Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Crusader Castle

We drove up to the Crusader Castle in Kerak, Jordan, late afternoon and booked a room in the small guest house next door.  We did not know if we could tour the castle that evening, but the gatekeeper (who seemed to step out of the pages of history himself), not only offered to walk us through, but gave us each a cup of sweet tea as we watched the sunset.  Pure magic!  An evening I will remember all my life.
His English was peppered with Arabic, but by now, we knew enough of the language to understand him one hundred percent.  He had a great sense of humor.  When he told me the men shouted through the skylights from one level to the next, he said, "Mafi telephones, Madam."  He continued to show us where the soldiers lived, where the bread was made, the horses kept and where the guards stood watch.  He pointed to rooms and said, "Soldiers sleeping," one too many times, though.  The castle wasn't that big!

His knowledge of the place was encyclopedic.  He pointed out Roman stones, Egyptian writing, Byzantine inscriptions and Saladin's improvements.  He even pointed out fossils in the rock from prehistoric times. 

As soon as the muezzin began to chant the evening prayer, we knew it was time to go.  He was so polite, I don't think he would have left us to pray.  But, oh, how we were sorry to go!
The castle in Kerak is steeped in history.  The location, just east of the Dead Sea, was centrally located for trade in Transjordan.  Built around 1140, it was the largest castle in the area and one of the many fortifications from Damascus to Aqaba, set up by the Crusaders.  The castles were built so the knights could go from one to the other in a day.  In 1176, however, the lord of the castle, Raynald of Chatillon, began to harass the trade caravans and even attempted an attack on Mecca.  Saladin attacked the castle twice, but finally gained control of it in 1189.

Even though in ruins, you can still imagine what a formidable castle it must have been.  Located on top of a hill with two deep rock-cut ditches on the north and south sides, it resisted siege for years and years.  The Crusaders built the north wall with arched halls and the two levels, which were used as living quarters and stables.  The castle had a deep moat and slits were made in the towers for the use of arrows.  Like our guide pointed out, it is a mixture of European, Byzantine and Arab design.

We went back to the guest house and had dinner with a couple from Germany.  After hearing about our tour, they couldn't wait for their own tour early the next morning.  "At dawn," they said.

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