Yehiam Fortress is an Israeli national park in the western Upper Galilee in the grounds of Kibbutz Yehi’am. At the site are the ruins of an impressive fortress dating from the Crusader and Ottoman periods. The fortress also played an heroic role in the defense of Yehi’am during the War of Independence.
The fort is built upon the Crusader Iudyn Castle built by the Teutonic Order after 1220 and destroyed by the Mamluk sultan Baibars between 1268 and 1271. It was rebuilt and expanded by the Bedouin ruler Zahir al-Umar as Qal’at Jiddin (Jiddin Castle) in the 1760s and destroyed again by Ahmed Jezzar Pasha around 1775. The ruined fortress, known as Khirbat Jiddin which means the ruins of Jiddin, was later inhabited by Bedouin tribes.
Kibbutz Yehi’am was established in 1946 is described on the site. The buildings include a watch tower with a lookout platform, mosque, and large vaulted hall. The 1948 trenches laid around the castle can also be visited. Archaeological finds in the park but outside the castle precinct include the remains of a Roman fort, a Byzantine monastery, burial caves, stones inscribed with crosses and fragments of mosaic.
The Fortress Gate
The entrance is through a gate from the time of Zahir al-Umar. Most of the ruins that can be seen are from this period. The gate is protected by a strong, semi-circular tower. The stones of the threshold were taken from Byzantine period buildings at the site. The gate was apparently closed by two wooden doors plated with strips of metal.
The Crusader Tower
During the time of the Crusaders there were two sets of steps leading up to the top of the tower. This is a tower with very thick walls, whose strength made it possible to build a three-story tower, today rising to a height of 15 m. A staircase leads up to a lookout balcony on the roof.
There is a path that continues around the tower to the eastern part of the fortress and passes between the communication trenches and defence positions of Kibbutz Yehi’am which are from the time of the War of Independence.
The Round Tower
To the north-eastern corner of the fortress is a tower from the time of Zahir al-Umar. This is a round tower, left almost complete, with eight crenulations. Crenellations or battlements are the distinguishing feature of a castle and clearly indicating that the castle was built to withstand a battle. A crenellation was a rampart built around the top of a castle with regular gaps for firing arrows. The Crenellations was situated on the top of castle towers and walls. The Crenellations composed of:
‘Crenels’ (The gap, or open space, measuring 2-3 feet wide, between two Merlons in a battlement or crenellated wall ).’Merlons’ (The solid portion between two Crenels in a battlement measuring 4 – 5 feet wide and 3 – 7 feet high) The crenellations are rectangular and not elongated as they were in the Crusader period because they are intended for firing rifles. The floor of the tower covers a cistern.
From the defence positions, the path goes on to a room used as a mosque. In the southern wall, as expected, is the niche of the mihrab, indicating the direction of Mecca for prayer. The niche is made of sandstone, by contrast with the limestone in which the fortress is built.
Western observation terrace and bathhouse
Consists of a large open roof that served in the past as the floor of many rooms that no longer exist. The terrace provides the visitor with a wonderful views. On the southern side are the remains of a small bathhouse, apparently used by the commander of the fortress. Water was brought up in jars from the cistern in the fortress, and poured into a channel that carried it to the bathhouse.
A large, pillared hall with 15 piers, intended as the base for the fortress complex above it. It can be assumed that during the Ottoman period it was used as a storeroom. The first members of Kibbutz Yehi’am lived in this hall before moving to the permanent settlement.
The ‘Mushroom Hall’
This hall was used by the members of Kibbutz Yehi’am for growing mushrooms in the 1950s, and today is used for screening a film about the kibbutz during the War of Independence.
The fort and surrounding grounds were designated as a in 1967, and covers an area of 50 dunams. The national park towers over Yehi’am Stream Nature Reserve, a deep ravine of well-developed Mediterranean woodland, dominated by Palestine oaks (Quercus calliprinos) and their companions.
Yehi’am National Park is in Western Galilee, in the southern part of Kibbutz Yehi’am. Access to the site is from the Nahariya – Ma’alot road (Road 89). About 2.5 km east of Kabri Junction, turn south (right) to the Kibbutz Yehi’am access road (Road 8833), and drive 5 km to the kibbutz and the fortress.
The Crusader tower – an excellent lookout point, looking east towards Yanuh, Kfar Vradim, and the hills of Western Galilee.
The western observation terrace – with a breathtaking view of the Western Galilee coastal plain, from the Ladder Ridge and Nahariya to Acre and the Carmel.
Western Galilee is a flat plateau, inclining westward towards the sea. The plateau is dissected by parallel faults, running east to west. In these faults, the streams have carved out deep valleys, separating the extensions. The rock is mainly limestone and dolomite.
Yehi’am Fortress is at the head of an extension (415 m) rising above the banks of Yehi’am Stream. Oshrat Stream passes about a kilometer north of the fortress. The topographical position of the extension makes it an easy place to defend. The fortress controls the road leading from Acre to another fortress in Ma’iliya, and from there the road continued to Tebnine (Toron) in Lebanon.
On the south-western slopes of the national park a burial cave and the ruins of a 6th century CE church and mosaic were found. Archaeological excavations were not carried out at the site.
The main interest in the site begins with the Crusader period. Yehi’am Fortress, Iudyn by its Crusader name, apparently started out as a fortified agricultural farm, built in the mid-12th century as one of the Crusader settlements in Western Galilee. The site at the time was part of the feudal estate of Mergelcolon, which was in the area of Bet Hakerem Valley, today part of the lands of the village of Majd al-Krum.
At the beginning of the 13th century, as they established themselves in Galilee, the Knights of the Teutonic Order purchased the place from Lady Stephanie de Milly, whose family owned land in Western Galilee. The Teutonic Knights built the fortress in the 1240s, but in 1265 the Mameluke Sultan Baybars attacked the fortress and destroyed it. Domes, walls and crenellations have survived in the fortress from those times.
There is no written historical records concerning the construction of the fortress at Jiddin, nor any legal document in the archives of the Teutonic Order relating to the fortress. In 1283, two decades after the Mamelukes captured the fortress, the German monk Burchard of Mount Sion mentioned visiting the ruins of the fortress, which he attributed to the Teutonic Knights.
The Mamelukes and the Ottomans who came after them did not see fit to maintain the place, and it was abandoned for some 500 years. In the 18th century the local leader Mahd al-Hussein took courage, took over the place and made it his estate. In 1738 Zahir al-Umar, the Bedouin leader of Galilee, captured the fortress from al-Hussein. The main remains of the fortress that can be seen today are from this period.
During the “Peasants Revolt” against Muhammad Ali (1834), the rebels barricaded themselves in Jiddin Fortress, which took mortar fire from the cannons of his son, Ibrahim Pasha. The revolt was put down.
Yehi’am Fortress witnessed a new chapter in history in the 20th century. On November 27, 1946 Hashomer Hatsa’ir groups went up to the ancient fortress and settled in its gloomy halls. They called this new post Yehi’am, after the son of Yosef Weitz who fell in an operation to blow up the bridges over the nearby Kziv Stream. According to the United Nations partition plan, the area north of Ne’eman Stream, including Kibbutz Yehi’am, was not part of the Jewish state. After the declaration of the state (May 14, 1948) the kibbutz was attacked by the Second Yarmukh Battalion, under the command of Adib Shishakli, who recruited Arab fighters in Lebanon and came down to Galilee. The battalion’s first task was to capture Yehi’am. The kibbutzniks barricaded themselves between the walls of the fortress and, together with soldiers from the Haganna Field Corps who came to their assistance, overcame a two-month siege and waged a battle of life and death, which became one of the greatest dramas of the War of Independence.