Perched in a wild, remote landscape, Shobak Castle wins over even the most castle-weary, despite being less complete than its sister fortification at Karak. Formerly called Mons Realis (the Royal Mountain), it was built by the Crusader king Baldwin I in AD 1115. Restoration work is ongoing and hopefully this will include some explanatory signs. In the meantime, the caretaker shows visitors around for about JD10. Bring a torch for exploring the castle’s many dark corners.
Built on a small knoll at the edge of a plateau, Shobak Castle is especially imposing when seen from a distance. It withstood numerous attacks from the armies of Saladin before succumbing in 1189 (a year after Karak), after an 18-month siege. It was later occupied in the 14th century by the Mamluks, who built over many of the Crusader buildings. As you climb up from the entrance, there are some wells on the left. Soon after passing these, you’ll see the reconstructed church , one of two in the castle, down to the left. It has an elegant apse supported by two smaller alcoves. The room leading off to the west was the baptistery ; on the north wall there are traces of water channels leading from above.
Returning to the main path, turn left. After passing under the arches, a door leads into the extensive market . Turn left and descend 375 steps into an amazing secret passageway that leads to a subterranean spring, finally surfacing via a ladder outside the castle, beside the road to Shobak town. Tread carefully, use a torch and don’t even think about coming down here if you’re claustrophobic. Alternatively, continue past the tunnel for 50m and you’ll pass a large two-story building with archways, built by the Crusaders but adapted by the Mamluks as a school. At the northern end of the castle is the semicircular keep with four arrow slits. Outside, dark steps lead down to the prison . Head to the northeast corner of the castle to see Quranic inscriptions, possibly dating from the time of Saladin, carved in Kufic script around the outside of the keep.
Following south along the eastern perimeter, you’ll pass the entrance to the court of Baldwin I, which has been partly reconstructed. The court was later used as a Mamluk school. Continuing south, you’ll pass some baths on the right. Off to the left is a reconstructed Mamluk watchtower . Just past the tower is the second church. On a room to the left as you enter, you can see above a door in the east wall a weathered carving of a Crusader cross. In the church proper, the arches have been reconstructed. Beneath the church are catacombs , which contain Islamic tablets, Christian carvings, large spherical rocks used in catapults and what is said to be Saladin’s very simple throne. From the catacombs, the path leads back to the gate.
Kerak Castle is a large crusader castle located in al-Karak Jordan.. It is one of the largest crusader castles in the Levant. Construction of the castle began in the 1140s, under Pagan,Fulk, King of Jerusalem's butler. The Crusaders called it Crac des Moabites or "Karak in Moab.",
Pagan was also Lord of Oultrejordan 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 Deadsea, 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 Phillip of Miiy, 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 Chatillon gained possession of Kerak Castle after marrying Stephanie of milly, the widow of Humphrey III of Toron (and daughter-in-law of Humphrey ll of Toron. From Kerak Castle, Raynald harassed the tradecamel 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 lV of Toron and Isabella l of JerusalemI, 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 lV of Jerualem.
After the Battle of Hattin in 1187, Saladin besieged Kerak Castle again and finally captured it in 1189. In 1263, the Mamluk Sultan, Baibars, enlarged and built a tower on the northwest corner.
Kerak Castle was besieged again in 1834 by a rebel leader of the peasants 'revolt in Palestine. In 1840, lbrahim Pasha of Egypt captured the castle and destroyed much of its fortifications. In 1844, his troops, who did not have control over the surrounding countryside, came under siege. They were eventually starved out and many were killed.
During the Ottoman empire, it played an important role due to its strategic location on the crossroads between the ArabianPeninsula, Egypt and greater Syria.
In 1893, the Ottoman authorities reestablished control over the area by appointing a mutasarrif (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 gun powder. 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.[
The castle extends over a southern spur of the plateau. It is a notable example of Crusader architecture, a mixture of west European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Its walls are strengthened with rectangular projecting towers and long stone vaulted galleries are lighted only by arrowlits. The castle has a deep moat that isolated it from the rest of the hill on the West. Such a moat is a typical feature of spur castles. The steep slopes of the spur are covered by a glacis. 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.
In the lower court of the castle is the Karak Archaeological Museum, which was newly opened in 2004 after renovation work. It introduces 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.
Qasr Kharana , sometimes Qasr al-Harrana, Qasr al-Kharanah, Kharaneh or Hraneh, is one of the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) east of Amman and relatively close to the border with Saudi Arabia. It is believed to have been built sometime before the early 8th century AD, based on a graffito in one of its upper rooms, despite visible Sassanid influences. A Greek or Byzantine house may have existed on the site. It is one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in the region.
Its purpose remains unclear today. "Castle" is a misnomer as the building's internal arrangement does not suggest a military use, and slits in its wall could not have been designed for arrowslits. It could have been a caravanserai, or resting place for traders, but lacks the water source such buildings usually had close by and is not on any major trade routes.
It remains very well preserved, whatever its original use. Since it is located just off a major highway and is within a short drive of Amman, it has become one of the most visited of the desert castles. Archaeologist Stephen Urice wrote his doctoral dissertation, later published as a book, on Qasr Kharana, based on his work restoring the building in the late 1970s.
The castle is just south of Highway 40, an important desert road that links Amman with Azraq, the Saudi Arabian border and remote areas of Eastern Jordan and Iraq. It sits on a slight rise just 15 metres (49 ft) above the surrounding desert. The only other structures in the area are power lines.
The area is fenced off with a visitors' center on the southeast corner, where the main entrance to the castle area is located. An unpaved driveway leads from the highway to a dirt parking lot large enough for cars and several buses located just south of the entrance.
The building itself is a square 35 metres (115 ft) on each side, with small projecting corner towers and a projecting rounded entrance on the south side. It is made of rough Limestone blocks set in a mud-based mortar. Decorative courses of flat stones run through the facing.
On the inside the building has 60 rooms on two levels arranged around a central courtyard , with a rainwater pool in the middle. Many of the rooms have small slits for light and ventilation. Some of the rooms are decorated with pilasters, medallions and blind niches finished in plaster.] A graffito in one of the upstairs rooms has allowed the building to be dated to c. 710.
Qasr Kharana combines different regional traditions with the influence of the then-new religion of Islam to create a new style. Syrian building traditions influenced the design of the castle, with Sassanid building techniques applied.The site made it necessary to modify those building techniques slightly. The arches are not connected to the carrying wall, instead placed on bearing arms. The overall weight of the structure keeps these elements together. Some newer building materials, such as woodenlintels, were used, allowing the building to be more flexible and resist earthquakes.The layout follows Syrian houses, themselves influenced by Byzantine and Roman customs. Several rooms are arranged around asaloon, with the house and another apartment arranged around a central courtyard. Like Sassanid buildings, the castle's structural system is transverse arches supporting barrel vaults.
Islamic concepts of public and private were satisfied through the narrow slits offering views to (and from) the outside, larger windows on the inside and the north terrace separating the two apartments. A room on the south side was set aside for prayer.
The wall slits could not have been used by archers as they are the wrong height and shape. Instead they served to control dust and light and took advantage of air pressure differentials to cool the rooms, via the Venturi affect.
The castle was built in the early Umayyed period by the Umayyad caliph Walid l whose dominance of the region was rising at the time. Qasr Kharana is an important example of early Islamic art and architecture.
Scholarship has suggested that Qasr Kharana might have served a variety of defensive, agricultural and/or commercial agendas similar to other Umayyad palaces in greater Syria. Having a limited water supply it is probable that Qasr Kharana sustained only temporary usage. There are different theories concerning the function of the castle: it may have been a fortress, a meeting place for Bedouins (between themselves or with the Umayyad governor), or used as a caravenserai. The latter is unlikely as it is not directly on a major trade route of the period and lacks the groundwater source that would have been necessary to sustain large herds of camel.
In later centuries the castle was abandoned and neglected. It suffered damage from several earthquakes. Alois Musil rediscovered it in 1901, and in the late 1970s it was restored During the restoration some changes were made. A door in the east wall was closed, and some cement and plaster was used that was inconsistent with the existing material. Stephen Urice wrote his doctoral dissertation on the castle, published as a book, Qasr Kharana in the Transjordan, in 1987 following the restoration.
The castle is today under the jurisdiction of the Jordanian Ministry of Antiquities. The kingdom's Ministry of Tourism controls access to the site via the new visitor's center, charging an admission fee of JD2 to the site during daylight hours. A Bedouin merchant is also allowed to sell handcrafts and drinks in the parking lot, as at many other Jordanian tourist sites.
Inside, a large interpretive plaque in Arabic and English is located just inside the main entrance. Visitors are free to explore the entire building, although some of the corridors overlooking the courtyard on the second story do not have guardrails and those who walk there must be careful.
The Umayyad Desert Castles, of which the Desert Castles of Jordan represent a prominent part, are fortified palaces or castles in what used to be the Umayyed province of Bilad ash-Sham. Most Umayyad "desert castles" are scattered over the arid regions of eastern Jordan , with several more in Syria,Israel and the West Bank (Palestine).
To the left is unayyad Khalif Desert Castle.
The castles were built roughly between 660 and 750, under the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty who had made Damascus their new capital in 661; after 750 the capital moved to the newly-built Baghdad, and some of the buildings were never completed. The Umayyads erected a number of characteristic palaces, known in Arabic as qusur (pl.)/qasr (sing.), some in the cities and some along important roads, of which some are in the desert. The term "Desert Castle" is thus not ideal, since it artificially separates similar qusur according to their location. Jordan possesses at least one urban Umayyad qasr on the Citadel hill of Amman, while several qusur are located in Syria, the West Bank and Israel, either in cities (Jeusalem, Ramla), in relatively green areas ( Al-Sinnabra, Khirbat al-Minya), or indeed in the desert (Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi and Qasr al-Hayr al Sharqi Jabal Sais, Hishams Palace). The "desert castles" proper, i.e. isolated qusur built in arid regions, are chiefly located on the ancient trade routes connecting Damascus with Medina and Kufa.
The castles represent some of the most impressive examples of early Islamic art and Islamic architecture, and some are notable for including many figurative frescos and reliefs depicting people and animals, less frequency found in later Islamic art on such a large and public scale. Many elements of the desert palaces are on display in museums in Amman, in Jerusalem's Rockefeller Museum.(decorations from Hisham's Palace) and the Pergamon Museum of Berlin (the Mshatta Facade).