Our fourth day was mostly devoted to the examination of the iconic Kerak Castle. We had the honor to be accompanied and guided by Dr Micaela Sinibaldi and Dr Dino Politis. Before climbing up the castle, we made a stop in a traditional café by the castle and there, Gil and Pagona offered us an impressive and extensive introduction of the history and architecture of the castle. Pagona in particular, was very keen on presenting us the churches of the site and implored Gil not to enter into the details of “her churches”! We ascended the castle, where Micaela gave us an in-depth tour of the site.
View of the Kerak castle
Pagona’s and Gil’s introduction to the history and architecture of the castleScott is making a new friend!
Initially occupied by a Christian community, the location of Kerak has been transformed into a castle in 1142 by the Crusaders. Ten years later, part of the castle (a tower and a barbican) was conceded to the Hospitallers with the aim to reinforce its defense. A well-know story which is described by chroniclers says that when Saladin was sieging the castle in 1177, the wedding day of Isabel, King of Jerusalem sister and Humphrey IV of Toron was taking place. Eventually, the castle fell to the Ayyubids in 1188, while in 1263 (until 1517) it was conquered by the Mamluks with their leader Baybars starting off an ambitious building campaign. Save its defensive character, the castle also had an administrative and economic importance. Among others, in our long and exciting visit, we had fruitful in situ discussion on the castle’s two churches, the stable, its vaulted halls and its peculiar arrow slits. Enigmatic was also the initial entrance to the castle, which was most probably accessed via a drawbridge. In addition, a series of rosettes, recalling the ones on the facade of Mshatta, in one of the churches made us ponder on their initial function and placement.
A Phantom Edna at the Kerak Castle
Gil’s tour at the Reception Hall
A view into the castle
Following our visit to Kerak, we headed toward the Jordan Valley in the region Ghawrs southeast of the Dead Sea. The “Lowest place on earth” is 400 m below sea level and thousands of years ago it comprised the bottom of the Dead Sea. While admiring the breathtaking scenery, we listened to the thorough introduction of Dr Politis about the history, topography and geography of the region. We arrived at the sugar factory complex of Ghawr as-Sāfī (Zoara) which had its heyday during the Mamluk period, from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Dr Politis offered us a great tour of the site and he elaborated on the technological advances of the era as well as on the irrigation system. The factory complex is remarkably well-preserved and the visitor can discern the remnants of fortification walls, a large pool, columns, remains of presses with arched aqueduct, water-channels, crushing chambers and subterranean vaulted rooms. People from the local village joined us in the tour whereas the children of the neighborhood were following us enthusiastically. After the tour to the site, we visited the “Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth” at Safi, where Dr Politis showed us the finds of the sugar factory and other exciting exhibits of the museum such as ancient Greek inscriptions and textiles. Among the highlights were sugar pots and a dusut, that is a large mould-made copper cauldron.
(lit.)“The Lowest Place on Earth”
At the sugar factory complex of Ghawr as-Sāfī (Zoara)
Dr Dino Politis is guiding us through his excavations at the sugar factory
Remains of pools and presses
Our little friends’ farewell!
The dusut, i.e. a large mould-made copper cauldron.
The day concluded with our “advent” at Petra. All of us were exhausted but greatly impatient for the day to come which would be dedicated to the Nabataean…and of course Crusader Petra!
Text and Photos by Anthi Andronikou & Suna Cagaptay