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.
Now, these ruins are obscure and there are no signs explaining where or what anything is – even researching Deir Qal’a online is proving a little difficult. From what I’ve gathered is that the site was first a Roman fortress, then a Byzantine fortified farm and then a Christian monastery. Given its great vantage points, including a clear view of the shoreline some 26 kilometres (16 miles) away, the Romans would have built the fortress to guard the ancient road from Tel Afek (Antipatris) to Sebastia in the heart of the Shomron.
A couple hundred years later, the Christians built a string of fortified monasteries along the northern border of the Christian part of the Shomron, as a defending line against the Samaritans who would often break out in violent revolts against the Byzantine Empire. The Samaritans are still around today, still based out of their “capital” on Mount Gerezim overlooking Shechem (Nablus), but they no longer participate in violent revolts. Monasteries neighbouring Deir Qal’a are Deir El-Mir to the west and Deir Simaan to the northeast – with quite similar ruins, although I have yet to explore them. Getting back to my exploration of Deir Qal’a, it wasn’t long before I reached the first walls of finely cut ashlars jutting out into the air.
Unfortunately, as there is no guide or comprehensive description of the ruins, I can’t really describe the series of rooms that I then saw as I drew closer. While researching this site I came across a reference to a monograph written by the late Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld titled “Deir Qala and monasteries of Western Samaria”, however the only copy I could find is in the Hebrew University’s library in Jerusalem – not too readily available, although I’m sure I could have gleaned some useful information from it. Being as that I was detouring from “operational duty” I couldn’t linger too long and missed noticing that there are tunnels connecting several of the rooms in the ruins complex. What I didn’t miss were the numerous etched Maltese Crosses (as used by the Hospitaller Knights of the Crusades) and the incomplete floor mosaics – in fact, a fully restored mosaic from Deir Qal’a is on display at the Good Samaritan Museum between Jerusalem and Jericho, not far from Nabi Musa.
I might have just seen an nondescript scattering of stone walls of varying heights and materials but Deir Qal’a contains stone terraces, rooms, cisterns, an olive press and winepress, underground tunnel, a church with an underground cave/crypt and an apse.
Once I had sufficiently explored the upper areas of the ruins I headed back towards the security fence and saw that my fellow soldiers had not yet returned, so I looped back to enjoy the views. Directly opposite Deir Qal’a to the west is the Palestinian village of Deir Balut and the ruins of Deir El-Mir, with a seasonal marsh at the entrance of the village. I read on the Amud Anan website that the water is home to triops, a type of crustacean also known as “tadpole shrimp”. Looking quite similar to horseshoe crabs, it’s believed that the eggs of the triops can last forever as they go dormant and crystalise when dry. It would definitely be interesting to see these “living fossils” – perhaps one day…
To the south there are the rolling hills of the Shomron with ruins abound, including the remains of Binat-Bar, Zereda, Balata and other historically rich sites, as well as Nachal Shiloh snaking its way across the land.
Someone very thoughtful had installed a swinging bench overlooking Deir Qal’a and Deir Balut and so I found myself there, rocking back and forth, enjoying every moment. At last the soldiers came back from escorting the shepherd away from the fence and we drove back to our outpost, leaving me with the need to come back and explore the other ruins another day.