Monday, 11 February 2013

Nimrod's Fortress and Mount Bental

Continuing with our northern adventures, Day 2 saw us visiting the Nimrod Fortress, the highest fortress in Israel. Situated in the northern Golan Heights, Nimrod Fortress can be found on a ridge rising about 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level. We visited on a cold but clear day. The sky was bright blue and we discovered that we were actually visiting a site located high above the clouds. So exciting!
The fortress was built in 1228 by Al-Maliq al-Aziz Othman, the second son of Saladin and the second Ayyubid of Egypt. It overlooks the deep, narrow valley separating Mount Hermon from the Golan Heights and the road linking the Galilee with Damascus (in present-day Syria), and was built to preempt an attack on Damascus by participants of the Sixth CrusadeIt was named Qala'at al-Subeiba, "Castle of the Large Cliff" in Arabic. During the 12th-13th centuries it changed hands several times, but it was maintained and strengthened mainly by the Muslims, evident by the numerous Arabic inscriptions spotted around the site.
The Ottoman Turks used the fortress as a prison in the 16th century but it was abandoned later that century and ruined by an earthquake in the 18th century. The Druze came to the region  during an 1860 conflict and began calling the fortress Qal'at Namrud (Nimrod). The Biblical hero Nimrod, according to local tradition, made his home in the area.

Nimrod's Fortress ended up being one of my favourite places of the trip. It contains a maze of underground tunnels, a secret passageway, wide halls, a huge water cistern and watchtowers. The kids had a ball roaming around, pretending to be soldiers, and even the adults had a fantastic time exploring the place! The magnificent views of the Hula Valley, the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mount Hermon were incredible. Mark Twain called the fortress "probably the most exquisite ruins in the world."
It is still so.

Later that day we visited Mount Bental, a dormant volcano in the northern Golan Heights, 1,170 meters above sea level. It is one of Israel's favourite mountain peaks to visit because of the great panoramic views it offers of the Golan and into Syria (Damascus lies just 60km away), but also because Mount Bental was the site of a courageous battle fought during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
We viewed the Valley of Tears – the long stretch of valley in between Mount Bental and Mount Hermon - the site of a bitter four day-long tank battle during which the crews of some 160 Israeli tanks managed to hold off almost ten times their number of Syrian tanks. We could also clearly see Mount Avital, the Syrian ghost town of Kuneitra, which was evacuated when the Israeli-Syrian border was drawn in its middle, the wind farm at Alonei HaBashan, and the many surrounding vineyards which produce the wonderful wines of the Golan.
Mount Bental is no longer used as a military base, but the old army bunkers and trenches are open to the public. Most of the bunkers have been completely cleared out but some old beds, signs and maps can still be seen - and bumped into if you don't have a torch with you! We got some idea of what life is like for the soldiers in the underground bunkers and frankly it can't have been much fun.
It began to rain, so it seemed the perfect time to drop into the 'Coffee Anan' café on the mountain's peak – the highest café in Israel! 'Coffee Anan' is indeed a play of words based on the name of the former UN secretary general Kofi Anan. Since 'Anan' in Hebrew means 'cloud', the name of the cafe translates as 'Coffee of the clouds' – a fitting name for its lofty location.

2 comments:

Miss Val's Creations said...

These photos are amazing Lisa! Pairing awesome ruins with such a high elevation! I have to agree that being underground in a bunker must really lack fun. I love the play on words with the cafe. Very cute!

Ann Martin said...

I love taking trips with you, Lisa! This one was another beauty. How very cool to be above the clouds.

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