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Ajloun Castle (or Ajlun; Arabic: Qala'at ar-Rabad) one of the great examples of Islamic military architecture safeguarded the routes between Damascus and the south of Jordan, secured the safety of pilgrim and trade caravans traveling to the Hejaz, and also protected nearby iron mining operations - key to the manufacture of weapons.
The first stronghold was built on Saladin's order in 1183 by his nephew and commander Izz al Din Osama, as part of a major military tactic to stop the expansion of Crusader territory in the region.
Later, under the reign of succeeding Mamluk governors, a new tower and gate were added, and the northeast tower was revamped when the castle was used as an administrative center. After damages from a Mongol attack, restorations were done during the reign of Sultan Thaher Baybars between 1259 and 1277 AD.
The word "Ajlun" is a Semitic/Aramaic name from the root word "ajar", which refers to a round sloping place and can also mean a calf. Historic sources from the 9th century BC indicate that a Moabite king was named Ajlun. Byzantine era records also mention "Ajlun” in reference to a priest who resided in a monastery on the top of Mount 'Auf, which is where Ajlun castle sits today.
The castle stands 1,100 meters above sea level atop a hill. It has seven towers built of limestone blocks cut from the moat around the castle. Four of the towers were part of the original construction, while the fifth and sixth were built during the castle enlargements.
The L-shaped Tower 7 or Tower of Aybak (left from the entrance) was added to the building at its southeast corner for extra fortification. It is named after a governor, as stated in an Arabic inscription on one of the tower blocks: "In the name of God. This blessed tower was built by Aybak Ibn Abdullah, Master of the Greatest House, in the month of the Hijri year 611" (1214-15 AD). Each of the three levels of the tower had a different function. The lower level was used as sleeping quarters for soldiers. It is believed that the second level housed the castle mosque, as a specially carved stone located in one of the windows on that level is suspected to have been a mihrab. The third level of the tower was the palace.
The Ayyubids and Mamluks were skillful masons and masters of a remarkable roofing system composed of barrel or cross vaults. Some of these vaulting systems were used for very high ceilings, providing a sublime space underneath. Several spaces were also left unroofed to allow natural sunlight to penetrate into the different levels of the castle.
There are remains of a small church in the upper and oldest parts of the castle, with traces of the nave, presbytery and slot for a chancel screen, along with part of its mosaic floor. The mosaic floor representing loaves of bread and two fish includes a Greek inscription dedicated to the deacon Aryano. The discovery of this church reinforces historic sources stating that the castle was built on the ruins of a monastery.
The dry moat (fosse) is the first line of defense, which makes it difficult to reach the castle except through the gates; certainly the towers were of greatest significance, as soldiers were situated on the top to throw fire balls on attackers and observe all the roads leading to the castle. Arrow slits can be seen at various levels of the towers and are the most widespread feature of Ayyubid fortification. Box machicolations are gaps left in the floor between the supporting stone corbels above the main gates through which stones, boiling water and oil could be dropped on enemy soldiers.
Ajloun castle was supplied with water through a carefully engineered system that took advantage of the area's streams and springs.
The architects of the castle established a rain water catchment system within the castle area. This was made up of wells and stone containers to collect water, which was then transported via underground pipes and pipes inlaid into the castle walls.
The main cistern is located in the southeast part of the dry moat. It was water-proofed with a layer of lime plaster and had a capacity of 16.590 cubic meters. Water could be drawn from an opening in the center of the roof of the cistern or from a window in the angled entrance of the castle.
Rainwater and snow were filtered using a seven-tier system of small stones, sand, and special plants. This purification system was essential as the water was stored for long periods of time.
An innovative system was also in place for waste water drainage. Ceramic pipes inside the castle walls drained waste water into a pool outside. This pool was excavated and its contents included special salts brought from the Dead Sea; these were used to recycle the waste water for reuse in irrigation.
© Texts from signs displayed on site, authenticated by the Department of Antiquities.
3 km from the town of Ajloun
75 km northwest of Amman
30 km from Jerash
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