Karak – Showbak
Karak Castle is a dark maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways. The best preserved are underground and can be reached via a massive door (ask at the ticket desk). More imposing than beautiful, the castle is nevertheless an impressive insight into the architectural military genius of the Crusaders. The famous Arab traveler Ibn Battuta wrote in his travel report that, in 1326, Karak could only be entered through a tunnel hewn in rock. The entrances to two such tunnels (which are now blocked) are still visible – a large one next to the road approaching Karak from the southeast (Salah ad-Din Street) and a smaller one near Baybars’ Tower. The two most impressive towers (‘burj’ in Arabic) of Karak are Burj Al-Banawi, a round tower bearing a monumental inscription adorned by two panthers, the emblem of Sultan Baybars; Burj As-Sa’ub, a small fortress in its own right; and Burj Az-Zahir Baybars (or Baybars’ Tower), a massive structure resembling the castle keep. The Karak Archaeological Museum was established inside the old castle, which has remains from the Moabite period in the first millennium BC, going through the Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods. The museum was opened in 1980.
A lonely reminder of former Crusader glory is Showbak Castle, less than an hour north of Petra. Once called “Mont Real,” Showbak dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. 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 foreboding gate and encircling triple wall. 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 castle wall.