The Stone Of The Desert

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 OultrejordainReynald 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

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

80 thoughts on “The Stone Of The Desert

  1. I now find no words to describe your posts Madhu – the pictures are stunning as always and the narrative simply superb!

    1. I know, but that region always seems volatile somehow, like it was destined for conflict. Thank you Stephen.

  2. Reading your post is like sitting in a classroom learning part of the great history. Thank you, Madhu! The cruelty is hard to discern…

  3. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

  4. 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!

    1. Yes they were Cathy 🙂
      And delighted that you liked my account. Shall return to your Greek stories shortly 🙂

  5. 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…

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

        1. 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 😀

  6. 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. 🙂

  7. 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 !

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. I wonder why our history is filled with such despotic tyrants. Sends shivers down my spine! But great story! The stone walls look amazing.

  11. You get to some of the MOST interesting places Madhu. Very interesting photos and narrative – if only the conflicts could be resolved.

  12. Dear Madhu, your photos are fantastic, and you give us stories to match. I appreciate your personal insights about the material you share.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

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