Belvoir Fortress - History and Facts | History Hit

Belvoir Fortress

Beit Shean, North District, Israel

Once a stronghold of the powerful Knights Hospitallers, Belvoir was located at a key strategic location and dominated the local area.

Peta Stamper

14 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Belvoir Fortress

Offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, the ruins of this former Crusader castle known as ‘Fair View’ can be found towering high above the Jordan Valley in today’s Israel. Once a powerful stronghold, today, the fortress is located in Belvoir National Park and is a popular visitor attraction.

Belvoir Fortress history

The fortress’ location was originally a Jewish village existing nearby during the Roman and Byzantine periods, the Hebrew name meaning ‘Star of the Jordan’. The French Crusader order of the Knights Hospitaller bought the site from Velos, a French nobleman in 1168 AD. The Knights were a Catholic military order of Saint John with a papal order to care and defend the Holy Land.

Belvoir Fortress was built by the Knights 500m above the Jordan River, commanding the route from Gillead to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and including a nearby river crossing. Belvoir boasted a concentric design with both outer and inner defensive walls. From this position Belvoir commanded the area and was the Knights’ most important castle, presenting a major obstacle to the Muslim attempts to invade the crusader kingdom from the east.

In 1182, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem won the Battle of Belvoir Castle against the Ayyubid sultan, Saladin. However, the castle was soon after besieged by Saladin’s forces who gained victory over the crusaders at the Battle of Hattin. The siege lasted over a year and a half before the defenders surrendered in January 1189. Belvoir was occupied by an Arab governor until 1219 when Ayyubid rule in Damascas faltered, ceding the fortress to the Franks who controlled it until 1263.

Throughout the Ottoman period, the castle became the Arab village Kawkab al-Hawa. These inhabitants were forced out of the settlement by the Zionist military forces during the 1947-8 civil war when around 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from land that became Israel. The Arab buildings on the site were destroyed by Israeli authorities between 1963 and 1968 as tensions between Israel and Palestine increased.

Belvoir Fortress today

Today, Belvoir is open to visitors as Israel’s most complete and impressive Crusader fortress. After crossing a modern walkway over the deep moat, visitors will find much of the foundational structure in-tact, which allows you to clearly see the concentric defensive design of the castle, raised above the Jordan River.

Inside the castle walls, you can see the remains of everything the Knights Hospitaller would have needed: a cistern and bathhouse, a series of vaulted spaces likely used as stables, and of course the keep where soldiers lived. There is an information board giving you a good idea of the castle’s original plan.

Getting to Belvoir Fortress

Belvoir is located up a badly-paved road through rolling hills, just off highway 90. It is only accessed via car, and is a 2 hour drive from Tel Aviv-Yafo. There is parking on-site.

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