by Yael Adar
Twelfth century Muslim historians described it as a ‘nest of eagles and the dwelling place of the moon’. It overlooks the Jordan Valley and meandering Jordan River, 550 meters below. The most complete Crusader fortress in Israel sits atop a basalt plateau and offers a spectacular view of the valley below and the Gilead Mountains, across the way. When it was built, the fortress overlooked the most important crossings on the river, including Naharayim.
It is known by a number of names. In Hebrew, it is called Kochav Hayarden (Star of the Jordan), aptly named for the nearby ancient Jewish village of Kochav (star). Muslims call it Kaukab al-Hawa (Star of the Winds), and the Crusaders named it Belvoir (Fair or Beautiful View). It was built as a fort within a fort and was surrounded by a (14 meters deep by 20 meters wide) dry moat.
Initially it was an estate that belonged to a French nobleman, Velos, from Tiberias. He sold it to the Hospitaller Knights in 1168, and they built a huge impenetrable fortress, that was completed in 1173. The fortress withstood all of Salah al-Din’s (Saladin) attacks and was one of the primary reasons that Muslims did not manage to invade the Crusader Kingdom from the east.
Even after the fall of the First Crusader Kingdom – the Hospitailer Knights sustained the defense of the fortress. By this time, Muslims had conquered Jerusalem, Acre and a large fort in Safed, but Belvoir was still beyond their reach. It withstood a long siege. A year and half after the Muslims’ defeat of the Crusaders at the battle of the Horns of Hittin, Belvoir’s defenders surrendered on January 5, 1189 and evacuated to Tyre. Muslim rulers feared the Crusaders would try to retake the fortress, so in 1217-18 Belvoir was dismantled.
As you enter the fortress, on the right you will see a collection of sculptures that form a sculpture garden. The works are those of Israeli artist Igael Tumarkin. The ancient fortress and modern sculptures stand in stark contrast to each other.
Standing at the edge of the plateau, looking to the north, you will be able to see the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon. To the east lie the Jordan Valley and Gilead Mountains and to the south the Gilboa and northern part of the Shomron.
Once there were two roads to Kochav Hayarden, but the road from Moledet is now inaccessible. The drive is worth it in its own right (so consider including Kochav Hayarden, either before or after your visit to Old Gesher). To really benefit from the drive, you will have to drive up to the fort and then you can enjoy the view on the drive back down to the Beit Shean-Tiberias road.
Directions: Kochav Hayarden is located on Route #717, off Route #90, about 20 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee.
TEL 04/ 658-1766
Visiting Hours: April-September: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM, October-March: 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Entry fees apply.