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Kerak Castle

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Subject: Al Karak, Buildings and structures completed in 1263, Siege of Kerak, Castles in Jordan, Kingdom of Jerusalem
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Kerak Castle

Kerak Castle
Kerak, Jordan
Kerak Castle
Type Castle
Site information
Controlled by Crusader Lordship of Oultrejordain; Ayyubids; Mamluks; Ottomans
Site history
Built 1142
In use 1142–1917
Battles/wars Siege of Kerak

Kerak Castle is a large crusader castle located in Kerak in Jordan. It is one of the largest crusader castles in the Levant. Construction of the castle began in the 1140s, under Pagan, Fulk of Jerusalem's butler. The Crusaders called it Crac des Moabites or "Karak in Moab", as it is frequently referred to in history books.

The Upper court
The Lower court

Paganus was also Lord of Oultrejordain (Transjordan), and Karak became the centre of his power, replacing the weaker castle of Montreal to the south. Because of its position east of the Dead Sea, Karak was able to control Bedouin herders as well as the trade routes from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca. His successors, his nephew Maurice and Philip of Milly, added towers and protected the north and south sides with two deep rock-cut ditches (the southern ditch also serving as a cistern). The most notable Crusader architectural feature surviving is the north wall, into which are built immense arched halls on two levels. These were used for living quarters and stables, but also served as a fighting gallery overlooking the castle approach and for shelter against missiles from siege engines.

In 1176 Raynald of Châtillon gained possession of Karak after marrying Stephanie of Milly, the widow of Humphrey III of Toron (and daughter-in-law of Humphrey II). From Kerak, Raynald harassed the trade caravans and even attempted an attack on Mecca itself. In 1183 Saladin besieged the castle in response to Raynald's attacks. The siege took place during the marriage of Humphrey IV of Toron and Isabella of Jerusalem, and Saladin, after some negotiations and with a chivalrous intent, agreed not to target their chamber while his siege machines attacked the rest of the castle. The siege was eventually relieved by King Baldwin IV.

After the Battle of Hattin in 1187, Saladin besieged Karak again and finally captured it in 1189.

In 1263, the Mamluk ruler Baybars enlarged and built a tower on the north-west corner. In 1840, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt captured the castle and destroyed much of its fortifications. In 1844 his troops, who did not have control over the surrounding countryside, came under siege. They were eventually starved out and many were killed.[1]

During the Ottoman period, it played an important role due to its strategic location on the crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Greater Syria.

In 1893 the Ottoman authorities re-established control over the area by appointing a Governor (Mutasarif) resident in Kerak with a garrison of 1,400, including 200 cavalry. Parts of the castle were reused. Some of the destruction that had occurred to the structure was due to locals removing stones containing salt petre which was used for making gunpowder.[2] Medieval historian Paul Deschamps studied Crusader castles in the 1920s. Amongst the important research done by Deschamps, in 1929 he and architect Francois Anus created the first accurate plans of Kerak.[3]

Architecture

The entrance to a tower in the castle that was added during the Mamluk period with the seal of Baibars (the two lions) on it

The castle extends over a southern spur of the plateau. It is a notable example of Crusader architecture, a mixture of west European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Its walls are strengthened with rectangular projecting towers and long stone vaulted galleries are lighted only by arrow slits. The castle has a deep moat that isolated it from the rest of the hill on the West. Such a moat is a typical feature of spur castles. The steep slopes of the spur are covered by a glacis. While Kerak is a large and strong castle, its design is less sophisticated than that of concentric crusader castles like Krak des Chevaliers, and its masonry is comparatively crude.

In the lower court of the castle is the Karak Archaeological Museum, which was newly opened in 2004 after renovation work. It introduces local history and archaeology of Karak region – the land of Moab – from the prehistoric period until the Islamic era. The history of Crusaders and Muslims at Karak castle and town is introduced in detail.

Notes

  1. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Report (1896). Page 328.
  2. ^ PEF, (1896).
  3. ^ Kennedy (1994), pp. 5–6

References

  • Kennedy, Hugh (1994). Crusader Castles. Cambridge University Press.  

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