Crusader-era Castles in Israel: 5 Sites to Visit

December 3rd 2018

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, a number of Christian Crusades (religiously inspired military expeditions) arrived in the Holy Land. The goal of the Christians in the first crusade was to conquer Jerusalem and make it their own. Over the decades and centuries that followed, the balance of power would shift constantly between the Crusading forces and the regional Muslim armies.

Fortresses and castles were built and continually strengthened by both sides, before ultimately, in most cases, being destroyed or left to fall into ruin. And it’s these sites throughout Israel today that offer a fascinating glimpse into the bloody Crusader era.

Some particularly interesting Crusader-era castles and fortifications include:

Nimrod’s Fortress

The largest Crusader-era castle in Israel is Nimrod’s Fortress which can be found on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon. The castle was originally built by Muslims in the 12th Century. However, it was later ceded to the Crusaders before then changing hands again back to the Muslims. New fortifications were added after each new ownership. The fortress is located high on a forested cliff and is well preserved. It’s a delightful and impressive place to explore with all the family.

City of Acre

The ancient walled port city of Acre (known locally as Akko) is situated a little north of Haifa. It has known continuous settlement from the Middle Bronze Age due to its significant location in the region. It was captured and settled by different peoples throughout the centuries including during the era of the Crusades. While not a fortress in the strictest sense, the city became an important fortification for both Christians and Muslims at different times. Architectural additions from this era can be found throughout the city today, including the main Crusader fortifications known as the Knights Hall, built by the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, and the Pisan Harbor ruins.

Belvoir Fortress

Just north of the Jordan Valley – 20 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee – lies the restored ruins of the Belvoir Fortress. The castle was built in the 12th Century by the Order of the Hospitallers. It was designed to defend the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and withstood a long siege by Saladin’s forces for more than a year, before finally falling. It would later be returned to the Christians. From the ruins you can see right across the region including the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee, and into the Golan Heights.

Montfort Castle

In the far north of Israel, in the Upper Galilee, is a ruined Crusader Castle dating back to the 13th century. Monfort Castle is situated in the Monfort National Park and was built on the remains of an ancient Roman fort. The castle was the main headquarters of the monastic military Teutonic Order until its destruction in 1271 by Muslim armies. Today the ruins peep out from a forested ridge and the area is a wonderful place to walk and take in beautiful views of the surrounding region.

Tower of David

Located near to Jaffa Gate at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, the Tower of David is an unmissable citadel whose present form dates back to the 14th Century. However, the site has been the location for numerous towers and fortifications throughout Jerusalem’s history, including during Crusades, which were repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. A representation of an old Tower of David can be seen on the seal of Baldwin III, Crusader King of Jerusalem (1143-1163). Today, the historical citadel features a museum which charts the long and fascinating history of the Holy City.