The Israel Antiquities Authority, Government Tourism Corporation and the Safed Municipality inaugurated a visitor’s path in the Crusader-Mamluk fortress of Safed around which the entire old city developed.
Safed, like other European cities, was built around a very large and impressive Crusader fortress that stood at the top of the mountain. The fortress was constructed on a hilltop that rises to an elevation of 834 meters above sea level and which has acommanding view of Safed and the adjoining region.
The Crusader-Mamluk fortress, which is bounded by a verdant park, constitutes a unique site in Old Safed and the entire Galilee. The fortress structure was preserved in all of its formidableness, and it looks out over Safed and the entire surrounding area. The view from the fortress is absolutely breathtaking.
In 2007 the Israel Antiquities Authority, with funding provided by the Government Tourism Corporation, began carrying out extensive conservation and stabilization work in the fortress structure and prepared a visitor’s footpath that passes through it. The purpose of the path, which was inaugurated this past weekend, is to guide the visitor in a safe and secure manner inside the impressive remains of the fortress structure. Thus the visitor can learn about the remains from the past and obtain a sense of the power of Crusader and Mamluk architecture.
In the near future explanatory and illustrative signage will be posted along the path which will make it easier for the visitor to understand the building and be impressed by it
Historical Background – The Fortress
In the year 1102 the Crusaders began fortifying Safed and in 1168 the Templar order, which had been granted Safed, enlarged the fortress and a civilian settlement developed around it. Following the battle of the Horns of Hittim in 1187 and the defeat of the Crusader forces at the hands of Saladin’s army, the fortress in Safed also capitulated. However, this surrender occurred in the wake of a heavy, year long siege (which attests to the fortress’ strength, the army that occupied it and the fact that there was a large amount of suitable equipment on hand there).
In light of the threat of a fifth crusade the Ayubbids destroyed the fortress in 1220 fearing that the Crusaders would return and take possession of it. After the Galilee reverted once again to the Crusaders in 1240 they returned and renovated Safed’s fortress and made it the largest Crusader citadel in the Levant.
In 1260 the Mamluks conquered the Land of Israel and the Mamluk military leader Beybers expelled the last of the Crusaders that remained in the country. Safed surrendered to him in 1265 and remained under Moslem rule until the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Mamluks developed the urban fortifications inside the country, first and foremost of which were those of Safed, which became one of the most important cities in the Land of Israel and the principal city in the Galilee. The Mamluk commercial activity was centered in Safed. The limits of its jurisdiction during this period extended from beyond the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and from the region of Beaufort in the north to the Sea of Galilee in the south, as well as all of the Lower Galilee and northern Samaria.
Safed’s fortress ceased to function at the beginning of 1837 following the strong earthquake that struck the city. From that point on the remains of the fortress were systematically plundered by the city’s inhabitants who required raw materials for reconstructing their homes which had been destroyed. The ancient structure became a source of building stones for the residents of Safed and the surrounding region then, as well as now.
With the creation of the State of Israel a municipal park that was planned by Shlomo Oren, a landscape architect, was established on the ruins of the fortress. Integrated within the area of the park are a variety of flora, beautiful secluded spots, visitor’s paths, vantage points that overlook both near and afar, and a memorial to those that fell in the War of Independence.
This path was inaugurated during the first conference of its kind which dealt with “The Old City of Safed: Preserving the Past while Developing for the Future”. This took place on September 24 at the initiative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the participation of all of the relevant government representatives. At the conclusion of the study day it was decided to create a steering committee that will lead and guide the Planning Administration of the Ministry of the Interior. Also serving as partners on the committee will be the relevant government ministries and local authorities and other pertinent entities. The steering committee will lead the way in finding solutions for preserving and rehabilitating the Old City of Safed.