Crusader Castles

Shobak, www.brendasjordan.com05-Apr-2005 13:40, FUJIFILM FinePix A303 , 7.0, 5.7mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
The Crusaders in Jordan.

The period of the Crusaders has made a mark on Jordan. the famous historical figures of Saladin, Richard Lionheart and Baldwin I, played an important role in the fight for Jerusalem. Saladin (Salah Eddin al-Ayyubi), was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

Jordan has more Crusaders Castles than visitors anticipate. The famous two, Karak and Shawbak, are well known, but there is also Wadi Musa Castle (Al-Wu’ayra Castle, Li Vaux Moise) in Petra, El Habis Castle, and Ajlun.

In the 11th century, Petra lay abandoned. The silence was broken by the arrival of the Crusaders in the early 12th century. Some Christian monks who still inhabited the Monastery of St. Aaron on Jebal Haroun, the highest mountain in Petra area, asked King Baldwin I of Jerusalem for help as they were under threat from Saracen raiders on the ancient trade route. Baldwin understood the strategic importance of this area and established the district of Oultre Jourdain, an outpost of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The people of the area resisted the Crusaders and were punished by being smoked out of their inhabited caves.

Castle building in Europe was very elementary at this time and the Crusaders were awed at the Byzantine structures that they encountered on their way to the Holy Land. The Crusaders did not have the luxury of a consistent abundance of manpower like the Byzantines. Consequently, the Crusaders could not maintain large garrisons. Therefore, their castles had to be far stronger and easier to defend. They chose sites that could be used to their fullest advantage. Since scouts could not be spared to carry messages, each stronghold had to be able to see and signal each other. Walls had to be thicker and taller to stand up to a direct attack. At the same time, the Crusaders brought their wives and children. Castles were homes, the center of government, and a military stronghold. In the West, castles were usually solid square keeps or donjons, a type perfected by the Romans. The crusaders changed castle architecture. They started using round towers as they offered a better field of fire and withstood bombardment better. The Crusaders added portcullis, bent entrances, chapels, storerooms, offices for civil servants, and much more.


In 1115 A.D., Baldwin returned to Edom and arrived at Shobak, which had trees, water, and some fertile spots. He constructed a castle and left a garrison, instilling the name The Royal Mountain, Le Krak de Montreal. The following year he returned with many mules and supplies and pushed further down to Aqaba and the Red Sea. When the local residents fled at the sight of the Europeans, they occupied the town and constructed a citadel. He then sailed across to the small island of Jesirat Far’un (Pharaoh’s Island) and built a second castle known as Graye.

To defend their new territory, the Crusaders built a string of fortresses in the eastern mountains (1142 A.D.). Defenses centered around the great castle of Kerak in Moab. It was strategically situated for dominating the only practicable roads from Egypt and western Arabia into Syria and it was not too far from the fords of  lower Jordan. Baldwin I had already established a look-out post down on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba at Aila (Elyn). Pagan, the butler of Fulk of Jerusalem,  later installed a stronger garrison there and at Petra. In the area they called Li Vaux Moise, or the Valley of Moses (Wadi Mousa), the largest and strongest castle, named Wueira, was built just outside Petra.  A smaller fort was built on al-Habis, a high point in the heart of the ancient city to complete their signaling sight-line to Jerusalem. The fortifications of Outre Jourdain were strengthened after several major clashes with Muslim forces culminating in the construction of the great Crusader fortress at Kerak (Le Krac des Moan) in 1142.

When Saladin entered the area he concentrated on capturing Frankish lords and then releasing them in exchange for their castles. One by one the castles fell into his hands. The Li Vaux Moise castle was abandoned in 1189, the last of the eastern fortresses to surrender to Salah ad-Din (Saladin). The Christian Pilgrim, Theitmar, refers to Petra’s fortresses in 1217 and several later Arab writers mention the former Crusader fortresses at Petra. The Arab geographer, Yaqut al-Hamawi, lists castles named Al Wu’eira and Selah near Wadi Mousa in 1225. The Mamluke Sultan, Baibars, passed through Petra in 1276 on his way to suppress a political revolt at Kerak. His chronicler, Muhdi el-Din Ibn ‘Abd el-Zaher, mentions the fortress of Al Aswit (probably Al Habis castle) at Petra.

During the following centuries sandstorms and floods eroded the monuments, and sand and debris flooded down the ravines burying much of the city under tons of debris. As far as the west was concerned, all knowledge of Petra and the Nabataeans was lost. Only the Bedouin who occasionally herded sheep near the canyons knew of the ancient city’s existence.

Salah Eddin al-Ayyubi

Salah Eddin al-Ayyubi, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, began his career as a lieutenant in the army of Noor Eddin, the Sultan of Mosul. During the campaign against the Fatimids of Egypt, Salah Eddin rose prominently as a warrior of great dexterity and tactical awareness. He was promoted to commander and later minister. In 1171 CE, he removed the last of the Fatimid caliphs and from Egypt began the conquest of Syria by attacking the Crusaders. This period of warfare against the Crusaders earned him considerable respect and some notoriety in the West. He was acknowledged as the arch enemy of Richard the Lionhearted. In 1187, Salah Ed din (known as “Saladin” in western literature) crossed the Jordanian highlands near ‘Ajloun. He inflicted a decisive defeat on the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin, opening the way for the liberation of al-Quds (Jerusalem) while placing Jordan and Egypt under his rule. The Ayyubid dynasty would rule much of these lands for the next eighty years. Salah Eddin was also famous for his sense of justice and generosity to the poor and the weak. After he conquered Jerusalem, he guaranteed the 100,000 Christian inhabitants security of life and property. Furthermore, Salah Ed din did not confiscate the amassed wealth of the Christian patriarch, but instead provided guards for the patriarch’s safe transit to other Christian habitations. This benevolent treatment of the Christians was exemplified yet another time when Richard the Lionhearted became ill and Salah Ed din sent his personal physician to treat the general. Following the death of Salah Ed din in 1193, the Ayyubid dynasty divided. In 1200 CE his brother Sultan al-Adel Saif Eddin Abu Bakr appointed Sharif Qatada ibn Idris of Yanbu to be the new emir of Mecca. The Emirate of Mecca remained within Sharif Qatada’s ancestry for over 700 years, the last emir of Mecca being Sharif Hussein bin Ali, King of the Arabs and great grandfather of His Majesty King Hussein I.

Crusaders tour through Jordan. By Brenda’s Jordan Travel.

  • Cities
  • Crusader Castles
  • Dead Sea
  • Desert
  • Desert Castles
  • Hot Water Spring’s
  • King’s Way
  • Nature Reserves
  • Religious Places
  • Roman Cities
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