Karak is an important stop on Jordan’s tourist circuits, just as it was in ancient times on the caravan routes that traversed what is now the King’s Highway between Syria and Arabia or Egypt. The focal point of attention in Karak is its castle, an imposing fortress that takes us back to the time of the Crusades. On this page, we will tell you what to see in Karak, how to get here, and other details of interest for your trip.
Karak is located along the King’s Highway, which runs through the Jordanian Highlands from one end to the other. Specifically, it is situated in the southern section, south of Wadi Al Mujib, the rocky canyon that briefly breaks the linear path of this communication route. However, it is more or less in the center of the country, halfway between Petra and Amman. The city serves as the capital of the Karak Governorate and has a population of approximately 40,000.
The history of Karak parallels that of many other cities in the region and Jordan as a whole. It was an important Moabite city due to its strategic location along a caravan route that connected Syria with Egypt and Arabia, and it was also used by the Nabateans, Greeks, and Romans, as well as their successors, the Byzantines. Evidence of its importance can be found in the famous Madaba mosaic map.
However, Karak undoubtedly occupies a prominent place in Jordanian history due to the significant role it played during the time of the Crusaders. King Baldwin I of Jerusalem built a large castle in the mid-12th century, which was part of a vast network of fortresses to defend the eastern flank of his kingdom. This network also included castles such as Shobak, further south.
Karak played this role for approximately half a century, as it was conquered by Saladin’s troops at the end of the 12th century. In fact, the capture of this castle in 1183 is considered a pivotal event in the process of Arab reconquest: it was besieged for a whole year, and upon entering the castle, Saladin took the life of its lord, Reynald of Châtillon. Later on, a large equestrian statue was erected in the city in memory of the revered Ayyubid sultan.
In the following century, the castle of Karak was consolidated by the Mamluks, but by the end of that century, it could not withstand another onslaught, this time from the earth: a major earthquake caused significant damage to its structure. This was how Jean Louis Burckhardt, the Swiss explorer who rediscovered Petra for the Western world, found it in 1812 during his travels in the area.
Parallel to the castle of Karak, the city gradually grew, with Arabs and Christians living together, albeit not without conflicts: in the late 19th century, the entire Christian population was forced to leave the city after one of those clashes, heading towards Madaba, where the climate of tolerance was greater.
Apart from the statue of Saladin located in the city center, all attention and interest are concentrated on Karak Castle. Its imposing figure rises high on the hill, despite missing important elements such as several towers, which were lost during the 13th century earthquake. However, its current state reflects significant efforts to restore and preserve the surviving elements, with abundant informational panels and a simple ticket booth at the entrance.
Here is a list of places to see within the castle grounds in Karak:
All options to reach Karak involve road transportation. If you wish to use a public and shared option, you’ll need to be patient, as the bus station mainly receives minibuses that do not have regular schedules and only depart when they are full. Amman, Shobak, or Wadi Musa are some of the towns connected in this way. However, Karak is not part of the regular route network of the JETT bus company.
If you choose a private vehicle or your own bus, it is easy to get here as it is located in the center of the country. Here are some approximate distances and durations: