Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The View from Belvoir

Brave knights in the hot sun
Oh look at us, brave knights crossing this mote infested with crocodiles to get into the castle where we'll slay the dragon and free the beautiful damsel in distress. Well, okay it's just me and the kids crossing the reconstructed bridge while exploring the wrecks of what once was Belvoir Fortress. Medieval relics hold a certain charm in my opinion. The picturesque images of walls, towers, motes and secret passages always ignites my imagination that was fed from a very early age in the Arthurian Tales of the Knights Of The Round Table, Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart, Ivanhoe and more. Those tales have little to do with the actual facts and history but they make such great stories!

The Fort of Belvoir
Now let's get a few facts straight. Belvoir Fortress is a Crusader fortress in northern Israel, on a hill 20 km. south of the Sea of Galilee. It is a reconstructed fortress which is now a National Park. It is the most complete Crusader fortress in the country. Unlike Europe where medieval sites grew and developed over the years (like many towns in Tuscany, Italy or in the South of France), here in the Holyland with its many conquerors throughout history, most structures are ruined. Belvoir Fortress was initially part of a feudal estate of a French nobleman named Velos who lived in Tiberias. In 1168, it was sold to the Order of the Hospitaliers which turned it to a concentric castle.  The fortress served as a major obstacle to the Muslims invading the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem from the east. It withstood the attack of the Muslim forces in 1180. During the campaign of 1182, the Battle of Belvoir Castle was fought nearby between King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Saladin. Following Saladin's victory over the Crusaders at the battle of the Horns of Hittin, Belvoir was besieged. The siege lasted a year and a half, until the defenders surrendered on 5 January 1189. The fortifications of Belvoir were dismantled in 1217–18 by the Muslim rulers. In 1240 Belvoir was ceded to the Crusaders by agreement but lack of funds did not permit restoration of the fortifications and the fortress returned to Muslim control. In Hebrew it is known as Kohav Hayarden, meaning – Star of the Jordan which preserves the name of Kohav – a Jewish village which existed nearby during the Roman and Byzantine periods. 
A decorated stone that was probably taken from the Jewish settlement of Kochav.

I think we had enough of geography and history lessons, let's have some adventures! We wondered through the ruined fort built in black (basalt) and white (lime) stone letting our imagination run wild. We were a bit sorry that we didn’t take with us our sons' wooden sword and shield for duels and knight tournaments. We creped under the mote in secret passages that were meant to bypass the fortifications. I could actually see us as a brave bunch of spies finding our secret way into the castle with only a candle lighting our way. We climbed on the outer walls and enjoyed the wonderful view seen from the top of this hill, the Jordan Valley spread below us.

Trying to snick into the castle through a secret passage
As foodies and amateur cooks it is understandable that one of our favorite places in the fortress will be the kitchen. We stood in front of the stone ovens where the cooking fires burned, bread was baked and game was roasted for the brave (?) knights. It was easy for me to imagine a round table with the cavaliers sitting and munching roasted boar from the tips of their swords.
The castle's kitchen

Obviously all this food envisioning left us hungry. So we fared well to the ruined citadel on the hill and drove down to the valley to a restaurant that quickly became a favorite of ours, Rutenberg in Old Gesher (mentioned them before in this post) which is a 5 minutes' drive from the site.
There our jolly bunch of brave knights sat drinking wheat beer (or lemonade for knights under 18) feasting on terrific food like Tartar steak and fish in white sauce with prawns. 

Some good food from Rutenberg restaurant.
 The brave Sir DH took us in his lovely carriage while the rest of us were snoring peacefully all the way home.



  1. French knights, French food and great view - a winning combination. Beautiful post

  2. I miss these kinds of adventures in Israel... the land where you practically trip over history. Awesome we got a chance to go along with you!

  3. Wow! Looks like a great place. Thanks for this post.

  4. You really don't need Disney Land when you have a crusader fortress to explore. Great that you ended the family adventure with some delicious food and beer.

  5. Thanks you for commenting Orly, Anonymous and Sarah. It is great to have places like that in our tiny country.

  6. Tiny country? Remember the tiny island you has stay for awhile. Now that is tiny ;) Chyun Yih