The ancient Crusader Castle of Karak, later a Mamluk fortress, lies within the walls of the old city and is one of the popular attractions in Jordan. The stronghold that dominates the town was a place of legend in the battles between the Crusaders and the Islamic armies of Saladin. Now one of the most famous Crusader castles, in its days Karak was just one in a long line of defence, stretching from Aqaba in the south to Turkey in the north.
The imposing castle, which visitors can admire today, was built by the Crusaders in the mid-12 century AD and was the first castle built by the Franks that used a fortified tower structure – a notable example of Crusader architecture. It was the base of lord Raynald of Chatillon’s reckless and cruel campaigns and withstood several Muslim sieges, before finally falling into Saladin’s hands in 1187. Under the rule of Mamluk sultan Baibars from 1264 on, the castle was substantially renovated with stronger fortifications and additions such as the fortress keep at the north.
Karak Castle itself is a large wedge-shaped building of some 220 m in length and 125 m in width at the north end.
You enter the castle via the Ottoman Gate, to the left of which one can see the original postern or secondary gate concealed between tower and wall, which used to be accessed across a wooden bridge spanning the north ditch. The castle is built on two main defensive levels, separated by an inner wall. The upper court contains the main buildings, such as the Crusader church, the Mamluk keep, palace and mosque. The lower bailey with its row of underground galleries seems to have been principally used for storage and defence. The massive north front is strengthened by two corner towers while the east front has four towers, and a steep masonry slope or glacis running around the bottom of the outer wall from the middle of the east front to the south.
In the lower court of the castle is the Karak Archaeological Museum, which was opened in 2004 after renovation work. It introduces local history and archaeology of the region from prehistory until the Islamic era.
While Karak Castle had historically been used to protect the assets of crusader states in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, today its job is much more mundane. Many people travel along the ancient King’s Highway to stop at Karak on their way to other tourist sites.