This article is about the region and castle in Jordan. For other meanings of the term Karak, see Karak (disambiguation).
مدينة الكرك

Nickname(s): Qir of Moab
Coordinates: 31°11′0″N 35°42′0″E / 31.18333°N 35.70000°E / 31.18333; 35.70000
Country Jordan
Province Karak Governorate
  Metro 765 km2 (295 sq mi)
Elevation 930 m (3,051 ft)
Population (2003)[1][2]
  City 21,678
  Metro 68,810 (2,003)
Time zone GMT +2
  Summer (DST) +3 (UTC)
Area code(s) +(962)2

Al-Karak (Arabic: الكرك), also known as just Karak or Kerak, is a city in Jordan known for its Crusader castle, the Kerak Castle. The castle is one of the three largest castles in the region, the other two being in Syria. Al-Karak is the capital city of the Karak Governorate.

Al-Karak lies 140 kilometres (87 mi) to the south of Amman on the ancient King's Highway. It is situated on a hilltop about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded on three sides by a valley. Al-Karak has a view of the Dead Sea. A city of about 20,000 people has been built up around the castle and it has buildings from the 19th-century Ottoman period. The town is built on a triangular plateau, with the castle at its narrow southern tip.


Al-Karak has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age, and was an important city for the Moabites. In the Bible it is called Qer Harreseth or Kir of Moab, and is identified as having been subject to the Assyrian empire; in the Books of Kings (16:9) and Book of Amos (1:5, 9:7), it is mentioned as the place where the Syrians went before they settled in the regions in the northern of Levant, and to which Tiglath-Pileser III sent the prisoners after the conquest of Damascus. In 1958 the remains of an inscription was found in Wadi al-Karak that has been dated to the late 9th century BC.

During the late Hellenistic Period, al-Karak became an important town taking its name from the Aramaic word for town, Kharkha (כרכא).[3]

The area eventually fell under the power of the Nabateans. The Roman Empire – with support from the Arab Ghassanid tribe, or Ghassasinah – conquered it from them in 105 AD. The city was known in Late Antiquity as Harreketh. Under the Byzantine Empire it was the seat of a bishopric, housing the much venerated Church of Nazareth, and remained predominantly Christian under Arab rule. Its bishop Demetrius took part in the council of the three provinces of Palaestina held in Jerusalem in 536. Another, named John, is said to have existed in the 9th century.[4][5]

Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods

Al-Karak fell within the Crusader Oultrejourdain, the lands east of the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. In 1132 King Fulk of Jerusalem, made Pagan the Butler Lord of Montreal and Oultrejourdain. Pagan made his headquarters at al-Karak where he built a castle on a hill called by the crusaders Petra Deserti - The Stone of the Desert.[6] His castle, much modified, dominates the town to this day.

The castle was only in Crusader hands for 46 years. It had been threatened by Saladin's armies several times but finally, surrendered in 1188, after a siege that lasted more than a year.[7] Saladin's younger brother, Al-Adil was governor of the district until becoming ruler of Egypt and Syria in 1199.[8]

The castle played an important role as a place of exile and a power base several times during the Mamluk sultanate. Its significance lay in its control over the caravan route between Damascus and Egypt and the pilgrimage route between Damascus and Mecca. In the thirteenth century the Mamluk ruler Baibars used it as a stepping stone on his climb to power. In 1389 Sultan Barquq was exiled to al-Karak where he gathered his supporters before returning to Cairo.[9]

Al-Karak was the birthplace of Ibn al-Quff, an Arab physician and surgeon and author of the earliest medieval Arabic treatise intended solely for surgeons.

Modern history

Al-Karak is dominated by five major tribes known as the Al-Ghassasinah tribe, the Al Majali tribe, who originally came from Hebron,[10] the Tarawneh tribe and the Saraireh tribe, who in turn had replaced the once dominant El 'Ahmer.[11] The Ghassanid tribe is believed to be the first to inhabit the site of modern al-Karak. The tribe consists of the families: Suheimat, Dmour, Mbaydeen, Adaileh, Soub, and Mdanat and Karakiyeen.

In 1844 Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt sent an expedition west of the Dead Sea. His troops occupied the castle at al-Karak but they were starved out with much loss of life.

Mohammed Al-Majali who had control of al-Karak in 1868, was involved in the events that led to the destruction of the Moabite Stone.[12]

In 1893 the Sublime Porte Abdul Hamid II established the sub-province of Ma'an, with a resident governor (mutasarif) in al-Karak, under the Wāli of Syria based in Damascus.[13] One of the first governors, 1895, was Hussein Helmy Bey Effendi (see also Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha), aged 40, formerly the General Secretary at Damascus. He ruled with a garrison of 1,200 troops, in 3 regiments, mostly conscripts from West of the River Jordan doing their three years of military service. There were also 200 Circassian cavalry.[14] One of his achievements was the disarming of the local population. He also established a Military Hospital with a Jewish doctor; enforced the regulation of coinage and weights and measures; introduced a weekly postal service to Jerusalem, Damascus and Ma'an; and set up agricultural projects such as the planting of 5,000 grape vines at Madeba.

One estimate of the population of the town and the surrounding area at this time gives a total of 10,000. Of these, 8000 were Muslims and 2,000 were Orthodox Christians whose Church, St George, had been built in 1849. The Latin Mission was established in 1874 and in 1886 Al Majali gave permission to the English Mission to work in the town.[15] The town's Orthodox school had 120 boys and 60 girls. The same source notes that the town's Mufti had been educated in Hebron and al Azhar, Cairo, and that there was a newly built mosque.[16] Merchants from Damascus came to the town twice each year.[17]

Following the San Remo conference, 1920, Great Britain was given a mandate to govern the area. The newly appointed High Commissioner in Jerusalem, Herbert Samuel, sent several officials east of the River Jordan to create a local administration. Major Alec Kirkbride was based in al-Karak with a small detachment of policemen. He established what he named The National Government of Moab with himself as president. In January 1921 Emir Abdullah Hussein began assembling an army in Ma'an and announced his intention to attack the French in Syria. After a brief consultation with his superiors Kirkbride's government welcomed the arrival of the Emir. At the Cairo conference, March 1921, Abdullah was recognised by the British as ruler of Emirate of Transjordan.[18]

In the 1920s, al-Karak had a population of 8,000 and had the third largest urban population (after Amman and Salt with 20,000 each) in Transjordan.[19]

In August 1996, there were food riots in the town after the government increased the price of bread.[20]


Al-Karak's metropolitan population was estimated to be 68,800 in 2013, making up 31.5% of the total population of the Karak Governorate. Most of the population of the city are Muslims (75%) and there is also a significant Christian population (25%). In general, the percentage of Christians in al-Karak is among the highest in Jordan.


Al-Karak is famous for its traditional Jordanian lamb dish called mansaf.


Twin cities

Notable persons

See also


  1. (Arabic) جريدة الغد
  2. (Arabic) Karak 4u
  3. Hitti, Philip K. (1970) History of the Arabs. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-09871-4. Page 641.
  4. Michel Lequien, Oriens christianus in quatuor Patriarchatus digestus, Paris 1740, Vol. III, coll. 729-734
  5. Pius Bonifacius Gams, Series episcoporum Ecclesiae Catholicae, Leipzig 1931, p. 454
  6. Runciman, Steven (1951) A history of the Crusades. Volume II. The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East. 1100-1187. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-06162-8. Page 230.
  7. Runciman. Page 468. "after the last horse had been eaten."
  8. Hitti. Page 652.
  9. Holt, P.M. (1986) The Age of the Crusades. The Near East from the Eleventh century to 1517. Longman. ISBN 0-582-49302-1. Pages 86, 128.
  10. Bliss, Frederick James (1895) Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Report. Page 217.
  11. Dowling, Rev. Theodore E. and the Al Mdanat tribe the first Christian Tribe in the region PEF Quarterly Report (1896) Pages 328, 329. Records the Mujely being "unreasonable in there treatment" of visitors in 1817 (Irby and Mangles), 1851 (De Saulcy), 1872 (Canon Tristram) and 1893 (Mr and Mrs Gray Hill).
  12. Doughtey, Charles M. (1888), Travels in Arabia Deserta. Cambridge University Press. Jonathan Cape edition (1936) page 65.
  13. Bliss, page 203.
  14. Bliss, page 220. Dowling page 329.
  15. Hill, Gray (1896) PEF Quarterly Report, page 24.
  16. Dowling, page 329.
  17. Hill, page 24. Who also notes that in 1896 there were three Jews living in the town.
  18. Sykes, Christopher (1965) Cross Roads to Israel: Palestine from Balfour to Bevin. New English Library Edition (pb) 1967. Pages 52,53.
  19. Encyclopaedia Britannica (1929), Volume 22. Page 414.
  20. Mannheim, Ivan (2000) Jordan Handbook. Footprint Handbooks. ISBN 1-900949-69-5. Page 227.

External links

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Coordinates: 31°11′N 35°42′E / 31.183°N 35.700°E / 31.183; 35.700

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