Belvoir Castle is a Crusader castle in the Jordan Valley; on a hill 20 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee. Gilbert of Assailly, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, began construction of the castle in 1168. The restored castle is located in Belvoir National Park. It is the best-preserved Crusader castle in Israel.
A Little About Belvoir Castle
The Hebrew name of the park, Kokhav Hayarden National Park meaning Jordan Star National Park; preserves the name of Kochava – a Jewish village that existed nearby during the Roman and Byzantine periods.
According to the historical records the Knights Hospitaller purchased the site from Velos, a French nobleman, in 1168. Standing 500 meters (1,600 ft) above the Jordan Valley. In fact, the plateau dominated the route from Gilead into the Kingdom of Jerusalem and a nearby Jordan River crossing. And in the words of the Muslim Historian Abu Shama the castle is “set amidst the stars like an eagle’s nest and abode of the moon”.
As soon as the Knights Hospitaller purchased the land they began construction of Belvoir Castle. While Gilbert of Assailly was Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller the order gained around thirteen new castles, among which Belvoir was the most important. The castle of Belvoir served as a major obstacle to the Muslim goal of invading the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem from the east. It withstood an attack by Muslim forces in 1180. During the campaign of 1182, the Battle of Belvoir Castle was fought nearby between King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Saladin.
Following Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, Belvoir was besieged. The siege lasted a year and a half until the defenders surrendered on 5 January 1189. An Arab governor occupied it until 1219 when the Ayyubid ruler in Damascus had slighted. In 1241 Belvoir was ceded to the Franks, who controlled it until 1263.
The Unique Architecture of Belvoir Castle
After the end of the Second World War, the study of Crusader castles experienced a lull. In Israel, the study of Crusader castles developed under Joshua Prawer. Its most significant discovery was made at Belvoir. Between 1963 and 1968 the Israel Department of Antiquities carried out excavations at the castle.
Furthermore, excavations in the 1960s demonstrated the complex nature of early military architecture in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Belvoir’s design bore similarities to that of a Roman castrum: the inner enclosure was rectangular with towers at the corners, and a large gatehouse in the middle of one wall, in this case, the west.
Belvoir is an early example of the concentric castle plan, which was widely used in later crusader castles. The castle was highly symmetric, with a rectangular outer wall, reinforced with square towers at the corners and on each side, surrounding a square inner enclosure with four corner towers and one on the west wall.
According to historian H. J. A. Sire, the principle of concentric design used at Belvoir “was to influence castle design for the next several centuries.” Vaults on the inner side of both walls provided storage and protection during bombardments. The castle was surrounded by a moat 20 meters (66 ft) wide and 12 meters (39 ft) deep
Belvoir National Park Opening Hours
Entrance to the park closes one hour before cited closing time
Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 17:00 – 08:00
Friday and holiday eves: 16:00 – 08:00
Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 16:00 – 08:00
Friday and holiday eves: 15:00 – 08:00
Holiday eves: 13:00 – 08:00 Yom Kippur eve: 13:00 – 08:00
Jordan Star National Park Website.