Karak (also known as Qir Heres, Qir Moab, Hareseth, Characmoba and Kerak) is one of Jordan’s most visited tourist destination and is often included on most of the tours to Petra which leave Eilat. The city is an excellent example of Crusader architecture as well as displaying remnants of the many empires which have made Karak their base through the centuries. Karak has one of the largest Arab Christian populations in Jordan but the majority of Karak citizens are Muslims.
Where is Al Karak
Karak is situated south of Amman the capital city of Jordan and can be reached on the King’s Highway or the Desert Highway. Karak is 50km south of the Wadi Mujib and 88km south of Madaba. The town is built on a triangular shaped plateau with the famed Karak fortress in the southern corner.
Karak’s position on the major caravan routes across the desert earned it immense power, giving it access to the traffic that passed through from north to south, from Egypt to Damascus, from Shobak to Jerusalem and it also lay in the path of every army that crossed this part of the Middle East and was a prominent stop along the popular trade routes.
Brief History of the City of Karak, Jordan
The city of Karak in Jordan has seen the great rulers of the region come and go starting with the Biblical Moabites then the Assyrian empire later Nabateans, Romans in 105AD, the Byzantine empire brought Christianity to the city of Karak in the late 4th century and it appears to have been a bishopric. In 1132 the Crusaders reach Karak. All of these great empires left their mark on the city of Karak. It was the Crusader king Fulk (Payen le Bouteiller) who made al-Karak his base and built the castle which to this day is the central landmark in Karak. A few years later the Malmuk Sultanate took over the stronghold and for several hundred years the city of Karak changed hands between various Arab leaders. The Christian community of Karak remained strong and in 1849 there were already 2,000 Orthodox Christians, there was also a Christian school at the time and several active Christian missions. The Turkish Ottoman Empire also ruled for a time in Karak. In 1920 the British had a brief mandate over the city followed by the reestablishment of Arab rule in the area.
What to see and do in Karak
Most of the tours leaving Eilat, Israel for Petra stop at Karak so if you are on one of these tours you will be lucky enough to be guided around the various sites and monuments in Karak. The city is not so much a beautiful one as an impressive city with the main attraction being the Karak castle.
Be sure to see:
- Citadel of Karak This was the former Crusader castle, it sits 900 meters above Sea Level on a hill within the city walls and dominates the city skyline. The castle is in ill repair having been destroyed and then left barren for 500 years before restoration but you can explore the tunnels and vaulted ceilinged passage ways. Be sure to take a long a flashlight to help you make out the Crusader stone work from the more elegant later Arab craftsmanship as you walk through the dark and crumbling maze of underground tunnels in the fortress. On a clear day you can see from the castle’s second level all the way to the Dead Sea. Include in your exploration of the castle the dungeons, kitchens, stables and the Crusader Church. Also take in the dried up moat that separates the castle from the city and the protective castle walls.
- Karak Archaeological Museum is housed in the west wing of the Karak fortress in a hall once used as soldier’s sleeping quarters under the Mameluks. The museum displays artifacts from 6000BC and through the various ancient periods from the Moabites to the Crusader period.
- Try the famous Mansaf one of Jordan’s most traditional cuisines, it consists of lamb cooked in yogurt and served on a bed of aromatic Tamarac colored rice.
- Check out the dominant statue in Karak Square of the great Muslim leader Saladin on horseback waving a sword threateningly. Saladin led several sieges and attacks on the castle of Karak and was respected for his chivalry by both the East and Western leaders. You can also indulge in some rural shopping in the stores surrounding the Karak Square and get something local to eat at one of the surrounding restaurants.
- There are several ancient tombs in the area surrounding Karak including that of Nuh or Noah and in nearby Sarfah there is the tomb of King Solomon of Israel. Near Karak there are also the tombs of several of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad’s companions including Zaid bin Harithah the adopted son of Mohammad who is also mentioned in the Quran. Within Karak is the tomb of Zaid bin Ali bin Al-Hussein a religious leader and the great, great grandson of the Prophet.
- Karak is an interesting addition to any tour to Petra or Jordan as you get to wander around the large Karak castle and see this typical Jordanian city which has witnessed so many history making events.