Al-Karak in Jordan

Wednesday, 5 February 2020 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Museums, Exhibitions, Union for the Mediterranean

Al-Karak and Kerak Castle © Berthold Werner/cc-by-3.0

Al-Karak and Kerak Castle © Berthold Werner/cc-by-3.0

Al-Karak, known in the Kingdom of Jerusalem as Kerak, is a city in Jordan known for its Crusader castle, the Kerak Castle. The castle is one of the three largest castles in the region, the other two being in Syria. Al-Karak is the capital city of the Karak Governorate. Al-Karak lies 140 kilometres (87 mi) to the south of Amman on the ancient King’s Highway. It is situated on a hilltop about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded on three sides by a valley. Al-Karak has a view of the Dead Sea. A city of about 32,000 people has been built up around the castle and it has buildings from the 19th-century Ottoman period. The town is built on a triangular plateau, with the castle at its narrow southern tip.

Al-Karak has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age, and was an important city for the Moabites. In the Bible it is called Qer Harreseth or Kir of Moab, and is identified as having been subject to the Assyrian empire; in the Books of Kings (16:9) and Book of Amos (1:5, 9:7), it is mentioned as the place where the Arameans went before they settled in the regions in the northern of Levant, and to which Tiglath-Pileser III sent the prisoners after the conquest of Damascus. After the conquest of Damascus, for some number of years later the Shamaili kingdom seized power but it is unsure for how long. Little has been recorded about their ruling period. In 1958 the remains of an inscription was found in Wadi al-Karak that has been dated to the late 9th century BC. During the late Hellenistic Period, Al-Karak became an important town taking its name from the Aramaic word for town, Kharkha. Al-Karak contains some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating as early as the 1st century AD after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The area eventually fell under the power of the Nabateans. The Roman Empire – with support from the Arab Ghassanid tribe, or Ghassasinah – conquered it from them in 105 AD. The city was known in Late Antiquity as Harreketh. Under the Byzantine Empire it was the seat of a bishopric, housing the much venerated Church of Nazareth, and remained predominantly Christian under Arab rule. Its bishop Demetrius took part in the council of the three provinces of Palaestina held in Jerusalem in 536. Another, named John, is said to have existed in the 9th century.

Al-Karak © Freedom's Falcon/cc-by-sa-3.0 Al-Karak © Jean Housen/cc-by-sa-3.0 Al-Karak - Statue of Saladin and mosque in the background © Freedom's Falcon/cc-by-sa-3.0 Kerak Castel © Teo Blancato Kerak Castle © Dosseman/cc-by-sa-4.0 Kerak Castle © flickr.com - Alastair Rae/cc-by-sa-2.0 Al-Karak and Kerak Castle © Berthold Werner/cc-by-3.0 View from Kerak Castle © Dosseman/cc-by-sa-4.0 Al-Karak city police © LBEHGER/cc-by-sa-3.0 Al-Karak and Kerak Castle © flickr.com - flashpacker-travelguide.de/cc-by-sa-2.0
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Al-Karak - Statue of Saladin and mosque in the background © Freedom's Falcon/cc-by-sa-3.0
Al-Karak fell within the Crusader Oultrejourdain, the lands east of the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. In 1132 King Fulk of Jerusalem, made Pagan the Butler Lord of Montreal and Oultrejourdain. Pagan made his headquarters at al-Karak where he built a castle on a hill called by the crusaders Petra Deserti – The Stone of the Desert. His castle, much modified, dominates the town to this day. The castle was only in the Crusader’s hands for 46 years. It had been threatened by Saladin‘s armies several times but finally, surrendered in 1188, after a siege that lasted more than a year (Siege of Al-Karak (1183)). Saladin’s younger brother, Al-Adil was governor of the district until becoming ruler of Egypt and Syria in 1199. Yaqut (1179–1229) noted that “Al Karak is a very strongly fortified castle on the borders of Syria, towards Balka province, and in the mountains. It stands on a rock surrounded by Wadis, except on the side towards the suburb.” Al-Dimashqi (1256–1327) noted that Karak: “is an impregnable fortress, standing high on the summit of a mountain. Its fosses are the valleys around it, which are very deep. They say it was originally, in Roman days, a convent, and was turned into a fortress. It is now a treasure house of the Turks.” Abu’l-Fida (1273−1331) noted that Al Karak “is a celebrated town with a very high fortress, one of the most unassailable of the fortresses of Syria. About a day’s march from it is Mutah, where are the tombs of Ja’afar at Tayyar and his companions. Below Al Karak is a valley, in which is a thermal bath (Hammam), and many gardens with excellent fruits, such as apricots, pears, pomegranates, and others.” In 1355, Ibn Battuta visited and wrote: “Al Karak is one of the strongest and most celebrated fortresses of Syria. It is called also Hisn al Ghurab (the Crow’s Fortress), and is surrounded on every side by ravines. There is only one gateway, and that enters by a passage tunnelled in the live rock, which tunnel forms a sort of hall. We stayed four days outside Karak, at a place called Ath Thaniyyah. The castle played an important role as a place of exile and a power base several times during the Mamluk sultanate. Its significance lay in its control over the caravan route between Damascus and Egypt and the pilgrimage route between Damascus and Mecca. In the thirteenth century the Mamluk ruler Baibars used it as a stepping stone on his climb to power. In 1389 Sultan Barquq was exiled to al-Karak where he gathered his supporters before returning to Cairo. Al-Karak was the birthplace of Ibn al-Quff, an Arab Christian physician and surgeon and author of the earliest medieval Arabic treatise intended solely for surgeons.

In 1596 Al-Karak appeared in the Ottoman tax registers, situated in the nahiya (subdistrict) of Karak, part of the Sanjak of Ajloun. It had 78 households and 2 bachelors who were Muslim, and 103 households and 8 bachelors who were Christian. They paid a fixed tax-rate of 25% on agricultural products, including wheat, barley, olive trees/vineyards/fruit trees, a special product (bayt al–mal), goats and bee-hives; in addition to occasional revenues, for a water mill, and a market toll. Their total tax was 15,000 akçe. Al-Karak is dominated by five major tribes known as the Al-Ghassasinah tribe, the Al Majali tribe, who originally came from Hebron, the Tarawneh tribe and the Maaitah tribe. The Ghassanid tribe is believed to be the first to inhabit the site of modern al-Karak. The tribe consists of the families: Suheimat, Halasa{Halaseh}, Dmour, Mbaydeen, Adaileh, Soub, and Mdanat and Karakiyeen. In 1844 Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt sent an expedition west of the Dead Sea. His troops occupied the castle at al-Karak but they were starved out with much loss of life. Mohammed Al-Majali who had control of Al-Karak in 1868, was involved in the events that led to the destruction of the Moabite Stone (Siege of Al-Karak (1834)).

Read more on Wikivoyage Kerak and Wikipedia Al-Karak (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.








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