Castle built by Saladin – a picture gallery

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Here is Ajlun castle built in 1184 by a nephew of Saladin to see of the crusaders and protect local iron mines from the crusaders. A jewel in Ayyubid history – that’s the dynasty founded by Saladin. As you know, Saladin would go on to retake Jerusalem from the crusaders and put many Templar knights to the sword.

One special plea to the Jordanian authorities – please remove the rubbish piling up near the castle. It’s such a beautiful monument and I’m sure those large bins can be put elsewhere! Don’t let that put you off a visit.

Ajlun castle

Looking out over the countryside

Ajlun castle

On top of the fort

Ajlun castle

Boiling oil was poured down here on to invaders

An atmospheric stairway

An atmospheric stairway

The main entrance

The main entrance

The imposing walls

The imposing walls

Please get rid of that rubbish!!

Please get rid of that rubbish!!

Were bombs used in the Crusades?

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

OK – you read that headline and thought…sensationalist tosh! But no, it’s a serious point and the evidence is pretty strong.  I visited Ajlun castle in Jordan last week – a fort built by one of Saladin‘s generals guarding nearby iron mines. There’s a small museum in the castle and it includes some mysterious circular bottles made of glass and mud.

These strange vessels have been found all over the Levant – and in areas where fighting occurred between Saladin’s Ayyubid forces and the crusader kingdoms. Some have been found to have traces of mercury while others were filled with oil or so-called “Greek fire” – a petroleum like incendiary substance used originally by the Byzantines.

Their narrow base allows them to roll fast when they hit the ground and the small size of the top doesn’t really allow for serving any liquid. It’s quite clear to many historians that these were used for military and not any domestic purpose. They were – basically – bombs.

Please excuse slight blurring on the close up shot but they were in glass cases in a dark room and there’s only so much my camera can cope with.

Ajlun castle bomb Ajlun castle bomb

 

More from the biblical city of Gadara – modern Um Qais

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Staying with Gadara – the city where Jesus cured two demoniacs. Other Roman remains here include the main street with identifiable shops and a basilica later converted into a Byzantine Christian church.

The biblical city of Gadara – my visit

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

My first stop was the remains of the biblical city of Gadara by the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have cured two demoniacs – transferring their madness to swine.

It was one of ten cities grouped by the Romans into the so-called Decapolis. They’d been inhabited since the neolithic and bronze age but it was under the rule of the Greek Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires, founded after the death of Alexander the Great, that these cities flourished.  I’ll be sharing with you my visits to other cities within the Decapolis in future blog posts.

The Romans gave the Decapolis a degree of autonomy and introduced all the hallmarks of Roman civilisation including the obligatory amphitheatre. The one at Gadara was made of basalt – creating a black structure. As Rome declined, the city became part of the Byzantine empire and then the Islamic caliphate. Its fortunes were finally sealed when a huge earthquake destroyed it in the year 749AD. As we’ll see, this natural catastrophe smashed many Roman cities in the region – and they didn’t recover.

Here’s a gallery of images of the amphitheatre. What I loved about it was that it hadn’t been lovingly restored – in fact, bits are propped up with wood as you can see. Local kids were sleeping rough under its arches. But more than other ruins, I could really sense the presence of the Romans who once lived there enjoying the theatre on a warm summer evening. The site is now called Um Qais – enjoy.

Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre

100,000 hits for this blog!

English: Knight Templar

English: Knight Templar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should really signal this landmark and thank those of you who follow The Templar Knight – even more so, the 769 of you who have posted comments and I hope I’ve engaged constructively in return.

The most popular blog post remains: Top Ten Movies about the Middle Ages with 12,523 hits. It just shows that you can’t go far wrong with interesting lists. People love them.

Going forward, I’m keen to invite guests bloggers on here and historical fiction writers – so if you are interested in sharing on this page – just send me a request through the comments.

I’m toying with the idea of more video content including, possibly, doing some Google+ hangouts with medievalists out there. Tell me what you think.

Facebook has been very successful over the last 12 months and as you can see down the side of the page, I have over 6,000 followers for my Quest For The True Cross page. Many of those followers are in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia – both Muslims and Christians. There seems to be a very keen interest in the Middle Ages in those countries.

Next week, I shall be in the Middle East and I’m going to be sharing some amazing photos of Templar landmarks. You may recall that last year I was in Israel and went to Acre where there is a huge medieval castle. I took some photos of the latrines (toilet if you prefer) and was contacted last month by a magazine called Current World Archaeology asking to feature the photo. It’s in this months’ issue! It seems I’ve become an expert on medieval “facilities”.

 

Templars put on trial in the Tower of London

English: Burning of Templars. (British Library...

English: Burning of Templars. (British Library, Royal 14 E V f. 492v) Deutsch: Verbrennung von Templern. (British Library, Royal 14 E V f. 492v) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1307, the leaders of the Knights Templar were rounded up and arrested in France.  Over the next five years, the wave of suppression spread across Europe and England was no exception. There’s an impressive list of Templars who were sent to the Tower of London – a Norman structure you can still see in the city that was a royal palace, prison, treasury and fortress.

The names included Brother William de la More, master of the Temple in England. Others arrested in London were the prior of the New Temple, Brother Ralph of Barton and a sergeant-brother called William of Hereford.

Templars from outside London were dragged to the Tower including a number from the preceptory at Denny in Cambridgeshire. One of them, Brother John of Hauwile, was noted as having gone insane.

And what were the charges? They were asked whether the Order’s initiation ceremony was secret and if so – why?  The interrogators wanted to know if such ceremonies were held at night, whether the existence of God was denied and if false idols were worshiped.

Interrogated at different churches in London, the Templars mainly denied the charges and affirmed that they knew of each other. They were then brought back to be questioned again – possibly after a bit of softening up. Some of the questioning was bizarre by our standards. William de la More was asked, for example, what words were uttered when a brother who had transgressed the rules was forced to bare his back to be “flogged three times with thongs”.  De la More said the words were “Brother, ask God that he may remit the punishment due to you”.

Like all political trials, the conclusion had been decided before the trial started. An official from York, Master John of Nassington, said he’d attended a banquet at Temple Hirst where the brothers “adored a certain calf” (!). Another witness gave the damning testimony that a cross in a Templar place was filthy and the Templars refused to wash it.

Sodomy came up a lot in the trial with various people saying Templars had attempted to lie with them.  Robert the Dorturer alleged that Brother Guy of Forest, Grand Commander of the Temple, had tried to have sex with him – but he fled in time from the chamber.

A friar claimed he had overheard a Templar called Brother Robert of Bayset walking through a field muttering the words: “Alas, alas that I was ever born because I have had to deny God and bind myself to the Devil“.

Most damningly of all, one witness claimed that all Templars were traitors because through them the sultan – the leader of the Saracens in the crusades – was told what the crusaders were going to do next.  This was an often repeated accusation by the Templars’ critics – that they were consorting with the Muslims.