The Crusader Fortresses

Date of Submission: 30/06/2000
Criteria: (iv)(v)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Delegation Permanente d'Israel aupres de l'UNESCO
Ref.: 1491


The fortresses built between the 12th and 15th centuries - Montfort, Belvoir, Atlit, Arsuf (as well as Acre and Caesarea) - evidence broad European architectural movement to the Holy Land in this series of remarkable fortresses constructed in the course of the Crusader conquests. The fortress was the center of power and administration for the Crusades, exemplifying patterns of traditional settlement of the era, further reflected in their attention to detail and size and each representing various Orders - the Teutonic, Hospitalliers, and Templars. Montfort Montfort, the main Crusader fortress in Palestine of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, was built in 1226 in western Galilee on a narrow ridge with steep slopes on three sides, about 12 km from the Mediterranean Sea. The steep and narrow ridge probably reminded its builders of the location of the fortresses in their homeland. The French name, Montfort, is identical to the Latin and German names for the site - "strong mountain". The entire area was owned by the order and included, besides Montfort, Chateau du Roi (Mi'iliya) and Judin (Yehi'am) which formed the defensive line for the Plain of Acre. In 1271 the Muslims conquered Montfort and allowed the knights to leave without their arms or property. The fortress was subsequently destroyed and the site was then abandoned and never resettled. The plan of the keep is characteristic of the towers in the external Crusader forts. The fortress of Montfort apparently grew from a nucleus of the keep and the central building. A system of fortifications and an outer wall were added on the west. The keep in particular represents building of a very high standard, as seen in the size of the stones and their precise drafting. The nature and strength of the construction, reinforce the hypothesis that Montfort was initially rebuilt by the Teutonic Order in the early 13th century. Belvoir (Kochav Ha-Yarden) Belvoir is a Crusader fortress, situated at the top of a sharp descent east of the Bet Shean Valley, and north of a spring near the remains of a small Jewish town named Kokhav, dating to the Second Temple period. Belvoir was established as a fortified farm by the Velos family of Tiberias in about 1140, and it was sold to the Knights Hospitaller, who set out to defend the borders and roads of the Crusader kingdom. They established a magnificent fortified farm on the site, calling it Belvoir (fine view) after the view it commands. This was one of the country's most important fortresses established by the Order of the Hospitallers, for it commanded the Jordan River to its east as well as a number of important main routes: south-north through the Jordan Valley to the Naharaim Bridge over the Jordan; eastward to Transjordan and northeast to Damascus; the road north of the fortress ascending to Mount Tabor, Nazareth, and the coast toward Acre; and the road south leading to Bet Shean and ascending to Acre and the Via Maris. In the 11 80's Saladin's forces attempted to destroy the Belvoir. Their attempt failed due to the fortress superb construction and excellent plan. Belvoir was one of the few fortresses remaining in the hands of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem after the crushing defeat of the Crusaders at the battle of Hittin. Atlit The Crusader castle of Atlit, situated 30 km south of Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea, stands in an area comprised of settlements, the remains of cemeteries, agricultural areas, quarries and fortifications from ancient and medieval times. In Roman times the site may have been called Certha and included within the territory of the port of Dor which in the fourth century CE was transferred from Phoenicia to Palaestina Prima. During the Crusaders' conquest in 1099 the defile was the haunt of highway robbers. The Knights Templar (who were formed c. 1118) therefore established a fort or police post, the ruins of which are still visible. They built their castle on the promontory during the fifth Crusade in 1218, as a step toward controlling the coastal road and recovering Jerusalem, which had been lost in 1187. The Templars fortified and extended the fortress, the promontory was enclosed on both sides as far as the rocks, and chapel, hall, and other quarters were built in the fortress. It can be concluded from the evidence that the subsistence base of the prehistoric inhabitants of maritime Atilit was complex and included farming, incipient herding, hunting and fishing. These probably enabled year round occupation and optimal use of local resources. Concentrations of specific finds (fish bones, wheat, and flint artifacts) may reflect different activity areas within the site. Apollonia-Arsuf Apollonia-Arsuf is located on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea northwest of Herzliya. The city includes an impressive Crusader fortress and a port on its northwest side. The city was founded in the Persian period by the Phoenicians who came down from the Lebanese coast They worshipped the god Reshef from the city's name "Arshof' is derived, a name preserved since the Early Arab period as Arsuf. It was a flourishing city in the Hellenistic period in which the name was changed to "Apollonia" - Apollo being the equivalent of Reshef. From accounts of Arab geographers from the ninth century it appears that it was one of the 13 major cities in Palestine. A fortified and densely populated city, it possessed a marketplace, and was a center for redeeming Muslim prisoners and the seat of Islamic religious scholarship in the eighth and ninth centuries. Apollonia-Arsuf presents a unique picture of continuous occupation from the Persian to the end of the Crusader periods. From the time of its foundation, and especially since the Byzantine period, it was an important port and commercial and crafts center. It developed into a large city and was the only port in the southern Sharon Plain.