On our way down the King's Highway to Petra a couple weeks ago, we stopped for a few hours in Karak. Karak is a busy town atop an isolated hill which is still encircled by Crusader walls. Once again, allow me to defer to The Rough Guide to Jordan for a little bit of history:

"The huge and well-preserved Crusader castle which occupies the southern tip of the hill is one of the finest in the Middle East, second only to Syria's Krak des Chevaliers for explorability. The hill on which Karak stands--with sheer cliffs on three sides and clear command over the Wadi Karak leading down to the Dead Sea (features which both the Old Testament and Madaba's Byzantine mosaic map mention) is a natural defensive stronghold. The Crusaders began building a fortress on a rocky spur atop the hill in 1142.

The castle's construction was initiated by the knights of the successful First Crusade, but its eventual downfall is inextricably linked with the personalities of those who came later, specifically Reynald of Chatillon. A ruthless warrior who arrived in the Holy Land in 1147 on the Second Crusade, Reynald was both vicious and unscrupulous, and it was specifically to avenge his treachery that the Muslim commander, Salah ad-Din, launched a campaign to expel the foreign invaders.

I would NOT want to be thrown down those walls...
Safely ensconced in Karak, Reynald began a reign characterized by wanton cruelty: one of his more notorious pleasures involved encasing the heads of his prisoners in wooden boxes so that, when he flung them off the castle walls, he could be sure that they hadn't lost consciousness by the time they hit the rocks below. In 1180, he robbed a Mecca-bound caravan on the King's Highway in violation of a truce; Salah ad-Din was forced to swallow his anger until a suitable time for revenge could be found. A prime opportunity presented itself three years later.

In 1183, the wedding of Reynald's heir was celebrated within the walls of Karak castle at the very moment that Salah ad-Din and his army, having already invaded the town, were poised just beyond the north moat ready to attack. Reynald's wife, Lady Stephanie, sent plates of food from the banquet to the Muslim army beyond the walls; in response, while his men were trying to bridge the moat and catapulting rocks against the walls, Salah ad-Din enquired which tower the newlyweds were occupying. In an expression of his impeccable chivalry, he then ordered his army to direct their fire elsewhere.

Statue of Salah ad-Din in downtown Karak.
Karak withstood that siege, but at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, the Crusaders, stymied the strategic ineptitude of Reynald and others, were defeated. The victorious Salah ad-Din characteristically spared the king and the Crusader lords--all apart from Reynald, who he personally decapitated. The besieged Crusader garrison at Karak held out for months; they sold their wives and children in exchange for food, and resorted to eating horses and dogs. But surrender was inevitable. Karak capitulated in November 1188.

Ayyubid and Mamluke occupiers of the castle rebuilt and strengthened its defenses. Under the Ottomans, anarchy was the ruler than than the exceptions. During a rebellion in 1879, Karaki Christians abandoned their town, moving north to settle among the ruins of ancient Madaba. In 1894, troops finally imposed order but Karak's ruling families--among them, the Majali clan--remained restless. In 1908 they rallied a local force and stormed Karak's government buildings, forcing the Ottoman garrison to seek refuge in the castle. After eight days, troops arrived from Damascus, publicly executed the rebel leaders and declared the Majalis outlaws. Even today, Karak retains a reputation for political activism, yet--a little ironically, considering the family history--the Majalis are now at the heart of the Jordanian establishment, boasting government officials and even a prime minister or two among their number."

Probably a lot more than you wanted or cared to know about this castle, but the history buff in me was positively giddy here. All pictures from our visit can be found in photos #26-57 of this album.

Beautiful sunset to end the day. Now on to Petra!


Post a Comment

© Raesevelt All rights reserved . Design by Blog Milk Powered by Blogger