Château Pèlerin Latin: Castrum Perigrinorum), also known as Atlit Castle, is a Crusader fortress located near Caesarea Maritima National Park. The Knights Templar began building the fortress in 1218 during the Fifth Crusade. One of the major Crusader fortresses, it could support up to 4,000 troops in siege conditions. It was abandoned by its garrison and taken over by the Mamluks in August 1291, shortly after the Fall of Acre. It remained intact for several hundred years, until suffering damage in the Galilee earthquake of 1837.
The History of Atlit Castle
Construction began in early spring 1218 during the period of the Fifth Crusade by the Knights Templar, replacing the earlier castle of Le Destroit which was situated slightly back from the coast. The castle was built on a promontory, with two main walls cutting the citadel off from the land. The outer wall was approximately 15 meters high and 6 meters thick, with three square towers situated about 44 meters apart, projecting out by 12 meters with a level platform on the roof probably for artillery.
In front ran a shallow ditch dug at sea level cut into the bedrock. The inner wall was approximately 30 meters high by 12 meters, with two square towers, the north and south each approximately 34 meters tall. As the inner wall was taller than the outer wall, defenders were able to shoot at targets over the first wall allowing greater protection from return fire by the besiegers. Part of the design of the castle included a protected harbor on the south side of the promontory.
Atlit Castle Was Capable of Supporting up to 4000 Troops
It also had three freshwater wells within its enclosure. The castle was capable of supporting up to 4000 troops during a siege, as it did in 1220. The settlement of Atlit developed outside the castle’s outer wall and was later fortified. The castle’s position dominated the north-south coastal route, and surrounding countryside allowing it to draw revenue from tolls and rents, going some way to pay for the running costs of the castle; as well as providing protection for pilgrims. The castle probably got its name from pilgrims who volunteered their labor during its construction. There is a large Crusader cemetery north of the castle, on the beach, containing hundreds of graves, some with carved grave markers.
The castle was under the control of the Knights Templar and was never taken in siege due to its excellent location and design and its ability to be resupplied by sea. It was besieged in 1220 by the Ayyubids, under the command of al-Malik al-Mu’azzam. It came under siege by the Mamluks under Sultan Baybars in 1265, during which the settlement of ‘Atlit was destroyed. With the fall of Acre and the collapse of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by the Mamluks under Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, the Knights Templar lost their main roles of defense of the Holy land and security of pilgrims to the Holy Sites. The castle could now only be resupplied by sea, so the castle was evacuated between 3 and 14 August 1291.
Atlit Castle in Modern Times
Today, the site is laid in ruins. The castle site is not reachable these days since Atlit Naval Base is on the premises. On the west side of the site, there are industrial salt ponds. The British forces built army camps and ammunition dumps in the vicinity, including a detention camp for(now a museum) where they imprisoned Jewish immigrants during the British Mandate.
In addition, a modern city (Atlit) was built nearby, established in 1903 on land purchased by Rothschild. It is now expanding to the sandstone hills southeast of the castle, and the whole area has seen a massive real estate development. There are efforts by the city to get the army base to relocate away from the Crusaders’ site in order to open it to the general public and not just a privileged few.