Ajlun Castle

Ajlun Castle


In the hills north-west of Jarash, overlooking the town of ‘Ajlun, stands a handsome fort, Qala’at ar-Rabadh, with fine views over the Jordan Valley. A 13th-century Arab writer told of ‘an ancient monastery’ here, and William of Tyre mentioned a ‘small fortress’, captured by the Crusaders in 1139. Some incised crosses, and a recently discovered chapel with a mosaic floor (probably 8th-century), give credence to the tradition of a Christian Arab origin.

But the purpose of the present fort was anti-Crusader, built in 1184-85 by ‘Izz ad-Din Usama, one of Saladin’s generals. This superb piece of Ayyubid military architecture soon outlived its original purpose – in 1187 the Crusaders’ defeat at Hattin in Galilee ended their occupation of the Holy Land.

In 1214-15 the castle was enlarged by ‘In ad-Din Aybak, for the Ayyubid Sultan al-Malik al-Mu’azzam, to become one of tile chain of beacons and pigeon stations relaying messages between Damascus and Cairo and, in 1219, housing supplies for use against the fifth Crusade. In 1260 it fell to the Mongols, but was restored by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars.

Its later history is sketchy -repaired in the 17th century; visited by J. L. Burckhardt in 1812; damaged in an earthquake in 1837; and repaired by Ibrahim Pasha. It was recently repaired and restored by Jordan’s Department of Antiquities.