by Yael Adar
It sits majestically, 180 meters above the Kziv River, in what is literally 'the middle of nowhere', in the Western Galilee. Montfort is one of the most spectacular Crusader castles in Israel. Thanks to paths at Goren Park, even those who do not wish to take the moderately strenuous hike to the fortress can enjoy its beauty from afar. Those who do take the walk will be richly rewarded.
Late comers to the Holy Land, The Teutonic Knights made this site into a major stronghold, quite simply because this was one of the few places they were able to obtain the rights to. Loathed by the other two orders, the Templars and the Hospitallers, they were forced out of Acre. The Pope came to their aid and initiated a special campaign to raise the necessary funds required to build Montfort.
Contrary to popular belief this fort was not built to guard an important road or significant strategic point; its beginnings, in the mid twelfth century are much more humble. Initially this was a rural feudal agricultural farm, established by the Templars. In the thirteenth century it was transformed into a fortress by the Teutonic Knights. Called Castellum Novum Regis (King's New Fortress), it served to guard the nearby stronghold at Mi'ilya.
After the battle at the Horns of Hattin, Saladin conquered the castle (in 1187), but five years later, in 1192 it was re-conquered by the Crusaders. In 1220 the fortress was sold by Otto von Henneberg to the (German)Teutonic Knights, who called the fortress Starkenberg (Strong Mountain). It was also known by the Arabic name of Qala'at Qurein (Castle on the Small Horn).
Montfort which is accessible only by foot enjoys the benefit of a three-sided natural defense barrier – making its capture extremely difficult. Numerous attempts to conquer the fortress were made.
The Mamluk Sultan Baybars first tried to conquer Montfort in 1266, to no avail. Apparently his failure was a sore spot, he returned five years later, in 1271. A seven day siege finally enabled his warriors to breach the outer defense and gain access to the inner courtyard, via a tunnel.
An agreement was reached whereby the knights were allowed to retreat taking with them one of their most important possessions, the archive. It is due to the survival of this archive, which was sent to Tirol, in Austria that we have a great deal of recorded history from the Crusader era in the Holy Land. To ensure that the Crusaders would not return, Baybars destroyed a good portion of the fortress. However, there is still quite a bit to see.
The Kziv River, beneath the castle is 20 kilometers long and one of the few rivers in Israel in which water flows year-round. Those who wish to hike to the castle have a number of options. Take a
path down from Goren Park, cross the river and go up the hill. Alternatively there is also an approach from Kibbutz Eilon or from the entrance to the village Mi'ilya.
Goren Park (a great place in and of itself to enjoy the outdoors, have a cookout or a picnic) is located in the upper Galilee between Kibbutz Eilon and Moshav Goren.
Directions: Take Route # 4 to Route # 899. Look for the sign to Goren Park, this will be a right hand turn.
Visiting Hours: Daylight hours.
Entry fees: Free.