A short journey west from Jerash, through pine forest and olive groves, brings you to the castle of Ajloun, also known as the Rabad castle, a fine example of Islamic architecture, the fortress dominated a wide stretch of the north Jordan Valley and passages to it.
Built in 1184 by a nephew of Saladin, Izz Aldin Osama, Ajloun’s castle had a highly strategical role. From its hilltop position, it protected the communications routes between south Jordan and Syria. The castle was also a cornerstone of the defence against the Crusaders. The dialogue with other aliened fortresses was possible through a complex communication system involving fire signalling and carrier pigeons, and capable of connecting Damascus and Cairo in just twelve hours.
In 1269, the Mongols invaded and destroyed the fortress. However, almost immediately, the Mameluke sultan Baybar recaptured the castle and rebuilt it to its present state. After the Mamelukes, the Ottomans garrison stationed in the castle in the 17th century. Local villagers settled in the fortress afterwards. In 1812, when the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt stopped in Ajloun on the journey that led him to the discovery of Petra, he found the castle inhabited only by 40 persons. In 1837 and 1927, the fortress suffered from major destructive earthquakes. Recently the Jordan Department of Antiques launched a project for the restoration and consolidation of the damaged structures. The castle has also been at a centre of a project aimed at preserving the identity of the historical and urban design of Ajloun and creating job opportunities through tourism.
The Highlights of the Castle
The main features of the Ajloun castle include the moat, the drawbridge at the main entrance, a fortified gate, the grim-looking tower in the south and four towers along the perimeter of the fortress. The castle also hides a labyrinth of covered passageways, spiral staircases, long ramps, rooms used as dining rooms, bedrooms, and stables, as well as private areas intended for the lords of the castle (equipped with a small stone basin and windows with slits). There is also a small museum with collections of ancient objects.
Venture through the solid walls and passages of the castle and immerse in its history. The visitor centre offers the possibility of an hour-long private guided tour in English. Caressed by the wind, enjoy the spectacular panorama on the top of the castle.
The Ajloun Forest Reserve
The Ajloun plateau host the Ajloun Nature Reserve, one of the important nature conservation hotspot of Jordan. Established in 1988 to host a captive breeding program focusing on the endangered roe deer species, Ajloun reserve is today a sanctuary for many wild endemic animals including the stone martens, polecats, wild boars, hyena, grey wolves, and wild boars. Cover with oak and pistachio forests, the reserve is a favourite destination for Jordanian hikers who, in summer and especially on Friday, leave the heat of the city for a picnic in the countryside. The woodland vegetation is the same that in ancient times covered the north of Jordan and preserves vulnerable native species, such as the Mount Tabor oak, the national tree of Jordan.