court
The entrance to a tower in the castle that was added during the Mamluk Sultanate with the seal of Baibars - two lions - on it

Type and fortification Edit

Kerak Castle is an example of one of the first castles built by the Franks that used a fortified tower structure and is a notable example of Crusader architecture, a mixture of west European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Many early Frankish castles that predate Kerak were merely towers built along the crusader states during the early years of crusading. In the second half of the twelfth century, the growing Muslim threat made crusaders update their castle design and prioritize defensive elements.[10]

While Kerak Castle is a large and strong castle, its design is less sophisticated than that of concentric crusader castles like Krak des Chevaliers, and its masonry is comparatively crude. Many of its defenses were destroyed and rebuilt during its conquest by the Ayyubids and Mamluks.[8]

Kerak Castle is a prime example of a spur castle, a castle built on top of a mountain to take advantage of the natural topography, as it is built on the southern end of a plateau surrounded on three sides by steep hills. This had the advantage during a siege of concentrating an attack on only one side of the castle, so the defenders could locate most of their manpower there.[10]

The castle also used man-made fortifications, including ditches and thick stone walls. Because Muslim armies started to move with siege weapons such as siege engines, Frankish castles started adapting by building thicker and more solid walls.[11] A "Byzantine ditch", a ditch or moat to keep siege engines at a safer distance, was constructed near the castle. There is another ditch near the town which is much deeper but less wide, to the west of the castle (now almost completely filled-in).[12] It also has a glacis, an artificial slope made of steep, slippery masonry at the base of the walls that hindered attackers in their attempt to climb the walls and kept them exposed for longer to the defenders.[13]

Stonework Edit

The crusaders used rough-shaped volcanic stone to build large walls around the perimeter of the castle. After Sa'd al-Din captured Kerak, the Muslims used limestone from nearby quarries to repair and expand the castle.[12] Both the Muslim and Christian stonework show signs of draft masonry, stone blocks which are smooth on the edges, but the centre portion is left rough and raised.[14]

Towers Edit

The castle walls are strengthened with rectangular projecting towers, pointing to the fact that it was one of the earlier castles constructed by crusaders, it was only later on in the crusades that the transition to round towers in the curtain wall was made to help with visibility. At Kerak, the towers are much closer together than at other castles, theoretically to help with visibility problems. The towers were also placed at regular points along the wall; this is called the Byzantine tower structure—the square towers at Kerak are identical to the ones used by the Byzantine empire.[12]

Chapel Edit

A chapel was built on the east side of the castle, about half-way along the length of the curtain wall.[15]

Present day Edit

The lower court

While Kerak Castle had historically been used to protect the assets of crusader states in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, today its job is much more mundane. The city bordering on Kerak Castle is home to roughly 170,000 people and is a "lively tourist destination."[16] Many people travel along the ancient King's Highway to stop at Kerak on their way to other tourist sites.[16] in 1985 the World Heritage Committee decided that Kerak should not be an UNESCO site as there were "more representative examples of crusader castles".[17] This is in part because the castle is not in the best condition and there are multiple examples of crusader castles in the Transjordan that are in better repair.

In December 2016, Kerak was the target of a terrorist attack that left 14 dead, including two civilians and a Canadian citizen. It is said that after clashing with police, the terrorists withdrew into the castle and held civilian hostages.[9] There are not many references to Kerak Castle in popular-culture today, however it did play a large role in the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven.

The nearby Al Karak Archaeology Museum introduces the local history and archaeology of the region around Kerak Castle – the land of Moab – from prehistory until the Islamic era. The history of Crusaders and Muslims at Kerak Castle and town is introduced in detail. Originally located in the castle's Lower Court, the museum moved in 2019 to an historic Ottoman building just outside the castle and facing the main castle wall.[18]

Gallery Edit

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ Miller, Max (2020-01-15). Discover the Holy Land: A Travel Guide to Israel and Jordan. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-5326-6033-7.
  2. ^ Hindley, Geoffrey (2013-02-07). A Brief History of the Crusades. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4721-0761-9.
  3. ^ The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, 1910.
  4. ^ a b Lyons, M. C., and D. E. P. Jackson. Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  5. ^ a b c d Milwright, Marcus (April 2006). "Central and Southern Jordan in the Ayyubid Period: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives*". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 16 (1): 1–27. doi:10.1017/S1356186305005626. ISSN 2051-2066.
  6. ^ Rogan, E.L. (2002). Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850-1921. Cambridge University Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 9780521892230.
  7. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Report, (1896).
  8. ^ a b Kennedy (1994), pp. 5–6
  9. ^ a b Husseini, Rana (December 18, 2016). "Death toll in Karak attacks rises to 14, including four terrorists". Jordan Times. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b Rogers, Clifford J (2010). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ Fedden, Robin; Thomson, John (1957). Crusader Castles. John Murray Publishers Ltd.
  12. ^ a b c Kennedy, Hugh (1994). Crusader Castles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  13. ^ "Glacis". English Oxford Dictionary. Archived from the original on May 9, 2018.
  14. ^ Hampe, Jordan (2009). The Impact of Crusader Castle Upon European Western Castles in the Middle Ages (BA thesis). University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. hdl:1793/37568.
  15. ^ Kennedy (1994), p. 47
  16. ^ a b Board, Welcome to Jordan Tourism. "Karak". Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  17. ^ World Heritage Committee (1985). "Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage" (PDF). Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. p. 13. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Karak Archeology Museum". Retrieved 2023-05-03.

References Edit

31°10′50″N 35°42′05″E / 31.18056°N 35.70139°E / 31.18056; 35.70139