Israel's Good Name

Cafarlet

In Coastal Plain, Israel on April 6, 2014 at 5:20 AM

Continuing with my hike from Tel Dor, heading for the Crusader castle Cafarlet (also known as HaBonim Fortress), I first came upon interesting finds while on a hill alongside Road 2, the Coastal Road. Across from some memorial sculpture atop a precipice overlooking the road. I stumbled upon partially concealed remains of an ancient quarry, separated from the rest of the large quarry nearby. I’m assuming the Crusaders must have hewed stones from this sandstone quarry to build the nearby castles.

Just a glimpse of the quarry remains

Just a glimpse of the quarry remains

Some half hour later, after crossing a little cemetery, I laid eyes on the eastern side of Cafarlet, the portion also visible to drivers on Road 2. A little history about the castle itself, Cafarlet was built in the early 1200’s by the Crusader’s Principality of Caesarea and was then given, in a deal, to the Hospitaller Knights in 1213. The other leading Military Order of that time, the Templers, then purchased Cafarlet in 1232 and it remained in their hands until the castle’s capture by the Muslims in 1265. Following recapture by the Latin Christians, Cafarlet was built up again by the Templars and then finally abandoned in 1291 when the Crusades ended and the Crusaders returned to Europe.

Cafarlet from the eastern side

Cafarlet from the eastern side

The Crusader castle, a slightly different build than the typical Latin fortress of its time, was built on the remains of an Arab fortress built in the 700’s built to protect from Byzantine invasion. Even in the time of the Crusades, the Byzantines were a regional superpower, and have been for hundreds of years. Cafarlet was built just a few kilometres from a slew of Crusaders castles (from Château Pèlerin and Le Destroit to the north to Merle and Caesarea to the south) which were strung along the coast, safeguarding the road for pilgrims in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Approaching the castle I came upon numerous remains which seem to be from an even earlier Roman/Byzantine period of occupation. Here, at the foot of the castle, is a burial cave carved into the rock. When I poked inside I discovered ten hewn crypts with their lids propped up.

A burial cave

A burial cave

Also outside the castle are the remains of Byzantine winepresses, with intricate tile work covering the floor – only visible on the lowest step in this picture:

Ancient tiled winepress

Ancient tiled winepress

Approaching the castle and turning to enter via the southern wall, I looked down to see this interesting stone “foot” at the southeast corner – atypical of the Crusade-era construction in the Holy Land:

Interesting castle construction

Interesting castle construction

And then, I saw it, the grand arched entrance, flanked by rounded bastions, and in I went.

Cafarlet's grand entrance

Cafarlet’s grand entrance

What I first noticed about the interior of Cafarlet is that it’s due for a thorough excavation. For example, on the western side I had entered an arched chamber which was partially filled in with rubble, dirt and grass:

Rubble-filled chamber

Rubble-filled chamber

Here, looking northeast towards the centre of the castle, numerous interior walls can be seen, however they are interspersed with small trees in a battle for space:

Beautiful but overcrowded interior

Beautiful but overcrowded interior

A closer look at the partially submerged walls:

Partially submerged walls

Partially submerged walls

Since the castle isn’t in the care of any government body, the site is free to enter and also mildly dangerous. There were numerous locations where I noticed sinkholes and cisterns hidden in the lush grass. Even walking on some of the walls seemed risky in fear of collapse. Crossing over to the eastern side near the arched entry, I felt inclined to explore the large arched chambers such as this one:

Arched room

Arched room

Even finding a painted ladder leaning conveniently on the inner wall of one chamber, I thought I’d have a look around. However, when I put a cautionary foot down on the top step, the rotten wood gave way and I was forced to abandon my plan, as you can see from this POV shot:

A POV shot of Crusader danger

A POV shot of Crusader danger

Deterred from the great rooms on the eastern side, I crossed back over to the western side and found a safer alternative into another arched chamber – old crooked stone steps:

Within another arched chamber

Within another arched chamber

Exploring both that and the adjacent room, I emerged and continued to the northern side of the castle. What I came upon next was surprising. Modern construction had been done and the remains of a house or two, reportedly by Arabs before 1948, are now joined with the ancient Crusader ruins. When I left the castle, and walked along the outer walls on the northern and western sides, the remnants of modern plastering and window frames can be seen. I wonder what will become of those more recent ruins…

The northwest corner

The northwest corner

With that I left the remarkable ruins of Cafarlet, crossing off yet another Crusader ruins on my to-see list and then briefly contemplated a quick visit to HaBonim Nature Reserve before deciding against it and walking the long, grueling journey to the bus stop on Road 4, putting an end to my long and interesting day of coastal exploration.

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  1. […] A few weeks ago I partook in a little “excitement” in the Shomron (Samarian) town of Pedu’el, not too far from Ariel. There was a Palestinian shepherd who was creating disturbances near the security fence that encloses Pedu’el and we, the army, were called in to redirect the wayward man. We disembarked near Pedu’el yeshiva and I couldn’t help but notice signs for an archaeological site called “Deir Qal’a”. While the other soldiers began their descent into the valley in search for the shepherd, I sought after the ruins. Scampering over the rough rocks that cover the landscape, I first came upon what appears to be a vat for wine with a mosaic floor, very much like the one I saw at the Crusader castle of Cafarlet. […]

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