Shobak Castle

Shobak Castle information

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Lonely Planet review

Perched in a wild, remote landscape, Shobak Castle wins over even the most castle-weary, despite being less complete than its sister fortification at Karak. Formerly called Mons Realis (Mont Real, or Montreal – the Royal Mountain), it was built by the Crusader king Baldwin I in AD 1115. It withstood numerous attacks from the armies of Saladin before succumbing in 1189 (a year after Karak), after an 18-month siege. It was later occupied in the 14th century by the Mamluks, who built over many of the Crusader buildings. Built on a small knoll at the edge of a plateau, the castle is especially imposing when seen from a distance. Restoration work is ongoing and hopefully this will include some explanatory signs. In the meantime, the caretaker shows visitors around for about JD10. Bring a torch for exploring the castle’s many dark corners. As you climb up from the entrance, there are some wells on the left. Soon after passing these, you’ll see the reconstructed church, one of two in the castle, down to the left. It has an elegant apse supported by two smaller alcoves. The room leading off to the west was the baptistery; on the north wall there are traces of water channels leading from above. Returning to the main path, turn left. After passing under the arches, a door leads into the extensive market. Turn left and descend 375 steps into an amazing secret passageway that leads to a subterranean spring, finally surfacing via a ladder outside the castle, beside the road to Shobak town. Tread carefully, use a torch and don’t even think about coming down here if you’re claustrophobic. Alternatively, continue past the tunnel for 50m and you’ll pass a large two-storey building with archways, built by the Crusaders but adapted by the Mamluks as a school. At the northern end of the castle is the semicircular keep with four arrow slits. Outside, dark steps lead down to the prison. Head to the northeast corner of the castle to see Quranicinscriptions, possibly dating from the time of Saladin, carved in Kufic script around the outside of the keep. Following south along the eastern perimeter, you’ll pass the entrance to the court of Baldwin I, which has been partly reconstructed. The court was later used as a Mamluk school. Continuing south, you’ll pass some baths on the right. Off to the left is a reconstructed Mamluk watchtower. Just past the tower is the second church. On a room to the left as you enter, you can see above a door in the east wall a weathered carving of a Crusader cross. In the church proper, the arches have been reconstructed. Beneath the church are catacombs, which contain Islamic tablets, Christian carvings, large spherical rocks used in catapults, and what is said to be Saladin’s very simple throne. From the catacombs, the path leads back to the gate. A new visitor centre (9am-5pm Nov-Mar, to 7pm Apr-Oct) has just opened with limited facilities (and no telephone). The caretaker can rustle up a Turkish coffee in the attractive courtyard with great views of the castle. At the time of research, it looked as though a small café with snacks was opening soon.