Page images

of his warriors had been laid low by the strong arms of these same knights, he ordered them to be put to death; when the captive knights were all beheaded without mercy; but the king and princes were sent to Damascus. Thus ended this great battle, and disaster to the Christian army, and, as a consequence, the Christian sway in the Holy Land. For in preparing for this struggle with Saladin, the fortresses throughout the country had been weakened by drawing off the principal part of their garrisons, so that they fell an easy prey to the Sultan, and surrendered, one after another, until the third of October, when the Holy City itself capitulated.

Among the results of this battle were the loss of the Holy Land to the Christians, and its return to semi-barbarism; and the almost total annihilation of the Knights Templars-rendering it, in its effects on civilization and its tragic termination, one of the most important and remarkable battles ever fought in this quarter of the globe.


Kerak is noted as being the stronghold of Raynald of Chatillon; and is situated in a wild and singular region, bordering on Arabia. It is fifty miles southeast of Jerusalem, and ten east of the south end of the Dead Sea.

The principal approach to this place is from the south, up the side of rugged hills, and through deep and narrow defiles. In one place the route leads through a very narrow and deep pass, which could be held by a dozen resolute men against an army.

Kerak is very strong by nature, as the platform on which it stands is 3,720 feet above the level of the sea, and two deep valleys from 1,000 to 1,350 feet deep, with rugged sides, flank it north and south. In the time of the Crusades, Kerak was strongly fortified, and a strong wall surrounded the whole place. The lower part of this wall appears to be much older than the Crusading or Saracen times; and the wide bevel is similar to the Phoenecian and Jewish rebate or bevel. The main entrance into the city and fortress is through a tunnel, probably natural at first, but enlarged, and with a well built pointed arch over its entrance, above which an Arabic inscription has been let into the face of the rock. This tunnel is about 240 feet in length, and enters the town near the northwest castle. This castle is called "El Melek," from an Arabic inscription of great size cut into its walls; ascribing the inscription to El Melek. The walls of this castle are massive and flanked with lofty towers. The wall is 27 feet thick in its lower stories; and the upper stories are studded with long loop-holes, and an open ledge for the garrison to communicate along the whole. The loop-holes and chambers are now nearly all converted into rude stores. Above this the wall contracts. There are loop-holes again; and a platform about seven feet wide runs along near the top. These lofty ledges are the resort and lounge of the men and boys of Kerak.

The fortifications of Kerak were very strong, and against the warfare of that period impregnable. The most important and extensive of these works is

the great castle at the southern angle; this, being the most exposed point, was strongly and carefully fortified. The interior of this castle is one mass of vaults, arches, and galleries, and all of the most massive construction. The most remarkable portion of this castle, and which tells the history of its construction, is a crypt chapel, with an eastern apse ninety feet long. It is reached by descending a circular staircase; and another staircase leads to the roof. There are four small, narrow windows, high up, but giving so little light, that lamps must have been necessary during the services. A few fragments of columns are built sideways into the walls, and also some remains of inscriptions. Patches of fresco are also to be seen on the walls, but all in a state of decay. In addition to the above, there are long ranges of structures like casemates, barracks, and magazines; story above story, and solidly vaulted. These were originally four or five stories high; but the upper portions are now much ruined. There were several gateways on the side of the town with the necessary defenses; these still remain in a fair state of preservation. Under the great crypts are numerous vaulted reservoirs, capable of containing an ample supply of water for a long siege; and there are also several deep wells sunk in the castle. Between the two great fortifications of Kerak there is a subterranean communication, but of which little is known.

Kerak is a ruined mosk;

The most noted ruin of which was once a basilica. pillars and arches remain. or Saracenic, and the upper part of the arch is filled

The roof is gone, but the
The doorway is pointed,

in with masonry, which was once covered with Chris tian symbols.

Another highly interesting relic is a portion of a beautiful tesselated pavement of marble quite perfect, also some marble bases of ancient columns still in their places at the edge of the pavement. This beautiful pavement, that had doubtless once done service in a splendid temple, or other grand edifice, was now the floor of a miserable hovel, but only the centre of the pattern had been broken up to make a place for the hearth. Ancient Roman lamps are found here, also ancient gold and silver coin.

Altogether the great castle of Kerak is the grandest and most complete monument of military engineering and energy left by the Crusaders. It was built by a predecessor of Raynald, about A. D. 1131, and afterwards strengthened, so that in 1183 it completely baffled the fierce assaults of Saladin.

[graphic][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »