Although Jerash’s Graeco-Roman ruins and Petra’s pre-Roman ruins draw in many tourists, Jordan boasts a plethora of medieval remnants. While some are in disrepair, others remain functional to this day.
While many historical sites may need to be noticed due to their sheer number, Ajloun stands out as a significant and captivating destination. Often visited on the way back from Jerash to Amman, Ajloun’s prominent hilltop location and stunning views, illuminated by the setting sun, make it impossible to resist exploring. Built centuries ago to protect the vital trade route, Ajloun’s rich history and natural beauty will leave a lasting impression on any traveller.
If you’re fortunate enough, you may hear the sunset Call to Prayer reverberating across the valley from the mosque in the nearby village. During the 11th Century, when the first Crusaders departed Europe for the Holy Land, their castles were primarily wood. However, upon their return, they brought back numerous valuable concepts from the Middle East. I hold a personal, speculative belief that the idea of constructing castles from stone may have been one of them.
To explore the potential cross-cultural connections between the English word “castle” and the Arabic word “Qasr,” one must consider the possibility of cross-pollination. However, determining the direction of influence requires the expertise of a serious student, who may encounter disagreements among scholars.
Scholars have differing opinions on the reasons behind the initiation of the Crusades. While the common belief taught in schools was that the Muslims, led by Salah al-Din (Saladin), conquered the holy city of Jerusalem, and the Pope promised a spot in heaven for any knight who could reclaim it, this version remains debated.
Although Saladin was not born during the First Crusade and did not capture Jerusalem until 1187, the Holy Land is filled with stone castles built by the invading Crusaders and the defending Saracens. The castles at Aqaba in modern Jordan are particularly well-known and were extensively rebuilt by the Mamelukes in the 16th Century. Additionally, Azraq was continuously used from Roman times through the Crusades, when the Saracens held it, and even during the First World War when it served as a headquarters for Col. T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) during the Arab Revolt.
The Crusader and Saracen castles in Jordan served trade and defence purposes, with Ajloun Castle being one of the most impressive examples. Built-in 1184 by Emir Izz al-Din Usama, it was designed to protect the iron mines of Ajloun and the trade route to Jordan from Syria. The castle had four towers with arrow slits and a 45-foot wide and 40-foot deep moat, making it nearly impregnable. After Usama's death, a fifth tower and a bridge decorated with pigeon reliefs were added.
The castle was destroyed by Mongol warriors but rebuilt in its current form under Mameluke rule. It became part of a network of signalling stations and pigeon posts, which could transmit messages in just 12 hours. Although the Ottoman Empire ruled Jordan, the castle was used in battles in the 17th century. Earthquakes damaged the castle, but the Jordanian Department of Antiquities restored it.
Ajloun Castle is the best-preserved and most complete example of Arab-Islamic medieval architecture, with a maze of vaulted passages and winding staircases, dining halls, dormitories, and stables. It also had eleven colossal water cisterns, rectangular windows, and even a tiny stone bathtub in the Commander's quarters. On a clear day, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Jordan Valley and the northern highlands from the castle walls.