On the way to the Dead Sea

Sunset @ Al-Nawatef Camp

Our base north of Petra was at the Dana Nature Reserve, where we stayed for 2 nights at Al-Nawatef Camp. On the way, we visited Shoubak Castle, our first Crusader castle in Jordan.

Dana Nature Reserve
Dana Valley

At the Dana Nature Reserve, hiking is a great way to explore the area. During our stay, the weather was quite bad, with below 10 degrees in the morning, clouds and very strong wind. As Cordy had a throat infection, we were not in the mood for any hike but turned the heating on and spent a day working.

Montreal or Shobak castle was built in 1115 by Baldwin I of Jerusalem during his expedition to the area, when he captured Aqaba. It was the first Crusader castle east of the Jordan River. Originally, it was called ‘Krak de Montreal’ or ‘Mons Regalis’, in honour of the king’s own contribution to its construction, today it is known as Shobak Castle, after the nearby town.

The towers are decorated with carved inscriptions dating from the renovations by the Mamelukes in the 14th century. Remains of a village are visible on the surrounding hills.

The castle was never fully excavated or rebuilt inside the walls, and we explored parts, which looked quite unstable, with some dubious support bars trying to hold everything in place.

The strong wind we had on top of the hills seems to be a constant source of power

When we left the Dana Nature Reserve, we visited our next Crusader castle in Karak.

Karak castle

Karak castle is one of the largest castles in the Levant. Construction began in the 1140s, under Pagan and Fulk, King of Jerusalem. The Crusaders called it Crac des Moabites or “Karak in Moab”, as it is referred to in history books. Pagan the Butler was also Lord of Oultrejordain and Karak Castle became the centre of his power, replacing the weaker castle of Montreal (Shobak) to the south. Because of its position east of the Dead Sea, Karak Castle was able to control bedouin herders as well as the trade routes from Damascus to Egypt and Mecca. In 1183 and in 1184, Saladin besieged the castle. He was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, hailing from a Kurdish family, he became the first sultan of both Egypt and Syria. He spearheaded the Muslim military effort against the Crusader states in the Levant during the Third Crusade.

Magic stones makes a good sound

It was still very cold and windy when we visited Karak castle. Afterwards, we were making our way down to the Dead Sea, which we could already make out from the castle. At more than 300 metres below sea level, the temperatures were finally much better again.

Dead Sea in the distance
Melons and banans giving each other a good race uphill

The Dead Sea is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world and one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, responsible for the extreme uplift you experience when “swimming” in it.

The surface of the lake has shrunk by more than 30 percent since the 1960s, which is mostly attributed to the much-reduced flow of the Jordan River, as all the water is used for irrigation further upstream.

Floating in the Dead Sea

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