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HISTORY & CULTURE

Karak Castle is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. The best preserved are underground and can be reached via a massive door (ask at the ticket desk). More imposing than beautiful, the castle is nevertheless an impressive insight into the architectural military genius of the Crusaders.

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The West Front wall.

With some care, you can walk along the crenellated top of the West Front wall and admire the sweeping view. On clear days, you can look across the Dead Sea and see all the way to the Mount of Olives bordering Jerusalem.

Away from the castle, visitors can visit the Castle Plaza, where beautiful 19th century Ottoman administrative buildings have been redesigned to house a tourist centre, with restaurants, a crafts centre and other facilities grouped around a central plaza.

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Inside an eerily lit passageway.

The famous Arab traveller Ibn Battuta wrote in his travel report that, in 1326, Karak could only be entered through a tunnel hewn in rock. The entrances to two such tunnels (which are now blocked) are still visible – a large one next to the road approaching Karak from the southeast (Salah ad-Din Street) and a smaller one near Baybars’ Tower.

The two most impressive towers (‘burj’ in Arabic) of Karak are Burj Al-Banawi, a round tower bearing a monumental inscription adorned by two panthers, the emblem of Sultan Baybars; Burj As-Sa’ub, a small fortress in its own right; and Burj Az-Zahir Baybars (or Baybars' Tower), a massive structure resembling the castle keep.

Karak is still a largely Christian town, and many of today's Christian families trace their origins back to the Byzantines.

Showbak

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Showbak Castle.

A lonely reminder of former Crusader glory is Showbak Castle, less than an hour north of Petra. Once called "Mont Real," Showbak dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. It is perched on the side of a mountain, with a grand sweep of fruit trees below. The castle's exterior is impressive, with a foreboding gate and encircling triple wall. Despite the precautions of its builder, the fortress fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was raised. Inscriptions by his proud successors appear on the castle wall.

Karak Archaeological Museum

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The museum at Karak Castle is informative and well-worth a visit.

The Karak Archaeological Museum was established inside the old castle, which has remains from the Moabite period in the first millennium BC, going through the Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods. The museum was opened in 1980.

The main part of the museum is a large hall in a vault of the castle, used as living quarters for soldiers in the Mameluk period. The collections date from the Neolithic up to the late Islamic periods and come from the Karak and Tafila regions. Among the sites is Bab Adh-Dhra’, famous for its Bronze Age burials. The museum houses remains of skeletons and pottery from the Bab Adh-Dhra' graves; Iron Age II artefacts from Buseirah; Byzantine glass vessels and inscriptions, and Roman and Nabataean artefacts from Rabbah and Qasr.

Located within the west wing of Karak Castle, this museum has articles dating from 6000BC to the 14th century AD, including pottery, coins, etc.

Opening Hours: 0800 – 1900 (April to September) and 0800 – 1600 (October to March).

Tel: (03) 2351216

Admission fee is included in the entry fee to Karak Castle.

Mazar Islamic Museum

Located at Al-Mazar near Karak, the museum is host to a collection of items representing Islamic civilization and culture, including sculpture, ceramics and coins.

Opening hours: 0800 – 1500 (closed Tuesdays).

Tel: (03) 2370319

Entrance is free.



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The best-preserved halls and passageways are located underground and can only be reached through a massive door.

Ridley Scot's recent Hollywood blockbuster, 'The Kingdom of Heaven' starring Orlando Bloom, has numerous scenes based in and around the crusader castle at Karak, although the castle itself was not used during filming.

While it could hardly be described as beautiful, Karak is an impressive example of the Crusaders' architectural military genius.

The city of Karak was the ancient capital of Moab. During Roman times it was known as Characmoba.