This past Thursday, having received a day off due to my hard work in the army, I went out with my father for a late morning hike to a local favourite: Montfort Castle. An old Crusader castle, just off Nachal Kziv (Kziv Stream), Montfort is one of my favourite historical sights in Israel and it’s so close to my house! Grabbing some trivia off Wikipedia, Montfort Castle is just 10 miles from the Lebanese border and probably about a mere three miles from where we live.
Sometime in the 1100s, after the First Crusade, the De Milly family received the land and built the castle, as well as a water mill down the mountain. An irregular Crusader-era castle, it was built at first to sustain an agricultural estate. Later, when Saladin reconquered the land for the Muslims, the castle fell into their hands. When King Richard the Lionheart led the Third Crusade in 1189, the castle was returned to the De Milly family who, in turn, sold it to the Teutonic Knights from Germany. They renovated the castle and after a falling out with the Knights Templar and Hospitaller, they left the then-capital Akko (Acre) and set up shop at Castle Montfort. The Teutonic Knights expanded the castle and turned it into a magnificent building, the pride of their order. In 1271, after repeated attempts, the Mamluks, under Baibars, besieged and conquered the castle, allowing the Teutonics to leave peacefully. Since then the castle has simply fallen apart, but it is still magnificent, and its location is superb.
My father and I started our hike on the wilderness side of Mi’ilya and Mitzpe Hila (Christian and Jewish villages, respectively). In the early stages of the walk we encountered a very large insect, which I believe is a Phasmid (or stick insect). Regardless of what he is, he made a great model for photography:
Shortly after, the trail dipped and we trotted down the mountain. A pleasant walk, especially with mild weather, the going was good and before long we heard the sounds of fellow hikers. Having come from a high elevation, we were hiking basically across from the castle, just having to go down and back up to enter. Other hikers were down below, walking the Nachal Kziv trail, along the stream.
Just before climbing the last bit up to the castle itself, there is a great little pass between two boulders. I’d say that they are more “parts of the mountain” than boulders but that just sounds weird.
While perhaps not as noble and expansive as the Hopitaller Castle of Akko, the Nimrod Fortress of the Upper Golan or the nearby Teutonic Castle of Yehiam, the Montfort Castle strikes me as most fascinating. Up in the castle, there are many levels and areas to explore. From the highest tower to the low arched chambers there are many greats places to be photographed. Here is a large standalone wall in the middle of the castle:
Here are two doorways to the left side of that great wall, each a different build:
Climbing the old stone steps to the highest tower of the castle, the open-air room would make the perfect observatory for stargazing or nighttime photography (something I’d really like to do). Here is one of the two wall chunks that has survived the test of time:
We stayed up there for a few minutes, watching the tiny people walking the trails down below, and then continued on the the western side of the castle. There, passing through a great wall, the breeze was phenomenal. Coming off the Mediterranean Sea and channeled through the gentle Galilean mountains, the wind hits the castle with a cool crispness that sweaty hikers find most desirable. First, the wall that blocks the wind:
And here, a thick Crusader pillar amongst the rubble where the wind hits best:
At the north-western corner, separate from the main castle building, is a perfect guard tower, reminding me of the rook in the game of chess:
And beside the guard tower, the area under the thick pillar, large arched chambers can be entered. I’ve heard that these rooms were either stables, barracks or dining halls, but whatever they are, their previous use is not evident:
Going downhill, heading for the stream, we came across the water mill that was one of the fundamental pieces of the agricultural estate that the De Milly family created. The last time I entered the mill, from around the side, I had an unfortunate run-in with some plant that enjoyed piercing my pants and injecting plant venom into my poor legs. So this time I was a tad wary and decided to enjoy the mill from afar, as you can too:
Just a few feet from the mill is the stream, which due to the dry part of the year, wasn’t as full as I usually see it. However, thanks to the bountiful winter rains, the stream wasn’t too dry. First we waded in, then my father laid down in the cold water, the little fish venturing closer and closer. While we relaxed in the refreshing water, the sun got more and more intense. Fearing sunburn, I dried off and took the liberty of filling up my water bottle from the spring water, something I usually do.
We then climbed back up to the castle, skirted it and fell back onto the trail that headed to where we parked the car. The way back was definitely on the harder side, and I was very glad to be seated, at last, in an air-conditioned car for the five minute drive back to the house.
Up next, that very night’s “White Night” in Tel Aviv, an annual event.