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Renewed Digs at Crusaders Castle Montfort

montfort1One of the most fascinating (and bloody) periods in medieval times in the Holy Land is the Crusaders period. Remains castles of the “Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” can be seen across the state of Israel, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

“Montfort” (French: “Strong mountain”) was established in 1229 CE as a spur fort by the German Teutonic knights in the Western Galilee.

The fort was built on a cliff above “Kziv” brook, and it is one of the finest examples of a medieval spur castle in the east. It had two moats, massive defensive walls, storerooms, stables, a keep, a refectorium, and a church.

In 1266 CE the Mamluk leader Baibars besieged Montfort, but failed to conquer it, but he returned five years later, and after nine days of undermining the southern outer wall of the site, had the Teutonic knights surrender.

They were permitted to retreat to Akko with their belongings, and later they Venice and Austria, where their library and archive is kept to this day.

Following the Mamluk policy of destruction beyond possible reuse, Baibars ordered the demolition of the Crusaders fort, and so only its ground floor remained visible through the centuries.

The first excavations at the site were conducted in 1926 by an expedition of the Metropolitan museum in New-York.

They uncovered parts of the fort and various artifacts, which were all taken to the museum. A proper publication of the excavations was never done.

In 2007 Prof. Adrian Boaz of Haifa University resumed excavations at the Montfort after a detailed survey. A conservation project is planned to follow.

In the last season of excavation (2013) important and unique evidence of the Mamluk conquest of Montfort were uncovered. The Muslims used to dig under the foundations of the Crusaders castles, and then set the tunnel in fire.

The fire caused a collapse of the wall, which enabled the attacking forces to breach through the site’s walls.

This tactic is well known from contemporary historical sources, yet till now no archaeological evidence of it was found.

Montfort was conquered by Baibars in the same technique, yet despite the fire causing the collapse of the walls, Boaz’ team found fragments of one of the wooden beams in the tunnel, mute evidence for the drama that terminated Montfort as a Crusaders castle.

(Click on the photos to enlarge images)

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General photo of Montfort. New excavation area can be seen on the right. (C) Danny Herman

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A photo taken during the 2103 exavations at Montfort by Prof. Adrian Boas, showing the remains of the burnt wooden beam found under the foundations of the southern wall of the castle. The beam was placed and then burnt by the Mamluk forces in their attack of the site in 1271. Such “sapping” technique is well recorded by historical sources, but it time that archaeological evidence of this technique is uncovered.
(C) Adrian Boas.

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A closeup of the wooden beam. (C) Boas Adrian.