Belvoir Castle

Belvoir castle: Hebrew Kokhav haYarden - the 'Star of the Jordan'; Arabic Kaukab al-Hawa - the 'Star of the Winds' is a magnificently located Crusader castle situated on an isolated hilltop position high above the Sea of Galilee in what was known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem (nowadays Northern Israel) during the period my story is set in. Originally part of the feudal estate of a French nobleman named Velos who lived in Tiberias it was sold to the Order of the Knights Hospitallers in 1168, and under their ownership, it was built into a virtually impregnable fortress. Built in a concentric design it was strategically located on a number of primary trade and access routes. Belvoir features within Outremer as an important location. For accuracy, I had to study many papers and archaeological records as the castle is now a ruin. It differed in construction during its life so I had to make certain I drew it up, as based upon written records of the time, to make certain I had the correct layout, including the offset and angled tower section. See right side of the image. I was helped greatly by brilliant reconstructions by such sources as Pawal Moszczynski, the Israeli Institute of Archaeology and many others.

The Knights Hospitaller purchased the site from Velos, a French nobleman, in 1168. Standing 500 metres (1,600 ft) above the Jordan River Valley, the plateau commanded the route from Gilead into the Kingdom of Jerusalem and a nearby river crossing. To the north is the Sea of Galilee and west are hills. The site of Belvoir Castle dominated the surrounding area, and in the words of Abu Shama the castle is “set admidst the stars like an eagle's nest and abode of the moon”.

 

As soon as the Knights Hospitaller purchased the land they began construction of Belvoir Castle. While Gilbert of Assailly was Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller the order gained around thirteen new castles, among which Belvoir was the most important. The fortress of Belvoir served as a major obstacle to the Muslim goal of invading the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem from the east. It withstood an attack by Muslim forces in 1180. During the campaign of 1182, the Battle of Belvoir Castle was fought nearby between King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Saladin.

 

Following Saladin's victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, Belvoir was besieged. The siege lasted a year and a half, until the defenders surrendered on 5 January 1189. An Arab governor occupied it until 1219 when the Ayyubid ruler in Damascus had slighted. In 1241 Belvoir was ceded to the Franks, who controlled it until 1263.

Crac de l'Ospital

 

Crac de l’Ospital. This castle features within my Outremer series of books. Often called Crac de Chevaliers today, but that was a name given to the castle in the 19th Century. Krak des Chevaliers (French pronunciation) and also Crac des Chevaliers, Ḥosn al-Akrād (حصن الأكراد‎,) literally meaning ‘Castle of the Kurds’. It was a Crusader castle in Syria and is still one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The site was first inhabited in the 11th century by a settlement of Kurdish troops garrisoned there by the Mirdasids hence its original name of ‘Castle of the Kurds’. In 1142 it was given by Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, to the order of the Knights Hospitaller when became known as Crac de l’Ospital. It remained in their possession until it fell in 1271.

The Hospitallers rebuilt the castle in the 1140s and finished around 1170 when an earthquake damaged the castle. The order controlled a number of castles along the border of the County of Tripoli, a state founded after the First Crusade. The castle was among the most important, and acted as a centre of administration and a military base. A second phase of building was undertaken in the 13th century to make it a concentric castle which created the outer wall and gave the castle its current appearance. At its peak, it garrisoned around 2,000.

© D.N. Carter 2017