Seated as a lone sentinel overlooking the Jordan Valley, Belvoir Fortress may be one of the best kept secrets in northern Israel. Located just 20 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee, the site is a testament to Crusader fortitude and ingenuity in the land of the Bible nearly 1,000 years ago.
Originally owned by a French nobleman, the land was purchased by the Hospitallers, a Crusader order, who built a castle on the site around 1168 AD. A strategic location during the time of the Crusades, the fortress was designed to ward off Saladin’s sieges, and offered strong combat positioning as well as a stunning panoramic view of the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee, and the Golan.
The fortress withstood Saladin’s attacks until 1188, preventing Saladin’s armies from entering the Crusader kingdom from the east. Finally, a siege was laid over Belvoir which lasted over a year, until its surrender in 1189. In 1217, the fortifications were dismantled by the Muslims. In 1240, Belvoir was ceded to the Crusaders, and though not refortified, it was later returned to the Muslims.
For centuries, the fortress sat in ruins until archaeologists began excavations in the 1960s, which uncovered well-preserved areas under the surrounding debris. After years of restoration, the site was opened to the public.
Visitors to the site can still see the well-preserved structure, which consists of an outer and an inner square fortress, as well as a 65-foot wide dry moat between the inner and outer walls. Visitors can also see a seven-branched menorah embedded in the walls, likely taken from the ancient synagogue in the nearby village of Kochav.
Located in Belvoir National Park, the fortress can be easily overlooked, but visitors will find it is a worthwhile stop while driving through the area, particularly for the stunning view of the Jordan River Valley.