Description of the Nimrod Fortress
Nimrod Fortress is located in a magical mountain scenery on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, atop a ridge at an altitude of 815 meters (2,675 feet) above sea level. From the crest, the northern slope drops very steeply to the north towards the Guvta stream, while the southern slope descends moderately southward to Wadi a-Naqib.
The ridge descends westward toward Banias and rises eastward in the direction of Mt. Hermon.
The Nimrod Fortress extends over an area of 195 dunams (19.5 hectares, 49 acres). With in its boundaries lies the Fortress, occupying 33 dunams (3.3 hectares, 8 acres), surrounded by olive groves and natural vegetation, mainly of Calliprinos oak (Quercus call iprinos). This place was filmed by the team of 360HolyPlaces™ for you in Virtual Reality 360°.
The Northwest Tower (1)
– The impressive gate installed in the tower bears an Arabic inscription of the Ayyubi governer al-‘Aziz ‘Othman and belongs to the first construction stage. The stones of the arch shifted in an earthquake (1759), but miraculously the arch itself did not collapse. The “veranda” before us is part of a room, the ceiling of which buckled and was rebuilt in 1275 by the governor Bilik. At this point the tower was expanded, and two storeys added. To this period must also be attributed the opening in the the tower’s ground floor leading to a cistern, above which a shaft rises seven meters (23 feet) high; through it water was raised to the uppermost storey. South of the room, a toilet facility was discovered. West of the gate tower, at the end of the “veranda”, a secret passage was constructed which leads outside the northern wall (13).
The Baybars Inscription (2)
– A monumental Arabic inscription, among the largest of the Mameluke period (1275). In it appear words of eulogy and praise for (as mentioned) the Sultan Baybars, who delegated his subordinate Bilik, commander of the fortress, to be in charge of the building and reconstruction work. The inscription was apparently placed on the front of the second storey, where the palace of Bilik was almost certainly located.
The Western Tower (3)
– A westward-facing tower, as yet un excavated.
The “Service Road” (4)
-A modern pathway which passes through a breach in the wal l, and through which one may directly enter the fortress .
The Southwest Tower (5)
– The top of the tower provides a magnificent view of the Galilee, the Hula Valley and the slopes of the Golan. The stairs lead to the interior hall of the original tower. The tower was enlarged in Baybars’ time, after which the additional embrasures were built. From this hall, a spiral staircase descends to the southward -facing rooms, and even here we find embrasures.
The Large Reservoir (6)
– It is 9 x 25 meters (29.5 x 82 feet) in area and 7 meters (23 feet) high. Rainwater flowed through channels, long since destroyed. Its northern side is roofed with a barrel vault. Stairs descend to its bottom. The southern space is roofed with a cross vault. A later breach in the southern wall, made by shepherds, permits a glimpse of the reservoir.
-A public drinking fountain (sebil in Arabic) located on the east side of the reservoir and fed by its waters. Above the basin is an inscription by Fahra-Din Hassan, who reconditioned the fountain in 1240.
The “Beautiful Tower” (8)
– The tower, which projects from the wall in a kind of semicircle, was built by Baybars. The inside of the tower is octagonal, of which two sides were joined so that it now has seven sides. The roof of the tower is vaulted. The construction of the tower, the cutting of the stones and the installation of the embrasures are outstanding in quality. In the right-hand corner is a toilet cubicle similar to that in the northwest tower.
The Moat (9)
– Hewn into the bedrock, it separates the fortress from its donjon (keep). The route crosses the moat in a place where it is slightly filled in, but it can be seen better on the right side. The moat was crossed by a wooden bridge. At the end of the moat, at the southwest corner of the donjon (keep), is found the earliest Arabic inscription in the fortress, dating to the regime of the governor al-‘Aziz ‘Othman (1228).
The Donjon (Keep) (10)
-A fortified and independent location standing off above the fortress (“Donjon” is French, “Keep’ in English). In the event that the lower fortifications were overrun, the defenders were able to continue the battle and the defense of the fortress from the very large and strongly constructed donjon. It’s gate is in the northwest corner. At the four corners of the structure square towers were erected. In the area between them were found remnants of the arches of a ceremonial hall, additional halls and water cisterns.
The View from the Top of the Donjon (11)
– Here one realizes the clear supremacy of the donjon over the other parts of the fortress. From this observation there is a breathtaking panorama of Mt. Hermon, the Golan Heights, the Galilee and the Hula Valley.
The Northern Tower (Prison Tower) (12)
– Very well preserved, it, too, was apparently built by Baybars. The tower includes a central hall, with walls pierced by archers’ embrasures and a staircase which ascends to the roof. From the top of the tower, Mt. Hermon and Mt. Dov can be seen. During the 15th century, the place was apparently used as a prison.
Secret Passage (13)
– The route returns to the northwestern tower (1). In the corner of the “veranda” is the entrance to a secret graded passageway leading northward. It is 27 meters (88.5 feet) long, 1.8 meters (6 feet) wide, and has a high arched ceiling. A row of stones can be seen in the ceiling which were displaced by an earthquake. The passage ends in a hidden opening (postern) broken through the exterior section of the northern wall and hidden by a pile of rocks.
The Pool (14)
– Located outside the fortress on its eastern side. It has a surface area of 26 x 54 meters (85 x 177 feet) and a depth of at least 5 meters (16.5 feet). Its location on the slope enables the collection of large quantities of rainwater which, in peacetime, served the residents of the fortress, and may even have been used in agriculture for irrigation and watering the herds.
Nimrod fortress is one of the largest and most impressive fortresses which have survived in the Mid-East since the Middle Ages. The fortress controlled one of the region ‘s main roads, which began in Tyre on the Mediterranean shore and ran through the upper Hula Valley and Banias to Damascus. The fortress, with its long, narrow structure, fits in with the special topographic conditions of the area. Thus its width varies accordingly from 50 meters (165 feet) to 150 meters (nearly 500 feet); it is 420 meters (1,380 feet) in length. The fortress is surrounded by a virtually impregnable wall fitted with towers. The original entrances were via three gates – two on the south side, the third on the west. The fortress comprises two parts: the donjon (keep), which occupies about a fourth of its area, and the lower courtyard with its various buildings, walls and towers. Nimrod fortress is also known by its Arabic names: Qal’at Subayba (the Cliff Fortress) and Qal’at Nimrud (Nimrod Fortress). The latter name is connected, according to the legend, with the mighty hunter Nimrod, King of Shinar and great-grandson of Noah. In this place he was punished by Allah, who put a mosquito inside his head which drove him mad. According to another fable, Nimrod built his castle here, and from it stretched out his long arm to draw water from the Banias.
History of the Area
After the battle at the Horns of Hittin (1187), the Crusaders lost their hold on most of the territory in the Land of Israel. Salah a-Din, who commanded the Ayyubi army in its struggle against the Crusaders, was lord of the land. He and his troops systematically destroyed the fortresses which fell into their hands. The Crusaders, however, attempted to return and reconquer the Holy Land in subsequent Crusades, but they were able to gain hegemony only on the Coastal Plain and in the Galilee. The Banias area, which also fell to the Muslims, was placed under the governorship of al-‘Aziz ‘Othman, nephew of Salah a-Din. Intrigues between Sultan el-Kamal in Egypt and his brother al Moatis, governor of Damascus, brought about the building of the fortress, and it happened this way: in 1227, the army of the German Emperor (Kaisar) Frederick II arrived in the Holy Land. Sultan el-Kamal provoked the Kaisar to engage his brother in battle, and even gave Jerusalem to the Kaisar. AI-Moatis, who feared that the Crusaders were about to attack Darnascus and conquer it, initiated construction of the fortress in 1227 with the help of his younger brother al-‘Az iz ‘Othman, in order to defend the road leading to Damascus. When the danger had passed, the Ayyubids decided to reinforce the fortress and to expand it westward. Construction continued for about a year and was completed in 1230.
In 1253, the Crusaders tried to return and conquer the fortress, but to no avail. The Mongol invasion of Syria and the Holy Land from Central Asia seven years later brought about the destruction of the fortress. The Mameluke army managed to stop the Mongols at the Battle of ‘Ein Jalud (‘Ein Harod), considered to be one of the most important battles in history. One of the outstanding Mameluke commanders in that battle, Baybars, named himself. Sultan of the Mamelukes and gave the fortress to his second-in-command, Bilik. The new governor began broad reconstruction activities and actually, the building in his day was the most grandiose ever, and included the semicircular towers. Bilik memorialized his work and glorified the name of his sultan in the impressive inscription from 1275.
With the surrender of the Crusaders and their final ejection from the Holy Land at the end of the 13th century, the prestige of the fortress diminished. In the 15th century it served as a prison for rebels, but later was abandoned. From that time on, shepherds and their flocks would occasionally take shelter in its fastnesses.
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