This past Thursday I went on a three-pronged trip while down in the centre of the country. I began my adventure in Ramat Gan, just outside of Tel Aviv, buying pastries and an iced coffee before hopping on a bus out of the city. I then took another bus which dropped me off near the entrance of Rosh HaAyin, a city bordering the Shomron (Samaria), where I walked a little ways through a construction site, heading for the Crusader castle of Mirabel.
Known as either Migdal Afeq or Migdal Tzedek nowadays, the national park is named for either the nearby Biblical Aphek or the Bedouin sheikh al-Sadiq, respectively. I climbed the hill and approached the castle from the south, walking the dirt road. This aerial photo of the castle was taken by Biblewalks, and they graciously allowed me to use it in my post (see also the aerial video tour HERE):
I had heard from a friend that the site was under construction and closed to visitors, and hoped that there would be nobody there when I arrived, but, there was, in fact, a lone man holding watch over the ruins.
I passed the scaffolding-decorated walls and entered the castle’s interior. The following conversation was short and successful with the man returning to sit in a doorway, leaving me to explore Mirabel unhindered. The first thing to really catch my eye was a large lintel stone inscribed with Greek lettering delineating a Byzantine church.
Migdal Afeq served an important role in protecting the ancient trade route from Egypt to Syria, known as the Via Maris. However, whatever stood at Migdal Afeq in those times was only ever a satellite to the much more important Tel Afeq, just a few kilometres to the northwest (although not to be confused with Tel Afeq at Ein Afeq between Akko and Haifa). During the Roman period a Jewish village existed, and during the Great Revolt, was destroyed by Cestius Gallus and the 12th Legion.
In Crusader times the castle known as Mirabel was constructed after the land was gifted to Balian of Ibelin, the founder of the Ibelin dynasty, by King Fulk of Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, Ibelin is just a corruption of the ancient Jewish Yavne and to this day there is an Arab village near Haifa called I’billin and I wonder if it’s not named after the once-powerful Frankish family. Mirabel was captured by Saladin’s brother in 1187 and the castle was used by the Ayyubid forces until 1191 when Saladin ordered the castle destroyed in preparation for the Third Crusade. Most of the ruins seen today were built by the Ottomans, although some parts (including the keep seen in the photo below) are original Crusader construction – identifiable by the larger ashlars used in building.
In the 1800’s, Bedouins settled around the fortress and called their village Majdal al-Sadiq, named after their leader whose domed tomb surrounded by other graves still stands on an adjacent hill.
When I was finished exploring the site, being careful around the construction areas, I asked the watchman when he imagined the archaeologists would arrive. I waited around for a bit, taking the time to explore the outside of the castle, passing what seemed to be a water cistern just outside the castle wall. One interesting thing that I saw was this set of old lime kilns with an old quarry in the background. Apparently, the limestone quarried from here was used to build the white stoned-buildings of old Tel Aviv from the 1920’s through the 1940’s.
Returning to the castle’s interior, I greeted some arriving men only to find out that they were the construction crew and their foreman. Just blending in to the environment I was able to learn a little about the reconstruction process of ancient castles.
At last, I fretted over time lost waiting for the archaeologists to show so I left, headed for the second site on my day’s itinerary: Tel Afeq (Antipatris)