For those fascinated by Crusader legends and lore,
a second group of castles beckons. The scenic
Kings Highway is a historic road stretching from
Amman to Aqaba, and littered with remains of
Crusader forts and outposts. The most important
among these are at Kerak and Shobak.
Approaching Kerak, you pass first through Wadi
Mujib, a precipitous canyon 1000 meters deep,
guaranteed to set the mood for your visit. The fort
itself is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and
endless passageways. The best preserves are
underground, with access through a locked door.
The castle in itself is more imposing than beautiful -
though it is all the more impressive as an example
of the Crusaders' architectural military genius.
Each stronghold was built to be a day's journey
from its neighbor. At night, beacon was lit at each
castle to signal to Jerusalem that it was safe.
Kerak’s most famous occupant was Reynald de
Chatillon, whose reputation for treachery, betrayal
and brutality is unsurpassed. When Baldwin 11
died, his son, a 13-year-old leper, sued for peace
with Saladin. The leper king, however, died without
an heir, and in stepped Reynald, who succeeded in
winning the hand of Stephanie, the wealthy widow
of Kerak's assassinated regent. He promptly defied
the truce with Saladin, who returned with a huge
army, ready for war. Reynald & King Guy of
Jerusalem led the Crusader forces and suffered a
massive defeat. Reynald was taken prisoner and
beheaded by Saladin, marking the beginning of the
decline in Crusader fortunes. The castle was
enlarged with a new west wing added by the
Ayyoubids and Mamlukes.
A lonely reminder of former Crusader Glory is
Shobak Castle, less than an hour north of Petra.
Once called "Mont Real", Shobak dates from the
same turbulent period. It is perched on the side of a
mountain with a grand sweep of fruit trees below.
The castle's exterior is impressive, with a forbidding
gate and encircling walls three layers thick.
Despite the precautions of its builder, the fortress
fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was raised.
Inscriptions by his proud successors appear on the