After three days in the Madaba region visiting Mt. Nebo, the Dead Sea and the “City of Mosaics“, we began the four hour journey to Aqaba, the southernmost tip of Jordan. The Kings Highway drive offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Jordan, including Wadi Mujib, better known as the “Grand Canyon of Jordan”.
This natural wonder of the world spans 70 km across Jordan from the Dead Sea in the east to the Desert lands in the west, while measuring 1 km deep and 4 km wide. At the first viewpoint before the descent, we experienced some of the most stunning views into the canyon and surrounding landscape. When looking south into the canyon, there is a gorgeous blue lagoon in the distance, next to a huge damn. Along the winding drive through the canyon, a few savvy merchants offer various opportunities to enjoy some tea or buy souvenirs while taking in the scenery.
Karak & Ancient Crusader Castle
After the long winding drive through the canyon lands, we continued our journey south to the ancient crusader town of Karak. The town and fortified castle sits high on the top of a mountain, a strategic location for crusader battles. Karak castle is positioned steeply along the cliff side as you enter the town from the north. The drive up within the walls of the old city proved quite challenging with its narrow one way streets and bustling market life.
Before visiting the castle, we opted to steer away from the packed tourist restaurants and eat at an unknown local restaurant tucked away within the small streets of Karak. We enjoyed delicious falafel, magdalah (eggplant dip), pickled salad, tabouleh and pita for 6 dinar. After a short walk through the town, we arrived at the central plaza and drawbridge leading to the castle entrance.
The Karak Castle, built in 1142, was a legendary battle site of the Crusaders (Franks) and Saladin’s Islamic armies. Before Saladin sieged the castle from the French in 1183, their crazy leader Renauld de Chatillon tortured many Muslim prisoners and even threw them off the 450m cliffside. Upon walking over the drawbridge, we entered the castle for two dinar. We opted to tour the castle solo rather than go with the local guide who kept following us around. We finally lost him as we entered the dark tunnel of the Crusader Gallery.
We explored the castle’s maze-like rooms, corridors and dark hallways. The terrace above the upper courtyard offered spectacular city views of Karak and the surrounding villages and countryside. We noticed small vertical slitted windows necessary for secret lookouts and shooting artillery against enemies.
Ancient Skulls & Bones
The small Islamic Museum showcases ancient artifacts including bones and skull heads…… found inside the tombs of Karak’s cemetery dating back to 3600-2000 BC. This site captured the essence of Karak’s long ancient history and civilization. 5,000 years is a really long time, yet felt so much closer!