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.