Karak Castle is the finest Crusader-era castle left standing in Jordan and one of the biggest. It was much larger than any of the castles being built in Europe at the time. The Crusaders called it Karak of Moab and the Israelites knew it as al Karak or al Karek (now Karak, Karek, and Kerak are used interchangeably). It stands on a hill 950m above sea level at a strategic point east of the Dead Sea, between Shobak Castle and Jerusalem. In ancient times its location meant that whoever occupied the castle controlled the trade routes that traveled past the hill going from Damascus to Egypt, and Mecca.
Today, whether you approach the castle from the ancient King’s Highway or from the Dead Sea you can’t help but be impressed by the way it dominates the horizon. No wonder leaders throughout history have fought to control the castle.
History of Karek Castle
Karak is mentioned in the Bible on several occasions. Historical inscriptions have been found telling of a castle built by Mesha, the Moabite King as a temple for the God Chemosh in 850 BC. In the same year, Mesha liberated the Moabites who had been ruled by King David and the Israelites. We don’t know what happened to the Moabite temple but fast-forward almost 2000 years and the Crusaders decided to build a castle on the ruins of the ancient site.
Crusader Castle Karak
The castle we see today dates back to 1142 AD when it was constructed by the Crusaders and completed in 1161. A few years later the Ayyubid leader Saladin the Magnificent tried several times to take the castle, but the impenetrable walls and elevated advantage of the castle kept him at bay even after four attempts to capture the castle.
Pro Tip: Before visiting the castle stop to see Saladin’s statue nearby.
Karek Castle Under Muslim Rule
In 1188AD Saladin’s nephew did what his uncle had been unable to do and successfully took Kerak Castle. When the Mamluk leader, Baybars, gained control of the region he also took over Karek Castle in 1263AD. Under the Mamluk leader, the castle was reinforced and it remained under the Mamluks until the Ottomans conquered the region.
The castle was left abandoned and forgotten until Swiss explorer Burckhardt came across it as he traveled along the King’s Highway. He was the same explorer who rediscovered Petra. Burckhardt mentioned the castle in his writings and brought it to the world’s attention.
What to See at Karek Castle
The castle is within the old city of Kerak which is home to about 170,000 people. The town has several other historical structures from later periods. As you approach the site you’ll reach Castle Plaza where Ottoman-era structures have been repurposed to hold the tourist center. There are also souvenir stores and restaurants around the plaza.
Pro Tip: Be aware that some of the restaurants at the site run a parking scam. They will approach your vehicle as you are about to park and say that the parking is only free for customers of their establishment and that you must now come inside and eat or pay up.
You’ll need plenty of time to visit Karek Castle - it is huge! There are seven levels, with towers, a kitchen, a mosque, a church, barracks, prison cells, and more. And don't forget the time you’ll need for shots of the incredible views from this elevated vantage point.
Pro Tip: For a panoramic view of the surrounding scenery go to the right of the main entrance and around the structure. Alternatively, take in the view of the castle from Al Karak Panorama Restaurant.
The castle is a maze of halls, tunnels, and passageways. Ask at the ticket desk if you can explore the underground chambers. You are allowed to wander over the entire site including the tunnels and the crenelated top of the western wall.
Pro Tip: If you really want to explore properly, bring a flashlight.
Kerak Archaeological Museum
Inside the castle is a museum housed in a large hall that once served as living quarters for Mamluk soldiers. The museum holds a collection that spans from the Neolithic period through to the late Islamic period. There are also remains from Bab Edh-Dhra, a nearby Bronze Age archaeological site, and Iron Age artifacts from Buseirah. Also on display are Byzantine glass objects, and Roman and Nabataean artifacts.
Sites Near Karek Castle
There are several interesting sites along the King’s Highway that links Madaba to Petra. So, before leaving the area you can visit the museum of Islamic Civilization and Culture at nearby Al-Mazar. And visit the Prophet (Noah) Nuh’s shrine near the town of Kerak.
Plan Your Visit
- Open Times - Monday-Friday 08:00-19:00; Saturday 08:00-16:00; Sunday 10:00-17:00
- Prices - 2 JD, but if you are part of a Petra tour from Israel the entrance will be included in the tour price. The Jordan Pass covers admission to Karek Castle.
- Average Visit Duration - The average time spent at the Crusader Karek Castle is 30-40 min.
- Popular Times - Like all outdoor sites in the Middle East it is best to visit in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the sun. And in spring and autumn, the temperatures are more pleasant.
- Karek Castle Tours - You can visit Karek Castle independently or join a group tour from Amman, Tel Aviv, or Eilat. With a private multi-day Jordan tour you can pick the sites you wish to cover. Consider taking a Petra tour from Tel Aviv that covers several sites in Jordan.