Aaah, those desert castles in Jordan…they’ll bring out the Lawrence of Arabia in nearly everyone!
And perhaps the most stunning of all of the desert castles in Jordan is Kerak Castle (also known as Al-Karak)…
Whichever direction you approach the fortified city and castle of Kerak from it looks both formidable and imposing. So it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that Kerak Castle was built by the Crusaders and that it has remained virtually intact for many centuries.
Much of the adjoining city features some original Ottoman buildings that have been restored and turned into guest houses and eateries. Cute as they are, however, they are all overshadowed by the imposing structure of the castle itself situated on the hill overlooking the city and some 900 meters above sea level.
A long and chequered history
Reliable sources confirm that there has been a fortress on the site since biblical times when Israel and their Judean allies brought a siege against King Mesha of Moab. It was hundreds of years later in the 12th century that the Crusaders spent 20 years building the castle, the remains of which stand to this day.
A prime target
Completed in 1161, the first resident of Kerak Castle was the Lord of Transjordan with the area establishing itself as one of the most profitable and influential provinces in the region. Heavy taxes and the produce of the fertile area were a recipe for success and many enviable eyes saw the town as a prize to be seized. Hence a number of unsuccessful sieges of the castle in its early days.
The area fared less well under the rule of Reynald of Chatillon who took no time at all in establishing himself a dubious and fearful reputation for barbarism and recklessness. From looting Mecca-bound pilgrim caravans to breaking treaties, he soon attracted the unwelcome attention of the powerful ruler Saladin.
The much-irked ruler wasted little time in taking the town and burning it down following an eight-month siege. The castle itself remained impenetrable but Reynald was captured and treated to the dubious honor of execution by Saladin himself.
The area became an on-going arena for inter-kingdom power struggles even after it passed back into Muslim control. Following extensive renovation work to the fortifications and the addition of huge towers, the only access into the structure was via a series of underground tunnels.
The last time the castle was purposely used was as a prison under Turkish ownership, from 1894 until they too were ousted in 1918.
How to get to Kerak Castle
If you’re travelling from Amman you can make the 130 km journey in about two hours using the desert highway, unless you prefer the more scenic route of the King’s Highway. If you are in no particular hurry and want to take in the local sights, the old Dead Sea road takes longer but it offers a more interesting ride.
There is also a taxi from the Al-Abdali station, but these don’t set off until they have a full load of passengers.
Kerak Castle opening hours are 8 am – 4 pm October to March and extend to 7 pm April to September. The current admission price is 2JD, or FREE if you purchased the Jordan Pass.
And here’s a great taste of what to expect…