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2 - The External Fortifications of ʿAtlit Castle, the Only Unconquered Crusader Stronghold in the Holy Land

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2021

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Summary

This article looks in detail at the well-planned and very effective defenses at the Crusader castle of Château Pèlerins on the ʿAtlit peninsula, focusing in particular on the defense line of the ʿAtlit ridge. The castle was constructed during 1217–18 by the Knights Templar, and its defenses, which relied on the topography and the exploitation of locally derived building materials, were never breached. The castle was vulnerable to attacks only from the east, so three defense lines were created:

  • (1) On the peninsula neck, two massive walls, towers, and a dry moat.

  • (2) A wall entering the sea in the north and the south bays, with guard towers at both ends, to protect the town east of the castle. A line of large stones which once stood upright, was discovered underwater, extending to the north from the north tower, forming a barrier that prevented approach in the shallows along the coast.

  • (3) An outermost defense line, including two guard towers, and the easternmost external defense line on the ʿAtlit ridge, the focus of this article. A quarry stretched along the ridge, creating an artificial rockcut cliff. This longitudinal defense wall would delay an attack, even if for a short time, enabling people who worked outside the castle to escape to the well-protected peninsula.

To provide the large quantity of stones required for building the castle and completing the defenses on the ridge rapidly, the builders simultaneously extracted stones in several places. The stones were quarried from the eastern, far flank of the ridge to create the rock-cut cliff. By applying a sophisticated, pre-planned quarrying technique, they removed immense

blocks from the ridge which were then cut into ashlars. The artificial cliff, 2.1 km long and up to 6 m high, thus became the castle's easternmost defense. This longitudinal barrier, described as a quarry in some previous publications, is shown to be an integral part of a pre-planned defense system, completed by an east–west rampart in the south and the natural canyon of the Oren River in the north. Passages were cut across the ridge from east to west to convey the quarried stones to the castle. Other results of quarrying activity were rock-cut enclosures adjacent to the longitudinal defense wall, and usually associated with the passages.

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Journal of Medieval Military History
Volume XVII
, pp. 21 - 60
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2019

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