The enormous Crusader castle of Karak   looms about 1000 meters above the Dead Sea Valley, a strategic link in the   vital communication and protection system of castles that spread from Aqaba   to Turkey. Karak was on the trading route between Egypt and Syria during   biblical times, and later civilizations also recognized the advantages of the   location. The castle has known happiness, but it has also known cruelty.   Modern visitors will enjoy the spectacular views and the sandwiched layers of   history.


During biblical times, Karak, known   then as Kir, Kir Moab and Kir Heres, was the capital of Moab. The city can be   found on the famous mosaic map in Madaba. Later used by the Greeks and   Romans, its name was changed to Characmoba.


In the twelfth century, the   Crusader king Baldwin I of Jerusalem commissioned Payen the Cupbearer to   build the fortress of Karak. It became the capital of the Crusader   Oultrejouirdain district, and became rich levying taxes on traders, travelers   and agricultural produce. Karak is halfway between Shobak and Jerusalem, and   its success helped Jerusalem prosper.


In the late 13th century, the   Mamluk Sultan Beibars renovated the castle, deepened the moat and built the   lower courtyard. Although damaged by an earthquake in 1293, the Ottomans also   used the castle, after local fighting in the1880s forced the Christian inhabitants   of Karak to flee to Madaba and Ma'an. Peace was restored only after a   significant number of troops were stationed in the town.


Crossing over the wooden bridge   over the dry moat, visitors enter through the Ottoman's Gate. To the left is   the Crusader's Gallery, or the stables, at the end of which is a headless   stone carving. Some claim it is Saladin, but as it dates from the 2nd century   AD, it is likely a Nabataean carving. To the right are passages containing   the kitchens and dining areas, as well as barracks. Coming out into the   light, the favorite, dizzying drop of de Chatillon is on the left. Ahead is   another set of passages, containing a mosque, a church, a prison and a   marketplace. In the distance, Umm al-Thallaga is visible (the Mother of   Snow), the mountain that was the biggest defensive threat to Karak. Here, at   the Mamluk keep built in 1260, the defenses were strongest. Down below is the   Mamluk courtyard and towers overlooking Wadi Karak, possibly down to the   sites of Sodom and Gomorrah.


While the castle is being restored,   and much of it is open to visitors, there are still some passages that are   off-limits. It is tempting to imagine what treasures lie within. With any   luck, Karak will give up more secrets to us in the near future.