The hand of history touches every corner of Jordan; there’s simply too much to see in a short trip! When we made our itinerary for our journey from Aqaba to Amman, there was plenty had to skip, but one notable omission stood out: the crusader castles of Kerak and Shobak.
We didn’t allot a specific time to visit, hoping that we’d find a way to work it in on the fly. Our route from Wadi Rum to the Dead Sea took us close to Shobak so we asked our driver if he could take the short detour and give us a few minutes there and he was happy to oblige. Success! We added another attraction to our trip without cutting into our schedule.
Situated in the rocky plains between the Desert and King’s Highway, the castle is actually named Montreal, but has picked up the colloquial name Shobak from the nearby small farming community. Originally constructed in 1115 by Baldwin, King of Jerusalem, Shobak was an important strategic fortification along the caravan and trade routes. Later Shobak and Kerak to the north came under the control of Raynald of Châtillon who began pillaging the caravans that passed nearby. This provoked the ire of Saladin, who descended upon the Crusader kingdom, taking Jerusalem and then later sieging Shobak and Kerak. What can be seen today is mostly the reconstruction by Saladin and the Mamluks who later conquered the area.
It was cold the day we visited Shobak, with a gusty wind that chilled to the bone. Our driver dropped us at the parking entrance at the bottom of the hill, and we hurriedly scampered up to find refuge from the wind inside the stone walls. At the gate we presented our Jordan Pass for entry, and were offered guide services. Since we were in a bit of a rush, we declined, but a guide is definitely recommended to give you a better understanding of the complex.
Excavation is still ongoing, so there is a decided lack of signage to help orient yourself (and why the guide is recommended), but strolling around the fortress you get a pretty good sense of what all the structures were. Take some time to descend the staircases into the subterranean lairs, where you’ll find collections of artifacts waiting to be studied further. Catapult stones are also strewn about, a silent witness to history. Circling around, pay attention to the large watchtower inscribed with verses from the Quran. Gaze out over the semi-arid landscape and imagine Saladin’s army surrounding the hilltop fortress. The crusaders managed to resist the siege for 18 months, but in the end desperation and lack of supplies led to their fall.
Although we missed out on the better preserved Kerak, we were still glad to have found a way to add this castle to our trip. If you love history, then make time to visit the crusader castles on your trip to Jordan. The legacy of this period of history still informs the complex dynamics in the region to this day.