Krak de Montreal, as Shobak Castle was known when it was a mighty Crusader fortress, occupies one of the most dramatic locations imaginable. The sight of it towering above the surrounding countryside is enough to evoke memories of medieval Crusaders and the armies of Saladin. The views from its imposing ramparts are simply spectacular.
Unlike Karak, which has a sizeable town attached to it, Shobak Castle sits in grand isolation on a steep-sided hill that provides sweeping vistas over the region. To try to appreciate the location better I clambered up a nearby hillside to get a view over the castle. It was hard going but the view was magnificent.
The castle is in a state of disrepair, most of its former buildings crumbling from neglect, but that seems to make it more atmospheric. Shobak has an important place in Crusader history, built in 1115 it was the first Crusader fortress to be constructed on the eastern side of the River Jordan, marking an expansion of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the projection of Crusader power further east.
Constructed by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, the Krak de Montreal dominated the region and controlled trade and pilgrimage routes between Damascus and the Red Sea at Aqaba. The castle was the most important Crusader fortress in this region until Karak Castle was completed in 1161, when it became one of many secondary castles that marked the frontier between Christian and Muslim territories.
Most of what remains of Shobak dates from the post-Crusader Mamluk period, but the interior of the castle contains the remains of two churches as well as plenty of other remnants of the Crusaders. There are steps leading underground to catacombs and a spring which provided water to the castle. There are supposed to be 375 steps that lead down into the darkness to reach the well.
To go underground you have to have a torch as the claustrophobic tunnels are pitch dark. I didn’t have a torch, but clearly someone had gone down into the darkness. I found a plaintive note written by the person waiting for them to return. The funny thing is, I didn’t see any other people when I was there. Someone may still be down there.
On one side of the castle are some large round rocks that hinted at the castle’s violent history. They would have been catapulted at the castle when it was under siege. Shobak’s location meant it had been able to survive several sieges, but it finally fell to Saladin in 1189 after a siege lasting 18 months. The defenders are supposed to have gone blind due to a lack of salt.
I’d planned to spend the night close to Shobak but I’d arrived earlier than anticipated. Even after spending a couple of hours exploring and drinking tea at the visitors centre, I had time to drive the last few kilometres to Wadi Musa the modern town located at the entrance to Petra…