Karak CastleCentral Jordan is bisected by the King’s Highway, which runs south between the Dead Sea and the desert. The undoubted highlight of traveling this route is the massive Crusader castle of Karak, with its immense fortifications looming over the provincial town that bears its name. Built in 1140, it was once of the last outposts held by the Crusaders after Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin in 1187. It fell to the Arab-Kurdish armies the following year after a long, drawn-out siege and continued to change hands—and shape—over time. The Mamelukes widened the moat and added more towers, while the Ottomans built a massive entry gate.
Today, Karak remains the largest, best-preserved castle in Jordan. Inside, there are tunnels, dark chambers and dungeons, and vast, arched-roof stables to explore. If you head east out of town, past the Cairwan Hotel, there’s a lookout point where you can get a spectacular view of the castle in its entirety.
It’s hard to imagine how early-12th-century Crusaders were able to construct the massive hilltop castle at Kerak in such a barren environment. While a museum inside tells the story of the stronghold, it is perhaps the moat, arrow slits and dungeons that best bring to life the epic struggles between Crusaders and the sultan Saladin. Though not as well preserved, the nearby 12th-century castle called Shoubak (also known as Montreal) sits at an elevation of 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) and is known for carved inscriptions by Mamluk soldiers.