Karak Castle – One Of The Largest Crusader Castles Ever Built

Karak Castle was a crusader castle built during the twelfth century and was initially called Crac Des Moabites. It is also the biggest crusader castle ever to have been constructed in the Levant, and following its completion, it became the center of power for the rulers of the time.

Ancient crusader castle Al Karak, Jordan

Ancient crusader castle Al Karak, Jordan.

The Levant is essentially a large area which today covers a number of countries, including the following: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Southern Turkey, Palestinian Territories and Cyprus.

At the time Karak Castle was built, the term “Levant” wasn’t as definitive as it is nowadays, and it might have included places even further afield. Either way, the fact remains that in all that vastness, there was no other castle as formidable as Karak.

A Strategically Located Stronghold

In past times, having control of trade routes was of great importance to the various rulers, and the location for Karak Castle was chosen accordingly. Prior to the castle’s completion, the Castle of Montreal served as the center of power, but it was too far south.

Karak was built just to the east of the Dead Sea, which in turn allowed whoever had control of the castle to control the most important trade routes between Damascus; Egypt and Mecca. Its location also meant that Bedouin herders in the region could be effectively controlled.

The Castle’s First Taste Of War

After a relatively uneventful 30 years, the castle eventually fell into the hands of Raynald of Chatillon in 1176 when he married Stephanie of Milly. Being in command of the castle, Raynald started to grow restless, and soon began harassing trade caravans passing through the area. Later still, he launched an unsuccessful attack against Mecca.

Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt, responded to the attack by attacking Karak Castle, but was later forced to retreat when King Baldwin IV intervened. However, Saladin attacked again four years later, and he persisted until his men were finally able to gain control of the castle two years later in 1189.

Nearly 100 years later, Karak Castle was expanded; improved and fortified by BayBars, a Mamluk ruler. Nothing much changed during the centuries that followed, but eventually, in 1840, the castle was taken by Ibrahim Pasha. Much of the castle was destroyed during the siege but it was still strong enough to repel later attacks. In fact, Ibrahim Pasha and his men eventually had to be starved out of the castle, at which point most of them were killed.

Karak Castle Under The Ottomans

When the Ottoman forces managed to reestablish their control of the area, they soon realized how strategically important the castle was. A governor was immediately appointed and a 1400 man strong garrison allocated to the castle, together with 200 cavalry.

While many parts of the castle were then reused, there is no evidence to suggest that the Ottomans attempted to rebuild or restore the castle.

One thing which has always puzzled historians is the apparent lack of refinement regarding the castle’s construction. While it was certainly huge and incredibly strong, the build quality is considered to be somewhat crude when compared to other castles and fortresses built by the crusaders.

Karak Archeological Museum

The Karak Archeological Museum is located in the newly renovated lower court of the castle, and was officially opened in 2004. Displays and artifacts cover a period of time spanning thousands of years, from prehistoric times all the way through to the more recent Islamic period. It is a fascinating museum and certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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