|"Angel Leading the Crusaders" by Gustave Dore|
There is so very much more to the Crusades, but I will leave that to a few other future posts. For now, I'd love to share with you some of the castles I got to visit this Summer while studying abroad in Jordan and Israel, and a little bit about how we can learn from them.
Montreal Castle (now called Qal'at ash-Shawbak), in Jordan, was built in 1115 by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem. It sits on a hill rising above the plain of Edom and controlled a trade route from Syria to Arabia. The castle's inhabitants drew their water from a spring at the bottom of the hill, accessed by a long, steep tunnel dug down through the hill. Saladin captured Montreal Castle in 1189, but only after a siege of nearly two years.
Kerak, not to be confused with Krak des Chevaliers of Syria, stands north of Montreal Castle and east of the Dead Sea. Kerak is a massive castle, constructed in the 1140s, which controlled trade routes from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca. It was besieged beginning at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and captured (due to treachery on the part of the governor's wife) in 1189.
Qasr Kharana, though not a true castle, is an Islamic style, fortified desert mansion built in the eighth century, by caliph Walid I. He probably used this palace to hold councils or celebrations with his tribal leaders. His favorite few might then be taken to the nearby mini-castle-bathhouse-spa for a private retreat. All in the middle of the desert. Go figure.
Vadum Iacob ("Jacob's Ford"), built in 1178 by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, was the last castle we visited. Though it may appear horribly anticlimactic, as hardly any of the castle's remains are readily visible, it tells one of the most fascinating stories of the Crusades, and of Crusader Archaeology. But, that story must wait until another time. For now, suffice it to say that it involves greed, arrogance, a mighty battle where one side was completely annihilated, and the remains were left untouched for over eight hundred years.
The castles built in the Middle East by the Crusaders and their Muslim adversaries are some of the best examples of Medieval castle-building technology and design. This was a period when the greatest developments occurred on both sides of castle construction, as the Crusaders learned certain techniques from the Muslims and vice-verse. It was an amazing privilege for me to walk through the courtyards, chambers, and corridors constructed so long ago by these driven warriors of the Crusades (and earlier eras), even if we only had a short while to explore each one. (Literally, when we arrived at most of these fortresses, our professor announced, "Okay, guys, you've got twenty minutes to explore this castle!" We had a very tight schedule...)
The Crusades in general might still make me a little uncomfortable, but I'm warming up to studying them (besides, I'm a Medieval Studies major - I have no choice). They may be embarrassing to the Christian faith as a whole, but they left a legacy of cultural, technological, and architectural advancements. We can learn a great deal from the mistakes and successes of this much-debated era of history, when Europe and the Middle East, Christianity and Islam, clashed.
Photo credits: Deanna Leiber, unless otherwise noted