Nimrod Fortress National Park

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Nimrod's Castle, lying at the foot of Mt. Hermon, is the largest castle remaining in Israel from the Middle Ages. 

The location of the fortress - at an elevation of about 760 meters, and surrounded by steep cliffs - commanded one of the most strategic points on the road leading from the Hula Valley and the Golan Heights towards Syria.  The beautiful northern scenery can be viewed from every tower in the fortress.

Major points of interest

  • The Baibars inscription - near the western gate, inside the fortress, is the largest and most imposing inscription ever found in Israel to date.  Four lines, engraved on a stone six meters long, glorify the Sultan Baibars, in whose period the main part of the fortress was constructed, other commanders and the date:  674 after the Hegira (1275 CE).
  • The south-western tower - an enormous 4-storey tower, that was expanded during the Mameluke period.  The tower is of great importance because it defended the relatively vulnerable southern side.  The tower is a wonderful lookout point to the whole southern wall.
  • The large cistern - north east of the south-western tower there is a large cistern into which rainwater flowed via a now-ruined system of channels.
  • The drinking fountain - located on the external wall at the southern side of the reservoir.
  • "The Beautiful Tower" - a very impressive seven-sided building.  Due to its size, a clustered column was built at its center, from which the arches of the roof spread out to the walls of the building.  The carving of the stones is on a very high standard.
  • The moat - a channel carved out of the rock, separating the fortress from its keep.  The purpose of the moat was to protect the keep from enemy attack.
  • The keep - on the highest point in the castle is the keep, built as an independent fortress, with its own moat and wall.  It provided a line of defense should the lower part of the castle be captured.   There is a spectacular view from the top of the keep.
  • The northern tower - an imposing tower at the western end of the northern wall, built in 1230 CE. The well-preserved tower includes a hall with arrow slits in its walls, from which a staircase can be climbed to the roof.   In the 15th century, the place apparently served as a prison.
  • The western gate - the stones of the arch over the gate moved in the earthquake that occurred in 1759 CE.
  • The secret passage - alongside the gate there is a large opening leading to a beautiful staircase leading to a secret passage, through which it is possible to leave the fortress without being discovered by the enemy outside.
  • The cistern - outside the fortress, on its eastern side, there is a water cistern   measuring 26X54 meters, and 5 meters deep.  Its location on a slope enabled the collection of rainwater that served the inhabitants of the castle.  

     

    Particulars of the points of interest

  • The Baibars inscription - close to the western wall, inside the fortress, is the largest and most imposing inscription ever found in Israel to date.  The inscription was exposed by a fall of stones that was at the foot of the eastern wall of the tower.   It is made of five granite stones totally six meters long and 1.35 high, and consists of four lines in Arabic.  The inscription was built into the wall above the internal eastern opening, and it commemorates the building of the tower.  The inscription that was read by Reuven Amitai-Price, professor of Middle Eastern history, mentions Sultan Beibars as patron, his officer Bilich as having initiated the building, two of the fortress commanders, the architect, the builder and the writer of the inscription, as well as the date the construction was completed - 674 after the Hegira (1275 CE).
  • The south-eastern tower - an enormous four-storey tower that was expanded during the Mameluke period.  The south-eastern tower is of special importance.  It commands the access roads along the southern wall, which is relatively vulnerable, and therefore the tower was expanded as part of the reinforcements of the castle.   The stairs lead to the interior hall, with its arrow slits (which were always built into exterior walls) evidencing the fact that it was formerly the original tower.   The tower was expanded in the time of Baibars and then additional arrow slits were built.  From the platform a spiral staircase descends to the rooms facing south, which also have arrow slits.  The top of the tower affords a wonderful view of the entire southern wall, the Galilee, the Hula Valley and the slopes of the Golan and the Hermon.
  • The large cistern - to the north-east of the south-eastern tower there is a large cistern, measuring 25X9.5 meters, and 8 meters deep.  Rainwater flowed into it via a system of channels that cannot be seen any longer since it was destroyed.  The northern side is covered by a barrel vault, and at its edge stairs descend to the bottom.  The southern part is covered by a groin vault.  A later break in the southern wall - made by shepherds - enabled them to look into the cistern.
  • The drinking fountain - located at the southern side of the cistern on the external wall.  The water came from the cistern.  Above the fountain is an inscription by Fakhr a-Din Hassan, who renovated the drinking facility in 1240 CE.
  • The "Beautiful Tower" - this tower, protruding from the wall in a kind of semicircle, was built by Beibars.   The interior is sloped and the roof is vaulted.   The construction, the stone carvings and the finish of the arrow slits are of remarkably high quality.  At the right-hand corner is a toilet cubicle, similar to that in the north-western tower.
  • The moat - this is a channel cut out of the rock, separating the keep from the fortress.  The purpose of the moat is to protect the keep from enemy attack.  The path crosses the moat at a place where it was blocked up a little, but it can be seen clearly on the right.  The moat was crossed at this point by a narrow bridge.  At the end of the moat, at the south-western corner of the keep, the earliest Arabic inscription in the fortress was found, from the time of the ruler Al-Aziz Othman (1227 CE). (Inaccessible.)
  • The keep - built at the highest part of the fortress (French:  donjon).  This is a fortified and independent structure with its own moat and wall.  In the event of a breach of the lower fortifications, the fighters could continue the battle and defense from inside the enormously strong keep.  Its gate is at the north-western corner.  Square towers were erected at its four corners.  In the space between them are remains of the arches of the ceremonial hall, additional halls and water cisterns.  From the top of the tower there is a spectacular view.
  • The northern tower - an imposing tower at the western end of the northern wall, built in 1230 CE by the Ayyubid ruler Al-Aziz Othman. The tower was built at the top of a steep rocky cliff, which left no room for additional construction.  The tower is well-preserved, including a hall with arrow-slits in its walls, from where a flight of stairs leads to the roof.  In the 15th century the place apparently served as a prison.
  • The western gate - built in 1230, according to the inscription over the external entrance to the tower.  In the earthquake of 1759 the stones of the arch moved but, amazingly, did not fall.   Over the years, the tower was greatly expanded by building walls set into the moat, under the rock cliff.  The walls, 3.5 meters thick, were built of giant granite stones weighing five to 37 tons. 
    The "patio" in front of the gate is part of a room whose roof caved in, which was built in 1275 by Bilich, the fortress commander.  He also enlarged the tower, adding two storeys.  This spectacular construction can be seen in the enormous stones with their dressed edges, strewn among the fallen stones caused by the earthquake.   The construction of the trapdoor on the ground floor of the tower, leading to the cistern, is also attributed to him.  Above it a shaft was installed, over 7 meters high, via which water was raised to the upper floor.  South of the room a toilet cubicle was discovered.
  • The secret passage - west of the gate tower, at the edge of the "patio", a secret passage was built leading outside of the northern wall.  Next to the western gate there is a large opening leading to a beautiful staircase, 27 meters long, 1.8 m. wide, covered by a high, spectacularly beautiful vaulted ceiling.  In this ceiling a row of stones can be seen that was moved out of place by the earthquake.  The staircase leads to the secret passage, through which it is possible to exit the fortress without being discovered by the enemy outside.  The height of the passage is impressive, and is more appropriate for a splendid royal entrance than for a secret passage.  The passage ends in a hidden opening (postern) built at the bottom of the external northern wall, concealed from the outside by natural rock.
  • The cistern - outside the fortress, on the eastern side, is a water reservoir measuring 26X54, and 5 meters deep.  It is located on a slope, enabling the collection of rain water that served the inhabitants of the fortress in peace time, and may also have been used for agriculture and animals.  In the past, the cistern received water from the region of the road leading to Nebi Hazuri.  This conveyance system also included a sump.   However, over the years, the conveyance system stopped working, and the cistern presently receives water only from the rain falling over it.

    Scenic Observation Posts

  • Observation post to the west from the top of the western tower - an impressive view of the Galilee, the Hula Valley and the northern settlements in the valley:  Snir, Dan and Dafna, part of southern Lebanon and the Beaufort fortress.  The ridge of the Hills of Naftali can be seen beyond the Hula Valley.   On the eastern slopes of the northern part of this ridge, is the city of Kiryat Shmona, and at its northernmost end are the settlements of Manara, Margaliyot and Misgav Am.  Looking towards the north and north-east, the entire range of Mt. Hermon can be seen:  the "Shoulder" of Hermon, the Shiryon extension and the Si'on shoulder.
  • The keep - this tower is higher than the other parts of the fortress.  From here it is possible to look out towards Mt. Hermon, the nearby village of En Kinya and the western edges of the Golan Heights.  At the south-western side of the Golan it is even possible to identify the Tel Faher post, located close to the Oil Road.  To the south can be seen the eastern Upper Galilee and the Hula Valley.
  • The northern tower - from this lookout post towards the north-west the border between Israel and southern Lebabon can be seen, the village of Kfar Rajar located on the edge of the cliff of the Hatsbani river, the Beaufort fortress on the Hermon ridge and Har Dov.

    Identity card


    Statutory Status: Nimrod  Castle was declared a National Park in 2003.


    The reasons for the declaration:
  • To preserve and restore the archaeological site.   The fortress constitutes a historic testimony to the strategic importance of the region and the many upheavals undergone by this territory.
  • To preserve natural and scenic values within the boundaries and in the vicinity of the park.  Nimrod Castle is surrounded by natural groves of oak trees and on the slopes of Mt. Hermon on which it lies there is a broad range of fauna and flora.
  • To preserve the population of salamanders living in the water cisterns inside the Castle, which are facing extinction.


    Location in Israel: The Nimrod Castle National Park lies at the foot of Mt. Hermon south west of the village of Neveh Ativ on the Banyas extension, at an elevation of 760 meters, surrounded by steep cliffs.  The site is on a sharp curve between the fourth and fifth kilometer on Road 989 which connects Road No. 99 with Neveh Ativ and Majdal Shams.

    ​Activities of the Nature and Parks Authority


    1. Preparing the site for visitors and ongoing maintenance throughout the year, particularly after the winter, due to the damage caused each winter by rain and snow.  The work includes maintenance of the buses parking lot, updating walking routes, preservation work, etc.

    2. Preservation work on the southern gate of the castle and shoring up parts of the wall with the aim of preventing its collapse caused by precipitation

    3. Uprooting plants growing between the walls of the castle and causing them to crumble - the fortifications and walls of the castle are exposed to the development of all kinds of plants, among them thick-rooted trees growing in niches, which serve as convenient places for the development of the seeds of plants. 

    Fauna


    Nimrod Castle and the surrounding cliffs provide a habitat for various animals and birds.   The most common animal among the rocks and stones of the castle are the rock hyrax (Procavia capensis), large colonies of which live within and around the Castle.  The most common predators in this region are jackals and foxes, and the largest mammal is the wild boar which roams in groups consisting of a number of individuals in the wadis and on the steep slopes.  Among the rodents, the broad-toothed field mouse (Apodemus mystacinus) and the long-tailed field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) are common in the woodlands, where they feed on acorns, various plants and also insects.  Studies of bats conducted in northern Israel found mouse-tailed bats (Rhinopoma) at the site as well as the threatened horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus).  Among the reptiles, lizards and geckos can be found among the rocks on the cliffs, where they find shelter in the cracks in the rocks, and on the slopes and in the woodlands can be seen agile lizards, tree geckos and limbless lizards (Anguidae).

    The cliff areas in this environment serve as habitat for various raptors, among them:  vultures, eagles, buzzards and sometimes also kites.  In these cliffs other birds also build their nests, such as: rock pigeons, blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius) and various species of the Cape Verde swift (Apus alexandri).

    In the area of the oak groves can be found nests of: the common blackbird (Turdus merula), jays (Garrulus), wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes), various species of greenfinch (Chloris), goldfinch (Cardelius), the sombre tit (Poecile lugubris) and the Syrian Serin (Serinus Syriacus).  The western rock nuthatch (Sitta neumayer) is known to nest in the vicinity of Nimrod Castle.  These birds build their nests only on the slopes of the Hermon, in cracks in the rock.  The nest is attached to a large rock or high up on the cliffs, usually facing north.

    Within the boundaries of the castle there is a cistern with a population of salamanders, at risk of extinction.  The presence of the common salamander on the slopes of the Hermon is known at a limited number of sites. 

     

    Flora


    The Nimrod Castle National Park lies on the slopes of Mt. Hermon. The higher one goes in the region of the Banias springs, the vegetation also changes.  In this area it consists of typical Mediterranean woodlands of common oak and terebinth (Pistacia Palaestina).  The majority of plants in this type of environment are evergreens, and there are places where the common oak grows exclusively.  The plants in this woodland are typical of the woodlands appearing in the Upper Galilee, including: the snowdrop bush (Styrax officinalis), the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), broad-leaved Phyllirea (Phyllirea latifolia), Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), shrubby Jerusalem sage (Phlomis viscose), Etruscan honeysuckle (Lonicera Etrusca), fragrant virgin's bower (Clematis flammula), creeping pipevine (Ristolochia sempervirens), spiny broom (Calicotome villosa), spiny hawthorn (Crataegus aronia) and more.  In the cliff areas and on the steep slopes, facing north where it is shady and moist, such as the slopes of Nahal Gubta which borders Nimrod Castle on the north, unique groupings of vegetation have developed, among them: the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) with rigid buckler fern (Dyropteris villarii), and the laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) with Caesarian Mullein (Verbascum caesareum) which is a threatened species.  Accompanying these groups are the Judas tree, Fraxinus Syriaca - a species of ash, European ivy (Hedera helix), the Madonna lily (Lilium candida), Maquis squill (Scilla cilicica),and the small-flowered pancriatium (Pancratium parviflorum).  Some of these plants are endemic to southern Lebanon and the Upper Galilee.  Other plants specific to moist cliffs grow among the rock fragments.  In the Nahal Gubta channel there are Syrian Maple (Acer obtusifolium) and Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis), and on the slopes of the stream the Madonna lily and the rough-leaved michauxia (Michauxia campanuloides),   which is a quite rare, threatened plant, flower in the spring.    Another rare plant is the shrubby ptilostemon (Ptilostemon chamaepecue), that is also threatened.  It grows only around the sources of the Jordan and at the foot of Mt. Hermon along the Ayun, Si'on and Gubta streams.  This plant is accompanied by cliff plants, among them:  the rough-leaved michauxia, the great snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), the Galium canum and others.  In the lower parts of Nahal Gubta, olive trees, apparently the remains of olive groves which were grown in this region, also grow among the oak groves.

    On extensive parts of the slopes of Mt. Hermon, the Mediterranean woodlands have been disrupted and their place has been taken by batas of prickly burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum) or patches of spiny broom.  In shaded areas they are joined by Spanish broom and Turkish bladder senna (Colutea cilicica), which is a bush common in Israel only on Mt. Hermon at an elevation between 700 and 1,800 meters.   Its southern species grow in the region of Nimrod Castle.

    Various wall plants also grow within the bounds of Nimrod Castle, the most prominent among them being the wild pink (Dianthus pendulus) which grows only in the north of Israel.  It is a small bush that hangs down from natural rock walls and ancient ramparts.  Like most wall plants, its peak flowering season is in summer and it can be seen blooming from April to September. 

     

    History


    The Castle was built after the death in 1193 CE of Salah a-Din, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.  According to the historian of the ruler of Damascus at that time, Nimrod Castle was built after Al-Aziz Othman, son of a nephew of Salah a-Din, assumed control of the region in 1218-1232.  That fact is reinforced in the inscriptions decorating the walls of the fortress, bearing the name of the local ruler.

    The castle was built hastily, since in1227 the army of the German Kaiser Friedrich II arrived in the Holy Land and renewed the Crusader threat over the Ayyubids.  Due to pressure of time, the Ayyubids used an economical method of building and the castle was erected within only three years - 1227-1230 CE.   At first a small fortress was built on the eastern, higher part of the slope, and subsequently the castle was expanded and built also on the western part.  The location of the building was given a lot of thought, with the aim of setting it on one of the most strategic points on the road leading from the Hula Valley and the slopes of the Golan in the direction of Damascus in Syria.  It is built on the steepest point in the region, overlooking the road passing over the southern, relatively moderate slope, which can be observed from the direction of the keep.  All along the road ascending from the Hula Valley to Damascus, no other steep ascents are commanded so prominently by the cliff dominating them as does Nimrod Castle.

    In addition to Nimrod Castle, new fortresses were also built in this period at Ba'al Bek in the Lebanon Valley, at Batsra in the Bashan region and at Ajlun in Gil'ad.  In 1253 CE the Crusader forces, commanded by Louis IX, King of France, attempted to conquer the Banyas and Nimrod Castle, but failed.

    Ayyubid control came to an end in 1260 CE, when the Mongols conquered the region.  Their rule did not last long, and in that very year the Mamelukes faced them in a decisive battle at En Harod (the En Jalud battle).  In this battle the Mameluke general Baibars overpowered the Mongol forces, who left Syria, and the entire region passed to Mameluke control.

    Up to his death in 1277, Baibars expanded his kingdom while destroying the coastal cities and renovating the fortresses inside the country, including Nimrod Castle.  In this period Nimrod Castle was renovated and expanded and rebuilt on a higher level of quality, that was expressed by first rate building materials and impressive architecture.  Later on Baibars transferred control of the entire area and the fortress to his loyal assistant Bilich, who continued with the renovation of the fortress and added towers.  After Bilich's death and the expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in 1291 CE, the importance of the fortress declined and the construction on it ceased.

    The Ottoman rulers used the fortress as a prison and in the course of the 16th century it was completely abandoned and became a shelter for shepherds in the region.  In October 1759 there was an earthquake that affected the entire area (the cities of Safed and Ba'al Bek were severely damaged), and among others - Nimrod Castle.  Despite the force of the earthquake, the majority of the castle's towers did not suffer any serious damage.  Subsequently, the castle was abandoned until modern times.  In the 1920s, the French army used Nimrod Castle while suppressing the Arab and the Druze revolts.  In this period the French placed at the Castle a battery of cannon, and for that purpose they broke a hole in the western wall that serves as the entrance to the castle to this day.  Later, during the 6-day War, the castle was used by the Syrians as an artillery observation point, due to which the facade of the castle was damaged by the IDF's air force.  After that period the military battles in the region ceased.  The castle was rehabilitated, renovated and studied. Among other things ancient inscriptions in Arabic were found that shed light on the building history of the castle.

     

     

​How to get there:

By car - on road 989 between Kiryat Shemona and Mt. Hermon.  30 minutes from Kiryat Shemona.

 

Length of walk: Two hours.

 

Recommended season: All year round.

 

Insist on: Sunset at Nimrod Castle;  the secret tunnel.

 

What else is there?

Observation points; cafeteria.

 

Opening Hours:

 

The reserve is closed about one hour before the times given below:

 

Summer:

Sundays thru Thursdays and Shabbat:           8:00 - 17:00

Fridays and eves of religious festivals:           8:00 - 16:00

 

winter:

Sundays thru Thursdays and Shabbat:           8:00 - 16:00

Fridays and eves of religious festivals:           8:00 - 15:00

 

On the eves of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach:  8:00 - 13:00

 

Communication:


Telephone:
04-6949277

Fax:   04-6950877

 

Entrance Fees:

 Single: Adult:  NIS 22;  Child:  NIS 9

Group (over 30 persons): Adult: NIS 19;  Child:  NIS 8

 

A combined ticket for Banias + Nimrod Castle is available:

Single:  Adult:  NIS 41;  Child:  NIS 20

Group (over 30 persons):  Adult:  NIS 36;  Child:     NIS 19.


    Content under construction, the information apears soon.
    Content under construction, the information apears soon.
    Content under construction, the information apears soon.
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    Nimrod Castel