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This article is about the region and castle in Jordan. For other meanings of the term Karak, see Karak (disambiguation).
Karak City
مدينة الكرك
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The Karak Castle
Nickname(s): Qir of Moab
Karak City
Karak City

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

Karak (also Kerak) (Arabic: Al-Karak الكرك‎) is a city in Jordan that is known for the famous crusader castle Kerak. The castle is one of the three largest castles in the region, the other two being in Syria. Karak is the capital city of Karak Governorate.

Karak, once a Kingdom,[3] lies 140 km to the south of Amman on the King's Highway. An ancient Crusader stronghold, it is situated on a hilltop about 1000 metres above sea level and is surrounded on three sides by a valley. 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 19th century Ottoman period. The town is built on a triangular plateau, with the castle at its narrow southern tip, but it is undoubtedly Karak Castle which dominates.


Al Karak has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age, and was an important city for the Moabites (who called it Qir of Moab). In the Bible it is called Qer Harreseth, 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 north of Palestine, 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 ninth century BC. The area eventually fell under the power of the Nabateans. The Romans (with support from the Ghassanids or Ghassasinah الغساسنة) conquered it from them in 105 AD. The Al-Ghassasneh (Ghassanids) tribe is believed to be the first tribe to inhabit the site of modern al-Karak. The tribe consists of the families: Suheimat, Dmour, Mbaydeen, Adaileh, Soub, Karakiyeen. During the late Hellenistic Period, Al Karak became an important town taking its name from the Aramaic word for town, Kharkha.[4] Under Roman rule the city was known as Areopolis, and in Late Antiquity as Harreketh. Under the Byzantine Empire it was a bishopric seat, housing the much venerated Church of Nazareth, and remained predominantly Christian under Arab rule.

The Crusaders and Mamlukes

In 1132 King Fulk, the Crusader king of Jerusalem, made Pagan the Butler Lord of Montreal and Oultrejourdain, the lands east of the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. 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.[5] 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.[6] Saladin's younger brother, Al-Adil was governor of the district until becoming ruler of Egypt and Syria in 1199.[7]

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 Mamluke 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.[8]

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

Karak is dominated by three major tribes known as the Al Majali tribe, who originally came from Hebron [9] the Tarawneh tribe and the Saraieh' tribe', who in turn had replaced the once dominant El 'Ahmer.[10] In 1844 Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt sent an expedition west of the Dead Sea. His troops occupied the castle at Karak but they were starved out with much loss of life. Mohammed Al Majali who had control of Karak in 1868, was involved in the events that led to the destruction of the Moabite Stone.[11] In 1893 the Sublime Porte Abdul Hamid II established the sub-province of Ma'an, with a resident governor (Mutasarif) in Kerak, under the Wāli of Syria based in Damascus.[12] One of the first governors, 1895, was Hussein Helmy Bey Effendi, 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.[13] 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 2,000 were Orthodox 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.[14] 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.[15] Merchants from Damascus came to the town twice each year.[16]

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 Transjordan.[17]

In August 1996 there were riots in the town after the government increased the price of bread.[18]


Karak City's Metropolitan population is estimated to be 68,800 (2003 estimate). making up 31.5% of the total population of the Karak Governorate. Most of the population of the city are Muslims (75%), there is also a significant Christian population (25%). In general the percentage of Christians in Karak City is among the highest in Jordan.

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


Karak is famous for its traditional Jordanian meal called mansaf.

Twin cities

United States Birmingham, Alabama, United States.

See also


External links


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

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