The Nimrod Fortress:
Muslim Stronghold in the Golan
The Nimrod Fortress (Kalat al-Subeiba
in Arabic), is situated in the northern Golan,
on a ridge rising some 800 meters above sea level. It is named after
a biblical hero, the hunter Nimrod (Genesis
10:8-9) who, according to local tradition, dwelt on this summit.
The fortress overlooks the deep, narrow valley separating Mt. Hermon
from the Golan Heights and the road linking the
Galilee with Damascus (in present-day Syria). The fortress was founded
in the Middle Ages, probably by the Crusaders, to defend the city of
Banias in the valley below against
Muslim incursions. Later, the Muslim rulers of Damascus rebuilt it to
defend their border against the Crusaders.
During the 12th-13th centuries, it changed hands several times, but
it was maintained and strengthened mainly by the Muslims, as attested
to by the numerous Arabic inscriptions found incorporated into the building.
The fortifications follow the contours of the long,
narrow ridge and are visible to this day. The fortress measures 420
m. in length and 60-150 m. in width and is built of large, carefully
squared stones. Along the walls, particularly on the southern side where
extra strength was required, numerous rectangular and semi-circular
towers, roofed with pointed cross-arches, were erected. Water was stored
in rock-cut plastered pools below the fortress, accessible via protected
staircases, thus guaranteeing the supply of water in times of siege.
Overlooking the high, eastern edge of the fortress
stood a large keep (a dungeon-fortress within a fortress), measuring
65 x 45 m. and protected by massive rectangular towers. In the west,
it was separated from the main fortress by a moat, access being provided
by a bridge. The keep served as living quarters for the commander of
the fortress; in time of siege it became an additional inner defense
During 1993-94, the debris which blocked the tower-gate
on the western side of the fortress were cleared. On this side, a deep
moat cut into the rock, probably with a drawbridge, protected its entrance.
The gate-tower, according to an inscription inside it, was built by
the Ayyubid ruler al-Aziz Othman in 1230. The double-paneled entrance
doors were locked with wooden beams inserted into grooves in the doorjambs.
Also well preserved is the narrow groove for lowering the defensive
iron net (portcullis).
Fragments of a monumental Arabic inscription of considerable
length indicate that the Mamluk
sultan Baibars restored the gate-tower in 1275. This new gate house
was constructed of particularly large, well-trimmed stones weighing
several tons each; it measured 29 x 23 m. and was 30 m. high.
A large cistern was hewn in the rock beneath and a
narrow staircase connected the towers different stories. A 27-meter-long
stepped, secret passage led from the gate tower to the outside. It would
have enabled the defenders of the fortress to launch a surprise attack
on besiegers, or if necessary, to flee from it.
At the end of the 13th century, the Muslim conquest
of the port city of Acre on the Mediterranean signified the end of Crusader rule in the Holy Land. The Nimrod
fortress lost its strategic value and fell into disrepair; the ruins
visible today bear silent witness to its past might.
The excavations were directed by
M. Hartal on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Ministry of Foreign Affairs