From the end of the eleventh century to the end of the twelfth Jordan, as indeed much of the near and middle east, was under the control of the crusader knights. Frightened by the expanding power of the seljuk Turks which menaced the holy places the Western powers launched the first crusade. Baldwin was crowned king of Jerusalem, the pilgrims felt safe again to visit Palestine and security was reinforced by the construction of some of the most formidable castles ever built.
It was our privilege to visit two of the best of the castles on our departure from Petra on our way towards Amman.
The first of these amazing strongholds was at shobuk and a fine sight it was crowning a hill with views towards the dead sea and commanding the route from Damascus to Cairo.
We were able to spend more time exploring the castle at Barak, which is possibly the finest of them. Built on seven levels we explored extensive underground passages connecting sleeping quarters, kitchens and dungeons.
The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem could have lasted rather longer than its hundred years were it not for the fanatic ruthlessness of Reinauld. Massacres involving throwing down muslim prisoners from the sheer drop surrounding the castle with their heads enclosed in boxes so that the victims remained conscious until the last, plus the total murder of whole towns’ women and children, did not present a very attractive picture of Christianity. What saved the situation for the locals was the rise of Salah uddin who uniting tribes led a counter attack and personally slaughtered Reinauld.
Plus ca change….
Amman is essentially a modern city and its population has grown from a few thousand in 1946 to well over five million today, a number likely to increase considerably with the flux of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
It certainly is unrecognizable today since my early visit there in the hippy trail days. Jordan’s capital is not unattractive, built on several hills, colours by the white limestone from which it is built and commanded by the world’s tallest flagpole with the world’s largest (30 x 50 meters) flag flying from it.
Before checking into our hotel we visited the imposing citadel with its impressive Roman and Umayyad remains. The views over Amman were wonderfully extensive and the area was very well laid out with the remains of a temple to Hercules and an interesting museum.
We feel a bit sad realising that tomorrow will be the last full day we’ll spend in this wonderful country. How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself!