Name of Monument:

Karak Castle


Karak, Jordan

Date of Monument:

Hegira 6th–8th century / AD 12th–14th century

Period / Dynasty:

Crusader, Ayyubid–Mamluk


Payen Le Boutellier (the Butler), begun in Hegira 534 / AD 1139 and completed in hegira 537 / AD 1142.


Karak lies east of the Dead Sea in the biblical land of Moab, some 120 km south of Amman. The Frankish Castle, perched on an elevated escarpment, was laid out on a roughly trapezoidal plan which followed the contours of the ridge on the western and eastern sides (240 m and 220 m respectively), while on the northern and southern fronts (130 m and 85 m respectively) the castle was protected by deep dry moats. Placed beneath the southeastern battlement, a massive glacis (paved steep slope) was placed to secure that direction. Originally access to the castle was via a bridge that crossed a dry moat. This led to an elbow-shaped entrance in the western flank of the eastern salient in the north wall.
The castle was commissioned by Payen Le Boutellier (the Butler) in AH 534 / AD 1139; it was completed in AH 537 / AD 1142. The castle was named Crac de Moab or simply le Crac by the Franks. The plan was based on that of an upper and a lower enceinte (court). The upper enceinte comprises the bulk of the castle's surface area and contains the church, olive and grape presses, bakeries and a palace (Mamluk). The lower enceinte occupies the western side of the ridge and is provided with a subterranean level containing two large halls running north to south and joined by a large central chamber; it also contains two additional halls at the northern end of the compound. Today these two parallel halls accommodate the archaeological museum.
Two types of stone were employed in the construction of the castle, and these types correspond to two distinctive architectural phases: a hard blackish-red chert; the other a fine yellowish limestone. The former type of stone represents the Frankish stage of construction, whereas the latter belongs to the Ayyubid–Mamluk period of around the AH 7th –8th / AD 13th and 14th centuries.
Both Karak and Shawbak castles were taken by the soldiers of the famous Ayyubid leader Salah al-Din (Saladin) soon after the decisive victory at Hattin (AH 583 / AD 1187) and were refortified several times in the following centuries by both the Ayyubids (AH 570–648 / AD 1174–1250) and the Mamluks (AH 648–923 / AD 1250–1517).

View Short Description

The Frankish castle of Karak was commissioned by Payen le Boutellier in AH 534 / AD 1139 and completed in 537 / 1142. It was built on an elevated escarpment following its contours. Protected by deep dry moats, a massive glacis (paved steep slope) secured the southeastern approach.. Two types of stone were employed in the construction: a hard blackish-red chert representing the Crusader stage, and a fine yellowish limestone belonging to the Ayyubid–Mamluk period. The castle was taken by the forces of Salah al-Din (Saladin) soon after 583 / 1187 and was refortified several times in the following centuries.

How Monument was dated:

The monument has been dated through archaeological excavations, Arabic inscriptions, and by various historical sources. Karak has received relatively little archaeological or architectural study. Its complex history can be culled from Crusader and Arabic historical sources, e.g. William of Tyre, Fulcher of Chartres, Ibn al-Athir, Ibn Shaddad, Ibn Wasil, Abu-Shama, al-Maqrizi and others. More recently the castle has been discussed by P. Deschamp (1939), R. C. Samil (1956: pp.218–22), W. M. Müller-Wiener (1966: pp.47–8). An overview of the history of Karak and the castle is provided by S. M. Momani (see bibliography).

Selected bibliography:

المومني،سعد محمد، " القلاع الإسلامية في الأردن : الفترة الأيوبية و المملوكية"، عمان، 1988، ص. 156–242.
Brown, R. M., “Excavations in the 14th Century Mamluk Palace at Kerak”, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, XXXIII, 1989, pp.287–304.
Deschamp, P., (ed) “Kerak et les Châteaux de la Terre Outre le Jourdain”, in: Les Châteaux des Croisés en Terre Sainte: Le Crac des Chevaliers, Vol. 2, Paris, 1939, pp.35–98.
Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles, Cambridge, 1994, pp.45–52.

Citation of this web page:

Ghazi Bisheh "Karak Castle" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020.;ISL;jo;Mon01;20;en

Prepared by: Ghazi BishehGhazi Bisheh

Ghazi Bisheh is an archaeologist and former Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. He studied archaeology at the University of Jordan, and history of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from where he holds his Ph.D. He was affiliated to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan for most of the period between 1980 and 1999, and was its Director General twice (1988–91 and 1995–9). He was also an associate professor of archaeology at Yarmouk University during the early 1990s. He is the author of numerous publications, including The Umayyads: The Rise of Islamic Art (Brussels: Museum With No Frontiers, 2000), of which he is a co-author. He has carried out excavation work both inside and outside Jordan in sites such as Qasr al-Hallabat, Madaba, Carthage and Bahrain. He is a member of the German Archaeological Institute and is the Deputy Director of the International Council of Museums for the Arab countries.

Copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: JO 20


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