So after Jerash we went to Ajloun. Ajloun is a Crusader castle, except not built by Crusaders. It was built by Saladin as a counter to the Crusaders. It let him control the upper Jordan valley and keep an overland route from Egypt up to Damascus. If you walk around the castle, you can sort of see that it's an Arab copy of a standard medieval European castle. Oh, it's got all the standard castle stuff -- moat, gatehouse, arrowslits, murder holes for pouring boiling oil. But the proportions are subtly off. The stonework doesn't seem quite as fine. It's a knockoff.
But then, fine stonework isn't what counts. Ajloun got the job done. It closed the region to European incursions, and gave Saladin a screen to move his armies around. Indirectly, it was key to his victory over the Crusaders a few years later, and the recapture of Jerusalem. See, up until then, the Crusader kingdoms had withstood Arab counterattacks... in part because the Arabs were divided, in part because the Westerners had this annoying habit of building huge damn castles. The Arabs knew all about castles, of course, but they weren't obsessed with them the way the Europeans were. The Crusaders had erected western-style castles all over the Holy Land. These were damnably hard to take; the last of them wouldn't be winkled out until the 1270s, nearly a century after Saladin's time. (That was Krak des Chevaliers, in Syria. Which is about six times the size of Ajloun. It was only taken by a ruse.) Anyway, something that only just occurred to me at Ajloun: the Arab world has a habit of referring back to the Crusades -- "Bush is a Crusader", and such. Westerners tend to roll their eyes a bit at this; the Crusades were a long time ago! Find another metaphor! But, you know, there are still half a dozen big damn Crusader castles scattered across Jordan and Syria. And most of them sit on hilltops and can be seen a long, long way off. Anyway. Ajloun overlooks the East Bank, which is mostly inhabited by Palestinians relocated after 1948. The East Bank gets much less press than the West Bank, because nobody is blowing anything up there. The 1948 Palestinians have integrated pretty well into Jordan -- they're full citizens -- and the region gives the impression that, if it's not exactly prosperous, at least most people are getting by. Lots of little farms growing vegetables. From the towers of Ajloun you can see the West Bank -- it's maybe ten or twelve miles off, low brown hills across the Jordan valley -- but it might as well be on another planet. But that's a story for some other blog. As for Ajloun, I wouldn't call it a must-visit; it's only a medium-big castle, pretty ordinary in its construction. If you've spent much time in Europe, you've visited half a dozen just like it. The only extraoardinary thing about Ajloun is its location. So unless you really like castles... Still, it was a nice day trip. And that was my tourist weekend in Jordan.