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JORDAN

Karak

 

Crusaders’ Castle

Rough Guide to Jordan, 6th edition

REYNALD OF Chatillon was not a nice man nor, as it turned out, an especially smart one. “A ruthless warrior who arrived in the Holy Land in 1147 on the Second Crusade,” says the 6th edition of the Rough Guide to Jordan, “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.”

Reynald’s headquarters was the fortress of Karak, about 125 kilometres south of modern Amman on the King’s Highway, which is also the route to Jordan’s best-known historic site, Petra. Reynald’s reign was “characterized by wanton cruelty: not only did he throw prisoners from the castle walls, he encased their heads in boxes first, in the hope that this would stop them from losing consciousness before they hit the rocks below.”

Reynald lived in Karak for a decade, withstanding sieges and breaking promises, until, in 1187, “the Crusaders, stymied by the strategic ineptitude of Reynald and others, were defeated at the Battle of Hattin. The victorious Salah-ad-Din characteristically spared the king and the Crusader lords—all apart from Reynald, whom he personally decapitated.”

The ruins of Karak, built in 1142 after the successful First Crusade, are among the best-preserved of any Crusader castle in the Middle East, occupying a rocky spur with sheer cliffs on three sides. “The castle has seven levels,” says the guidebook, “some buried deep inside the hill, and the best way to explore it is to take a torch and simply let your inquisitiveness run free: it’s quite possible to spend two or three atmospheric hours poking into dark rooms and gloomy vaulted passageways.”

The guidebook recommends dropping into the castle for a visit, but not staying the night in Karak town, with its “below-par hotels.” Instead, “press onwards to more enticing destinations—Madaba to the north, Dana or Petra to the south.”

 

www.roughguides.com

 

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