The Castles of Jordan
If I were to ask you to think of castles, what kind of locations appear in your mind. England? France? Germany? Probably not Jordan. But Jordan is one of those magical places filled with all kinds of (relatively unknown) wonders to be explored. And believe it or not, Jordan has castles.
In the center of Amman lies Jabal Al-Qal’a, also know as the Citadel. While not a castle, per se, it stood throughout the ages as the central fortress of the city. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period – evidence that reveals that Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The Citadel has been occupied throughout the centuries by the Ammonites, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Nabataeans, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Mamlukes. Each left their indelible impression on the central mount.
While a large portion of the Citadel remains unexcavated, there are several notable structures worth viewing. The centrally located Umayyad Palace has been restored and topped with a large dome. The inside remains empty, mainly consisting of a large main room with a few antechambers in the corners.
The Roman Temple of Hercules atop Jabal Al-Qal’a
The columns of the Roman Temple of Hercules tower above the city, providing a beautiful location for listening to the Islamic call to prayer which reverberates off the hills at sunset.
The small but significant Jordan Archaeological Museum is located on Jabal Al-Qal’a, and is included in the price of admission.
About an hour north of Amman lies Ajlun Castle. This fortress was built by the Ayyubids to protect the country against Crusader attacks from Karak in the south and Belvoir Fortress in the northwest.
Ajlun Castle is to the west of Jerash, and is definitely worth an add-on trip if you happen to be visiting the ancient Roman city.
Kerak Castle (also referenced as Crac des Moabites) lies several hours south of Amman on the King’s Highway. It is one of the largest Crusader castles in the Levant and is one of the finest examples of Crusader military construction. The castle was originally built to cut off communications between Egypt and Syria. Kerak Castle was featured in the movie Kingdom of Heaven.
When visiting Kerak Castle, you may want to take a flashlight, as there are many dark tunnels which to explore.
Located several hours south of Amman and not too far from Petra, Shobak Castle (also known as Montreal Castle) was built by the Crusaders to control commerce between Syria and Arabia. It remained a vital part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until it was overrun by Saladin in AD 1189. The Mamlukes later restored the castle in the fourteenth century.
The castle rests atop a cone-shaped mountain. There is a treacherous tunnel leading from inside the castle down to a water supply at the base of the mountain. The tunnel contains 375 steps, along with areas where the steps have been worn smooth. Traversing the tunnel is a fun little adventure, but be sure to bring a flashlight or you won’t get very far.
Located in the middle of the desert about 37 miles (60 km) east of Amman, Qasr Kharaneh (sometimes Haraneh) is one of the little-know and least visited locations in Jordan. The exact purpose of the castle remains unclear, while some historians suggest it was built to protect east-west trade routes through the desert.
The castle was restored in the late 1970s and remains in very good condition. It is located very close to several other desert castles, including Qasr Amra, which makes it all the more worthwhile to visit. Due to its remote location, the castle is most easily accessed by car.
Qasr Amra is a just a few miles east of Qasr Kharaneh on the same highway. The structure that currently exists is a type of royal palace, which used to be part of a larger castle complex. Today you can walk through the large audience hall, the bath, and the cistern.
Rich interior frescos at Qasr Amra.
The interior walls of Qasr Amra are covered with beautiful fresco paintings depicting hunting scenes, domestic activities, nude women, and musicians. The interior of the dome of the bath complex features an illustrated zodiac. These frescos are considered some of the best preserved of the Umayyad Period, and have led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While many tourists visit Jordan to see the world-class Petra or perhaps to swim in the Dead Sea, Jordan is rich with many cultural treasures. Consider spending a little longer in the country to explore all that Jordan has to offer, including its castles.
What are some of your favorite obscure castles? Sound off in the comments below.