09 February, 2013

Inside Ajloun Castle

Petra is alien, spectacular and incredibly fantastic. Jerash is breathtaking and romantic. Owing to it being one of the main, historical crossroads of the Middle East, the Kingdom Of Jordan has many old, archaeological sites. Of these, it has several castles in many parts of the Kingdom. Ajloun Castle (Qal'at Ar-Rabad) is one of these. It is a structure totally built and imbued with militarism in mind. The Castle, both from the outside and the inside was designed, built and rebuilt many times, mainly for the accommodation, protection and the defending of the military. It played its most significant role mainly during the rule and times of one of the most venerated Muslim rulers and military leaders of all time: Salah-ad-Din Al Ayyubi. Few structures, bring the spectacle of Al Ayyubi's former might and glory as Ajlun Castle does; the Castle never fell under the 'Crusaders' control. The Castle's inside, in particular, is like no other I have ever seen. Before entering the Castle, take time to enjoy the breathtaking view around it, from the outside. Enjoy the tea that is sold outside. And, if you don't have binoculars, hire one from the elderly guys at the entrance at a very reasonable price.

At the gate: note the different hours for visiting the Castle during summer and winter; during summer, visitors have two more hours in the afternoons.
Once inside, depending on your taste and your reason for coming here, take as much time as possible appreciating the intricately built mazes of walls, door ways, openings and stairs.
The Fortress is very well maintained by the Kingdom's authority. Most of the inside is still in its original condition. Going up or down these stairs, as some are slippery - watch your step.
There is a fair amount of walking and climbing. The whole of the inside is well ventilated and lighted. And is well organized and very clean.
Inside the Fortress there is a board with a brief summary, history - in English and Arabic - of the Castle. From the outside, this Castle looked rather unimpressive to me - but once inside I was overwhelmed.
Destroyed by the invading Mongols in 1260, and rebuilt shortly afterwards by Sultan Baybars. Considering how the Castle looks and is today, the rebuilding must have taken time and been well done. 
Today, as you cross the moat to a gateway in the east wall, Ajloun retains a sense of impregnability. Very much as it was about 1,000 years ago.
Walk your way through the chambers and galleries, many still sporting superbly, intricately stone-worked carvings.
Inside, there is much to explore: from the surrounding impregnable moat to the many fortified, vaulted passageways, the galleries and the many stairs; once inside - you will be overwhelmed at how expansive and extensive Ar-Rabad is, and how sustainable it must have been to the soldiers fortified inside those many years ago.
It is incredible to imagine that this finely and superbly built structure was constructed so long ago by Muslims. Then, Muslims were so much ahead of other cultures, societies and time. Muslims, who today seem so lost and dependant.
Ajloun is unique for never having fallen under 'Crusader' control. A testament to Salah-ad-Din's military genius and his soldiers very impressive organization and discipline..
The thickness of the walls is outstanding - so massive and yet so finely laid - and the amount of original stonework, craftsmanship and overall layout of the Fortress, is incredible.
Every part of the building was very well thought of and very finely built: the moat, the very impressive drawbridge, the towers, the many vaulted passages, winding staircases, long ramps, chambers, enormous rooms that served as dining halls, dormitories and stables. All ingeniously planned and built.
The original Castle had four towers; arrow slits incorporated into the thick walls and it was surrounded by a moat averaging 16 meters in width and up to 15 meters in depth. In 1215 AD, the Mameluk officer Aibak ibn Abdullah expanded the castle, by adding a new tower in the southeast corner and a bridge that can still be seen decorated with pigeon reliefs.
The Castle is said to have had an elaborate water system, hosting a total of eleven water cisterns. Every thing was thought of to make inside - efficient, self sufficient and sustaining.
Qal'at Ar-Rabad was conceded in the 13th century to Salah al-Din Al Ayyubi, ruler of Aleppo and Damascus, who restored the north-eastern tower. These expansion efforts were interrupted in 1260, when Mongol invaders vandlized and destroyed the Castle. The Mameluk Sultan Baybars reconquered and rebuilt the Fortress. In the last two centuries Qal'at Ar-Rabad was struck by earthquakes in 1837 and 1927.
Today, Qal'at Ar-Rabad  has been very well and wonderfully restored by the Kingdom's authorities. Now, is hard to imagine that there were wars - many brutal and savage - going on then. And how very hard it must have been: many became wounded or became sick and many died, here, within these very thick walls.
It is hard to imagine that, some of the most powerful and deadliest weapon, then, used projectile stones - as above. It is hard to imagine, the very hard work involved to make these deadly stones.
Today, inside the Fortress  seems so peaceful and welcoming that, it is hard to imagine, about ten millenniums ago - soldiers walking, eating, living and sleeping here.

To better understand this extraordinary Castle and its remarkable history, a visit to the Museum within the building is very much advisable. And to better experience the Castle, it is best to use the very experienced and well informed guide here. He knows much and will tell you things about Qala'at ar-Rabad that books or media reviews never mention. You will learn about the Castle's long, some times savage history: from its beginning through its glorious period in the hands of Salah-ad-Din Al-Ayyubi through it being vandalized by the Mongols, to the Ottoman period, to its present day excavations and  restoration. And once on top of the Castle, to really appreciate the breath-taking scenery all around, the beauty and the wonder of Ajloun, it is most advisable to have binoculars.

+ Other Wonderful Places to visit in the Kingdom of Jordan:
* Sights from Ajloun, Kingdom of Jordan
The River Jordan
The Dead Sea
The Citadel
The Roman Theater
Jerash
Petra
Kahaf Ahl Kahf
* Rainbow Street, Amman
* Souk JARA, Amman