Hegira 6th–7th century / AD 12th–13th century
Baldwin I (r. AH 509–12 / AD 1115–18).
Shawbak is a Crusader, Ayyubid–Mamluk castle of the AH 6th–7th / AD 12th and 13th centuries. Located in southern Jordan, it is 120 km south of Kerak, and 35 km north of the fabulous Nabataean city of Petra. In AH 509 / AD 1115 Baldwin I, founder of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, led a major expedition into the region southeast of the Dead Sea. He crossed wadi Araba and marched to the fertile, wooded district of al-Shawbak. There atop a steep mountain, overlooking a well-watered valley, Baldwin erected a huge castle, which he named, 'le Crac de Montreal' and appointed Roman le Puy as lord of Montreal and the land of Oultre Jourdain.
Shawbak (Montreal) is linked with two smaller fortresses built in and around Petra: al-Habis and al-Wu'ayra. The construction of these castles gave the Franks a loose control over the territory between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, and had the further advantage of hindering both the commercial and military connection between Syria, Egypt and the Hijaz. Shawbak fell to the soldiers of Salah al-Din (Saladin) in AH 584 / AD 1188 and was refortified several times by both the Ayyubids (AH 570–648 / AD 1174–1250) and the Mamluks (AH 648–923 / AD 1250–1517). The Castle was occupied by a village throughout the later Ottoman period (the 18th and 19th centuries AD) and was emptied of its inhabitants only in the 20th century. Considerable remains of all these periods fill the interior.
Shawbak Castle, which has an irregular shape with maximum dimensions of 175 m x 90 m, possesses a Crusader church and a chapel as well as substantial secular buildings constructed out of stone taken from a nearby antique site and from quarries located one kilometre to the west of the castle. Numerous Arabic inscriptions in naskhi script record the various reconstructions of the castle. The impressive rusticated towers; curtain walls and a glacis (a paved slope) wrapped around the castle are fine examples of early Mamluk fortification showing the evolution of siege defences.
Shawbak Castle was built in AH 509 / AD 1115 by Baldwin I, founder of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, who named it Le Crac de Montreal. It is linked with two smaller fortresses at Petra, which gave the Franks loose control over the area between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, and hindered the commercial and military connection between Syria, Egypt and the Hijaz. Shawbak fell to the forces of Salah al-Din in 584 / 1188. Numerous Arabic inscriptions record various reconstructions of the castle, including fine examples of early Mamluk fortification that show the evolution of siege defences.
The monument was date by both inscriptions in situ and historical sources.
المومني، سعد محمد، " القلاع الإسلامية في الأردن : الفترة الأيوبية و المملوكية"، عمان، 1988، ص. 24– 93.
Brown, R. M., “Shaubak”, in: D. Homes-Fredericq and JB Hennessey, (eds), Archaeology of Jordan, II: 2, Leuven, 1989, pp.559–66.
Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles, Cambridge, 1994, pp.23–5.
Ghazi Bisheh "Shawbak Castle" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;jo;Mon01;21;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 Gomez
MWNF Working Number: JO 21
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Saladin in the Holy Land
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