21 January 2010

Noblesse obliges

In the same way as I arrived at the tent of the Bedu family I said farewell. No big gestures. Goodbye, Ins’Allah, drive safe and I was back on track. They are accustomed to inviting people and leaving is part of the deal, it is part of arriving for the Bedu.

I made my way up to Madaba. On the way I visited two crusader castles. Imposing structures, build on impossible hilltops. Overlooking the remains and the surrounding it is not hard to understand that many of the crusaders stayed here and settled in fortified settlements in the name of their religion. The castle at Shoubak, was besieged for 18 months before it finally fell. I wound my way down into the rock through a narrow secret pass way, which only gave into daylight, 60 meters deeper and 300 meters from the castle walls. The second castle was in Karak, a little hilltop town with maddening one-way streets that drove me totally crazy in the midday heat. The entire town looked, as it was the busiest day of the week, people, stalls and vendors everywhere. It must have shown that I was lost; cause a helpful man asked me where I wanted to go. He showed me the way to the Karak Castle. Before tackling history I settled in an empty restaurant and enjoyed a cold beer and some mesas. That is the only thing the sweltering midday heat allowed. Fine with me…

Karak castle is imposing in several ways. The preservation of this castle is amazing. You wander through the dark hallways, military quarters, stables, kitchen…and it feels as if all the occupants just left the day before. The location on the highest point in the surroundings treats you on amazing 360-degree vistas of the surroundings. Wadi Karak stretches seemingly endless to the West of the castle. It is believed that this wadi was once the scene of Sodom and Gomorrah; peering into the void I tried to imagine how that would have looked.

A near vertical wall, covering the steep side of the rocky outcrop on which the castle is build, protects the east side of the castle. This wall, called glacis, was the terrific site of many deaths. Stories have it that the notorious Renauld de Chatillon threw countless prisoners of this wall to temper his vicious urge for cruelty. To ensure that his victims would feel the agonizing pain of this treatment, he would put a wooden box over their heads, to avoid them passing out to quickly. Nasty.

In the winter of 1183, Karak Castle was the stage of a choreographed marriage to reunite quarrelling Frankish factions. The leader of the Islamic armies seized the town and tried to conquer the castle. The wedding went on and the bride had some of the wedding dishes sent to Saladin. In return Saladin informed on where the young couple would be celebrating their first night, then ordered his men not to bombard this part of the castle. Battle in style. Noblesse obliges.

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