The Crusader Fortress of Tiberias

Excavations have revealed impressive remains of a 12th century Crusader fortress. The fortress is particularly notable as it’s siege marks a defining moment in the history of the middle east.
Tiberias and the Battle of Hattin: 1187 CE
The Battle of Hattin on the 4th of July 1187 was to define the history of the area for centuries to come. Saladin and his soldiers won a decisive victory over the Crusader army and its leader, Guy of Lusignan, which sealed the fate of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The pretext for the battle was the siege that Saladin placed on Tiberias, seat of the Principality of Galilee, on the 2nd of July, two days prior to the decisive battle. At this time the Crusader princess Eschiva, wife of Raymond III of Tripoli, ruler of the Galilee, and a unit of loyal knights were inside the mighty fortress of Tiberias; however, Raymond himself was at that time together with the king in the Crusader encampment at springs of Sepphoris.
TiberiasFortAt the beginning of the siege of Tiberias an alarmed Eschiva sent a messenger to the Crusader camp informing them of it and the fate that awaited her and the knights of Tiberias if Saladin’s conquered the city. In the feverish consultations at the camp in Sepphoris it was Raymond, the husband of Eschiva, who advised the king not to engage the Muslim army in a conflict at this time, despite the looming danger to his wife and comrades in Tiberias. But the king decided to heed the advice of the commander of the Templar Order and attack the Muslims in order to lift the siege on Tiberias. On the way to Tiberias, in the vicinity of the Horns of Hittim, the decisive battle took place when the Crusader army, which was dying of thirst, was vanquished. After the hostilities the army of the Crusader kingdom ceased to exist and the Templar and Hospitaller knights were executed (only King Guy was taken prisoner and released after a year while Raymond succeeded in fleeing before the end of the battle). The following day Tiberias surrendered to the Muslim forces. Princess Eschiva and the knights of Tiberias were allowed to leave the city and made their way unharmed to Tripoli.
Where was the Crusader fortress of Tiberias?
During the spring and summer of 2003 archaeological excavations were conducted on behalf of the Antiquities Authority in the area adjacent to the ‘Etz Haim’ synagogue. In the excavation an impressive section of a massive 3.4m thick wall, oriented east west (i.e. perpendicular to the shoreline), was discovered and in it a 3m gate that was in an excellent state of preservation. The façade of the wall is built of large ashlar stones and was preserved to a minimum height of 4 m (the foundations courses that that are embedded in the water table at the level of the lake have not yet been exposed). In the wall and gate the excavators detected the quintessential characteristics of Crusader construction that left no room for doubt: here is part of the northern wall of the Crusader fortress, which indeed indicates that underneath the old Jewish Quarter is the lost Crusader fortress of Tiberias. The discovery makes it possible to estimate the size of the fortress (c. 50 x 70 m); although it is still difficult to delineate its precise plan. The Crusader characteristics that were discovered in the wall and gate are: massive construction using large ashlar stones that are carefully fitted and bonded together, some of which have drafted margins; diagonal stone dressing across the surface of several of the stones in the jambs of the gate; a V-shaped mason’s marks on the surface of one of the building stones; secondary use of ancient construction items; and a track in the form of a slot in the jambs of the gate house for raising and lowering the iron portcullis – a clearly Crusader means of defense in front of a fortress’ gate.
It seems that in front of the wall and gate there was a broad moat filled with water that protected the fortress from the north (as was discovered in the 1977 excavation at the south of the fortress). If there also was a moat on the western side of the fortress (the side that has not yet been exposed) then we are dealing with an edifice that was surrounded entirely by water, a kind of island cut off from the other parts of the city, which was probably joined to them by way of wooden bridges that could be raised. After the fall of the fortress in 1187 its ruins stood desolate for hundreds of years until they were filled over and covered with soil on which the Jewish Quarter of Tiberias was constructed, beginning from the time of Rabbi Haim Abulafia, in the middle of the 18th century CE.
During the excavation, they discovered that in the 12th or 13th century not long after it was built, the gate itself was blocked by the construction of two walls that were erected across it, thereby negating its use altogether. Large decorated architectural elements in the wall were discovered. These comprised parts of a large lintel adorned with floral patterns and a wreath of Heracles for which there are almost exact parallels in the ancient synagogue of Capernaum. Also, a basalt ashlar decorated with a crude relief of a five-branch candelabrum, cornice stones and capitals, column drums, fragments of Italian marble and other limestone and basalt elements. These items almost certainly originated in an ancient and magnificent structure that was probably a synagogue from the Roman or Byzantine period. It is not known where these stones came from. More remains unknown than that which we have answers to.