Ajlun Castle, Qal’at ar-Rabadh in Arabic, sits towering above the surrounding countryside; a dominating presence that was once part of a chain of castles that acted as a counterweight to the Crusader kingdoms to the west. It has commanding views over the Jordan Valley, and sits directly across the River Jordan from the Crusader fortress of Belvoir. Karak Castle to the south posed a direct threat in the 12th Century.
The castle also kept local Bedouin – who occasionally allied themselves with the Crusaders – in line. It was also an important link in the chain of communications that allowed messages to be sent across the Ayyubid Empire. Some messages went by horse, much quicker though were carrier pigeons. The pigeon post could carry a message from northern Syria to Cairo in about 12 hours.
Seen from afar, isolated on a distant hilltop, it’s a dramatic sight. Driving along the road from Jerash the castle can be spotted frequently, reaching it however was much more tricky. I got stuck in a traffic jam in the modern town of Ajlun and there weren’t any road signs to the castle. I took a road that looked like it might go to the castle. It did, via a very lengthy detour.
By the time I got there the weather had gone from bright sunshine to heavy rain. The wind was howling and the temperature had dropped several degrees. The pigeon’s-eye view you get from the castle’s ramparts was partially obscured by thick mist, although you could still see that this was a fantastic location for spotting approaching enemies. I was glad to get inside where it was warmer and drier.
Although this was only ever an Islamic castle, in an ironic twist it seems likely that the castle was constructed on top of a former Christian monastery. A Byzantine-era church, with a mosaic floor and other Christian symbols, has been discovered on the site.
Despite two earthquakes, in 1837 and 1927, causing significant damage to the castle, the interior is well preserved – the Ministry of Antiquities has been steadily renovating it over the last several years. Ajlun is a short distance from Amman and a popular stop-off for Jordanians and foreigners on a day trip to Jerash. I think there were more tourists here than anywhere else I visited in Jordan other than Petra.
This was my last full day in Jordan and I set off under a foreboding sky on the winding drive down into the Jordan Valley. As I went the clouds parted in a vaguely Biblical way and the sun came bursting forth to illuminate the valley below. I was heading back to the Dead Sea where I figured I’d earned a float and a lounge by the pool before heading back to Amman and my flight home.