Like a scene from a medieval fantasy, the Ajloun Castle rises above the Jordan Valley, with towers, turrets, drawbridges, moats, and secret passageways. The commanding 360º view of the surrounding scenery illustrates how this castle fortress kept tabs on the roads and resources below as far back as the twelfth century.

Ajloun Castle was built in 1184, by the nephew of the famous Ayyubid Muslim conqueror Saladin on the site of a former monastery. Ajloun may have been given its name after that of a monk who inhabited the monastery during the Byzantine period, but after the construction of the castle it was known as Qala’at al Rabad, which means literally “citadel on a hill.” The name illustrates what Saladin was trying to achieve when he commissioned this fortified hilltop: controlling the expansion of the Crusaders; maintaining communications between Damascus, Cairo and the other Arab strongholds; overseeing the important nearby trade and pilgrimage routes; and controlling the iron mines in the area used for the production of weaponry.

The castle was taken over, used and expanded throughout the course of history.  An interesting account is made by Johann Burckhardt (the same Swiss traveler known for the re-discovery of Petra) who found the castle in 1812 inhabited by the members of the Barakat family, a family name still well known in Jordan today.

As with many of the sites in Jordan, what finally brought down this imposing structure was an earthquake – one in 1837 and the other in 1927.  The Jordanian Department of Antiquities began the much needed restoration works in the 1950’s.

Sites in the Ajloun Region:

Pella

From the few columns, stretches of stone pavement, and other remains which are visible in Pella today, it is hard to imagine the historical importance of this site or its once immense size. Pella has been inhabited for over 10,000 years, though, consistently from the Neolithic Period to the Ottoman rule of the area in the late 1800s.

Tel Mar Elias

Amid stunning carpets of mosaics stands a sole prayer tree, its popularity indicated by hundreds of pieces of cloth that adorn the branches like blossoms; this site marks the location held by many to be the traditional birth place of the prophet Elijah.

Orjan

Walk along Wadi Orjan to explore the fruit basket of Al Ayoun.

Jesus Cave

Everyone in Jordan seems to know a local legend about the Jesus Cave, whether about Jesus hiking there with his followers, why the tree is always drunk, or why women tread grapes better than men.

Baoun

The Byzantine ruins at its edge testify to Baoun’s place in antiquity. But is is a female Sufi scholar, poet, and mystic that gives the village its distinct legacy.

Rasoun

The village of Rasoun lies at the heart of community-oriented tourism in Jordan. In addition to a walking trail passing millennia-old olive trees and dolmen fields, the village has also invested in recent enterprises like selling herbal soaps and biscuits around the world.

RSCN Shops

Temptations abound for walkers at Al Ayoun’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) natural shops, where some of nature’s best tastes and smells can be sampled as everything from local soaps to trail mixes.