We wind up the Kings Highway from the Dead Sea to ancient Moab.
(No this is not a biblical tale! This is R and I, on our way to check out one of the largest crusader castles in Jordan :-))
As we crest a promontory, we spot the redoubt, straddling a strategic position atop a windswept ridge.
The crusades that started in 1095 to wrest control of the holy lands from the Selcuk Turks, led to the building of a string of fortifications along the Levant, a region bordering the Mediterranean, roughly between Egypt and Turkey, and including Syria, Israel and Jordan. A rugged landscape, bearing traces of some of the world’s oldest civilizations, that has been fought over for centuries.
The fortifications are supposed to have stretched from one end of the Levant to the other. Each in line of sight with the next, in order to be able to give the ‘all clear’ by means of beacons, from Aqaba on the Red sea, all the way to Jerusalem!
The Castle of Kerak, referred to by the crusaders as ‘Le Pierre du Desert’ or ‘Stone of the desert‘, is one of the finest of its type in existence (second only to the Crac des Chevaliers in Syria). But much of the modern town, Al Karak, known in biblical times as Moab, has encroached upon the castle walls and is mostly built with stones cannibalised from the castle.
Built by Paganus, a butler of king Fulk of Jerusalem to protect the southern border from invading Moslem armies, Kerak, originally named ‘Crac des Moabites’, controlled the caravan routes between Damascus and Egypt. (For a fascinating insight into the connections between the descendants of the original crusaders, click here and here! Fulk was also the paternal grandfather of King Henry II of England!)
Kerak withstood several attacks by Saladin’s Ayubbid forces, until it finally succumbed after a protracted siege in 1193, dispersing the crusaders once and for all from the holy lands.
Like all such castles this too is rife with legends. Of the barbaric Lord of Oultrejordain, Reynald de Chatillon, who among his many misdeeds, was infamous for the brutal practice of flinging his hostages from the castle walls. “What’s new?” you ask. This evil man pushed his victims over the edge with their heads encased in wooden cages, to ensure their death was not instantaneous!!
And of the chivalry of Saladin the Muslim chieftan, and king of Egypt and Syria, in sparing Reynald’s newly wed son and daughter in law, along with other members of his family, while personally executing Reynald in a manner far more humane than he deserved.
As the mist closes in on the hills beyond Al Karak, it is easy to lose yourself in the legends of the conflict between the sword and the scimitar.
The weapons have changed…..the conflict sadly, is unamenable.
More from Jordan:
A Rose Red City Half As Old As Time
Tracing The Footsteps Of Bedouins
Stepping On Masterpieces
80 thoughts on “The Stone Of The Desert”
Amazing photos. It is sad that it is still a land of conflict.
It is, although Jordan has managed to stay out of much of it. Thanks Judy.
Wonderful place to visit, and your photos are stunning once again, Madhu. That brutal Lord was a terribly cruel man. 😦
Thank you AD. Reynald sounds like the ultimate sadist 🙂
I now find no words to describe your posts Madhu – the pictures are stunning as always and the narrative simply superb!
Appreciate your saying so Shaantz 🙂 Thank you!
I am inspired by your speed of churning posts. Almost one a day…. keep enlightening. Love.
Thank you Sreeni! Just three to four a week 🙂
Stunning photography Madhu I love all of it 🙂
Thank you Jake 🙂
Wonderful photos as usual. The conflict need not be unamenable. Most people are sick of war and killing.
I know, but that region always seems volatile somehow, like it was destined for conflict. Thank you Stephen.
wow great blog! I envy all your travels and wonders to see the great world!
Thank you! I appreciate your visit and comment 🙂
Very interesting reading and some great shots.. 😉
Thank you Ledrake 🙂
Reading your post is like sitting in a classroom learning part of the great history. Thank you, Madhu! The cruelty is hard to discern…
And not as boring I hope Amy! Thank YOU 🙂
Fascinating, to say the least. Appreciate your effort, Madhu!
I agree with Amy 😀 Another informative post with a load of great shots! 🙂
If the walls and the desert could talk. Madhu, you do an excellent job of bringing their stories to life. Wonderful photos and post.
I know, those walls ooze history! Thank you Judy 🙂
bloody awesome! (sorry – stunned into being Australian). It’s an area I would love to go to & am pretty sure I never will, so thank you. Some of the dressed & carved stones are simply beautiful.
A comment on the paradoxical partnership between beauty & conflict. Thank you 🙂
Flattered Keira 😀
The commentary was on religion being an excuse for conflict. Will the middle East rise above it ever? Not in my lifetime for sure. I narrowly missed seeing the Crac des Chevaliers in Syria on the same visit. Now I don’t know when it will be safe enough to return!
It strikes me sometimes that before islam & Christiantity & Judaism, I had heard that the various Arab tribes worshipped the stars. Now, it seems, they worship the stones of the ground – those fashioned into walls and temples and shrines. They have exchanged teh shining lights for the fallen stillness, and the hate that rages? Should be enough to turn those dead stones incandescent. Let’s hope that never happens.
I enjoyed reliving Kerak through your description and pictures. I remember reading about the barbaric Lord Oultrejordain, who threw people off the castle with their heads in cages!! Those were interesting times!
Yes they were Cathy 🙂
And delighted that you liked my account. Shall return to your Greek stories shortly 🙂
I wonder will the conflict ever cease?
An excellent and thought provoking post Madhu.
I wonder too, and don’t have much hope 😦 Thank you Gilly.
Fascinating insight, Madhu and wonderful photos as always 🙂
Thank you Marianne 🙂
thank you, Madhu,
for “K is for Kerak”!
You are most welcome Frizz 🙂
I loved it when I went there. I spent the whole day wandering around.
Great pics. Love the one of the man with the Jordanian scarf…
Just searched out your version, and enjoyed it very much! I missed the torturing of infants by Renald!!! 😀 That man was a local guide who we reluctantly hired, turned out he wasn’t too bad…added atmosphere to my pictures at worst!
haha I missed most of the things you wrote about in your post! I guess that’s part of the problem of being an “independent” traveller and refusing to pay for guide tours unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have to make up for it by doing some research on my own. I’m just saying this because I refuse to admit in public how much I admire you for your broad culture 😉
The picture looks great so he was worth your money haha.
I didn’t get any of that from him either! He just helped us avoid backtracking too much since we just had a few hours there 😀
haha I know! Hence the last sentence in my first paragraph 😉
What fantastic views
Yes, it is the quality of that light and the colour of the soil that gives it a special aura!
You bring your text alive with your photos Madhu. Sometimes, living in the US, it is difficult to wrap my head around visiting areas that date back to biblical times. It is truly tragic that this region of the world seems forever cloaked in conflict. Thank you for yet another insightful history lesson. 🙂
My pleasure LuAnn 🙂 I get goosebumps when I consider the antiquity of some of these places!
Brilliant photos Madhu Nd what a gorgeous blue sky!
Thank you Nicole 🙂
Oh, Madhu, this was a wonderful tour., full of drama. That rooftop shot was just amazing; thanks.
Oh yes, you can be certain of drama in this region! Thank you Kate 🙂
Nice shots especially the guy walking towards the arcades. I remember these Crusader castles perched on hills with superb views and although in ruins they were still impressive !
We fight, and we fight, and we fight some more, Madhu. When will we ever learn and just embrace the beauty around us.
What a brilliant photographer is Madhu ! The photo-essay captured my attention and completely relished the photos. Ever thought of filming, Madhu? I am serious – you have a plethora of stunning history and a personal touch to it — why not make a short documentary? You are such a gem to all of us here — a friend I consider so inspirational. Bahut shukria dost ! XX
Beautiful pictures. This is a place that I wish to go to on a pilgrimage. Maybe, someday… 🙂 Thanks for sharing the pictures and the story.
I wonder why our history is filled with such despotic tyrants. Sends shivers down my spine! But great story! The stone walls look amazing.
great to see this castle 🙂
Wow, fascinating! 🙂 And these are fabulous photos, Madhu.
I felt like I was walking through a history book. Wonderful!
Amazing photographs… Takes you to a journey
Sounds fascinating – and very timely for me too as I’m going to be in Jordan in November so will try and stop by.
The photos are gorgeous…the words? Amazing. Really, I love how you combine the two so effortlessly.
Gorgeous gorgeous photos – I love all the places I “visit” with you Madhu 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Thoroughly enjoyed this trip Madhu! Lovely Post!
Excellent, Madhu, just EXCELLENT!
There is a popular tourist and mountain biking city in our state (Utah, USA) named Moab. Named after the Moab in Jordan? Per Wikipedia, some historians believe so.
You get to some of the MOST interesting places Madhu. Very interesting photos and narrative – if only the conflicts could be resolved.
Dear Madhu, your photos are fantastic, and you give us stories to match. I appreciate your personal insights about the material you share.
All beautiful shots Madhu and I absolutely adore the sunlight through the tunnel! I so envy your travels through this most fascinating part of the world!
Great set of wonderful photos!
I wish I had the money – and time – to travel!
This is the next best thing, though…
Hi Madhu, I’m happy to discover your blog. My husband and I were in Jordan recently. Unfortunately, we were only able to see the outsidde of Kerak Castle as it just closed when we got there. Thanks for letting me take a glimplse of the inside through your beautiful photos.
Fantastic shots and some of those interiors are amazing… 😉
Ah, Jordan is on my must visit list! Wonderfully captured!
Recalled my own trip . Also shared your sadness in the last line. The region has so much to offer the world and its fast-vanishing because of hatred, fundamentalism and strife.
The photographs are brilliant, Madhu!
Just beautiful. Thanks for these views.
That is so interesting!
The Orples and I are infatuated with this post, Madhu. …. so much so that we’ve made it the topic of today’s conversation.
One of those places in the world I’ve always wanted to visit. Thank you for taking me there with you.