Friday, February 16, 2007

Day 16. Dana Nature Reserve and Karak Castle.

On Day 16 we left Wadi Musa and headed north on the Kings Highway. Our final destination for the day would be Madaba but we would be stopping at various points along the way.

Our first stop was to be the Dana (pronounced DAH-nah) Nature Reserve. The Dana Nature Reserve contains a remarkable diversity of landscapes - ranging from wooded highlands to rocky slopes, and from gravel plains to dunes of sand and is home to about 600 species of plants, 37 species of mammals and 190 species of birds.

Okay, I don't remember what the day was like when we left Wadi Musa, but here's what I saw looking out my window as we drove towards Dana.

I think I see a bush...or is that a rock?


No, it's a tree and I think the wind's blowing?


To say it was foggy is an understatement! Visibility was barely beyond the headlights of the car and the driver was exercising extreme care driving along the road which at times curved to hug the mountainous landscape.

Yikes!! Where's the road?


At one point, Daniel announced to us that we had arrived at Dana but we couldn't tell for the fog that had completely obscured our view of anything outside the van. There was really no point to stop at Dana so we continued on.

Next stop. Karak Castle. The road curved back and forth on deep switchback roads and the fog rolled in and out as we made our way to the town of al-Karak.

At points where there was little or no fog, the mountainous landscape would come into view. What has amazed me on this journey through Egypt and Jordan is the diversity of desert landscape. Even on this relatively short drive, there were times when the rockscape was completely barren and other times when it was covered with low growing shrubs and trees.



Then, there were stretches where the ground is dotted with green. I don't know what the flora is but I'm suspecting it's emerging growth of some sort....spring arrives early in this part of the world.



We even caught glimpse of a mountain lake - as muted yet rich shade of green.



....and as we had seen on many a driving trip, animals crossing the road.



We soon arrived into al-Karak and headed for Karak Castle. If you're interested in the history of Karak Castle, check out the Jordan Tourism Board webpage on Karak.

Lei standing at the crossbridge that takes you to the entrance into the Castle grounds. The entrance is the small archway at the end of the crossbridge.


It is recorded that the Crusader King Baldwin I of Jerusalem had the castle built in 1132 AD but because of its location on the ancient caravan routes that used to connect Egypt to Syria and its commanding position almost 1000 meters above the Dead Sea Valley, it was a strategic asset of great importance to many civilizations over time - including the Greeks and Romans.

Today, you can easily see the Kings Highway from Karak Castle as it winds its way north to Amman and south to Aqaba.



Both the town and the Castle were built within fortified walls, some of which are still evident today.



As we entered the Castle grounds, Daniel got our entry tickets for us.



We were then joined by one of the archeologists who works on the excavation efforts that are still underway on the site. He was going to be leading us on our tour of Karak.



I lucked out a bit on this tour. Just before we started on our walk through the Castle, the archeologist asked Daniel about what happened to my left arm and when he heard the story, I think he decided that I was not going to further injure myself....at least, not on his watch. So, with the archeologist guiding my every step - telling me exactly where to walk to, where to place my feet, where to stand, and at times holding my hand as I walked down stairs, I lead the group into the Castle and everywhere else we went on the tour. Sometimes it is nice being at the head of the pack! I had the best view of everything we saw on the tour!



The exterior walls of the Castle are strenghthened with rectangular projecting towers.



Brrr!! It was a blustery, cold day and although there were magnificent views all around me and a very knowledgeable archeologist educating us on the history of Karak, I was quickly getting cold to the point where all I could think about was getting warm. Thankfully, we soon stepped inside the fortified walls of the Castle where we were protected from the wind.



The interior of the Castle is a series of long stone vaulted galleries that are lighted only by narrow slits.



The most famous occupant of Karak Castle was Reynald de Chatillon who gained possession of the castle when he married Stephanie of Milly , the widow of both Humphrey III of Toron and Miles of Plancy, and the heiress of the lordship of Oultrejordain. Oultrejordain was the name used during the Crusades for an extensive and partly undefined region to the east of the Jordan river. This region included Karak Castle.

Chatillon became notorious for his wanton cruelty at Karak, not only harassing the trade caravans that travelled the route between Egypt and Syria but he also having his enemies and prisoners flung from its castle windows to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. To add to the torture, Chatillon would encase their heads in boxes so that they would remain conscious as they plummeted to their deaths. As we passed the window that Chatillon supposedly tossed his enemies and prisoners out of, I shuddered at the thought of how gruesome it must have been and how human beings, even to this day, can be heartlessly cruel!



Off the galleries are chambers that were used for living quarters as well as stables. Archeologists believe that several thousand Crusaders lived within the walls of the Castle.

One of the kitchens we toured - with stone sink and ovens (not shown in picture) for preparing meals.



Vertical pottery channels, which brought rain water from outside into cisterns that lay beneath the Castle floor, lined the gallery walls.

Once we completed the tour of the interior, we made our way back outside and continued down a footpatch to a small chapel, which is still being excavated.

The chapel is what looks like a mound of rocks on the right side of the picture below.


View of the Dead Sea Valley from the chapel.


At this point, the archeologist bid us farewell and extended an invitation for us to return when the chapel was fully excavated. We thanked him and if it wasn't so windy and cold, we probably would have spent some time wandering the grounds but all we wanted to do was get back to the vehicles and warm up. We quickly scurried out of the Castle grounds only to find that our drivers had gone off for midday prayer - we would have to patiently wait (holding back shivers) for their return. Fortunately, it wasn't long before both drivers were back and we were once again on the road.

Next stop. The Dead Sea.

Read about Lei's memories of Dana and Karak Castle.