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The famous Crusader stronghold Karak (or Kerak), later a Mamluk fortress, is an impressive example of military architecture, built on top of a ridge, separated from the old fortified town by a deep moat.
The place was one of the main settlements of the ancient Kingdom of Moab around the 9th century B.C. The Old Testament describes how the King of Israel and his allies besieged Kir Moab (or Kir Heres), as Karak was then known, but King Mesha's sacrifice of his first-born son averted the imminent defeat. After Nabataean domination at the beginning of the Common Era, the city became a regional center in Roman Arabia (under the name Characmoba), and a diocesan town during the Byzantine period. It is featured as a walled city on the Madaba mosaic map.
The imposing castle that visitors can admire today was built by the Crusaders in the mid-12 century A.D., and was the base of lord Raynald of Châtillon's reckless and cruel campaigns. Karak withstood several Muslim sieges, but finally fell into Saladin's hands in 1187. Under the rule of Mamluk sultan Baibars from 1264 on, the castle was substantially renovated with stronger fortifications and additions such as the fortress keep at the north.
Karak is a large wedge-shaped building of some 220 m length, 125 m width at the north end, and 40 m, at the southern end.
The two main building phases are Crusader (1142 - 1188 A.D.) and Mamluk (1263 - 1517 A.D.) Crusader masonry is characterized by the use of roughly cut dark rock material of the surroundings. The Ayyubidic-Mameluk builders used a greyish-yellowish limestone from a more distant quarry, cut into rectangular blocks. With this color key, the northern and eastern parts of the complex can be roughly recognized as Crusader work, the keep or fortified residence in the south of the castle, and the lower bailey in the west, as Ayyubidic-Mameluk, although they rest in part upon Crusader foundations.
The massive north front is strengthened by two corner towers. To the left of the modern visitors' entrance one can see the original postern or secondary gate concealed between tower and wall, which used to be accessed across a wooden bridge spanning the north ditch.
The east front has four towers, and a steep masonry slope or glacis running around the bottom of the outer wall from the middle of the east front to the south.
The castle is built on two main defensive levels, separated by an inner wall. The upper court contains the main buildings, such as the Crusader church, the Mamluk keep, palace and mosque. The lower bailey with its row of underground galleries seems to have been principally used for storage and defense. The monumental entrance on the west wall during Mamluk times can only be recognized from outside of the castle. One gallery houses the Archaeological Museum.
Karak Castle and Museum
via King's Highway
approx. 125 km south of Amman,
90 km south of Madaba
Summer: 8 am - 6:30 pm
April - May: 8 am - 5:30 pm
November - April: 8 am - 4 pm
Ramadan: 8 am - 3:30 pm