Forgotten history

Lesser-known historic sites suffer from neglect and a lack of visitors.

ancient walls 311 (photo credit: Tom Langford)
ancient walls 311
(photo credit: Tom Langford)

Many of the country’s historical and archeological sites, such as the Crusader- and Ottoman-era castles and forts at Jaffa, Herzliya, Rosh Ha’ayin and Caesarea, are well known to the general public. Others, however, are relatively neglected and unknown, and are rarely visited.

“The Antiquities Authority does manage historical and archeological sites. This is the responsibility of municipalities or local regional councils in which a site may be located. They are also maintained by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority,” says Antiquities Authority spokesman Yoli Shwartz. Amit Ram is the archeologist in charge of the country’s central region. Ram’s district stretches from the Latrun area and the West Bank to the coastal area that includes Netanya and Emek Hefer.

On his recommendation, Metro visited some of these sites to get a better understanding of their present situation, as well as a glimpse into their place in the turbulent history of the Holy Land during the 11th to 13th centuries, the period of the Crusades.

Two of these sites are located in Netanya virtually under the noses of area residents, many of whom are not even aware of their existence.

Lombard Castle of Roger – Umm Khalid, Netanya

The former Arab village of Umm Khalid is now located virtually in the center of Netanya. Umm Khalid is also the location of a Crusader castle and a later Ottoman khan, or rest house. Today, not much remains of either structure and what does is actually part of the khan, according to Ram.

“Umm Khalid is actually in an area of... archeological findings that date back to the Persian period, or about 600 to 500 BCE. What has been said to have been a Crusader fortress at Umm Khalid is actually the remains of an Ottoman khan. Basically, the remains found at Umm Khalid are of both the Mameluke and Ottoman periods.”

The most recent digs at this site were conducted in the mid-1980s. A Muslim cemetery was also discovered there during construction of a school, which halted the work. Reaching the site is relatively easy, as it is located at the end of Pines Street, which is accessible from Raziel Street, where the city’s magistrate’s court and cultural center are located. An ancient sycamore tree, said to be up to 1,000 years old, is also located on former Umm Khalid land, and is the centerpiece of a small park.

The remains of the khan, however, are not marked as a historic site. The neglect at this site was obvious from the amount of litter there, including old sofas that appear to be used by youths for drug and drinking parties. “Historical sites within municipalities, such as Umm Khalid, are not the responsibility of the Antiquities Authority but of the local municipality,” says Ram.

The Kiryat Sharon khan – Netanya

This structure, which appears to be fairly well preserved, is located in Netanya’s Kiryat Sharon quarter and is presently “sandwiched” between a large Rami Levi supermarket and the new Netanya soccer stadium, still under construction. Fairly easy to reach via a new access road from the Shalom Bridge in the city’s Sapir Industrial Zone, it is also accessible via the Ort Technical College, which is located nearby.

“This khan is not really a khan at all but the ruins of a large villa once belonging to the Adaham family, and was built about 200 years ago during the Ottoman period. For what it is, it is very well preserved, but at present not much is being done with it with regard to its being a historical site,” says Ram. Indeed, I found that there is no current access to the site due to the construction of the stadium, which is located next to the old building.

The ruins also include the remains of a large, walled courtyard area. What will happen to this site once the stadium is completed next spring is a matter of speculation, as the influx of several thousand people to soccer matches when the home team, Maccabi Netanya, is in town cannot be very conducive to the structural health of the old building which has been left to quietly crumble away.

Hurvat Burgeta, Moshav Burgeta

This site, located off Highway 57, east of Netanya, was once a small Crusader fortress. Built during the period of the Third Crusade (1189-92), it was captured by the Mamelukes in 1244. It has been excavated by various teams, including one from the British School of Archaeology in 1980.

The fortress was said to have been occupied by Templar Order Crusaders who were associated with the Benedictine church, Santa Maria Majora, in Jerusalem, part of a network of fortresses owned and maintained by the church.

“This fortress had two levels, one of which was used for storing grain and other foodstuffs, and another for storing water supplies. It also had a tower and a courtyard,” says Ram.

What’s left there today is part of a standing wall and the remains of a walled courtyard. Seen easily from the road, the site can be accessed either via nearby Highway 6 or, from Netanya and the Beit Lid junction, via Highway 57, which requires making a U-turn at the Olesh junction. The site shares land with a large nursery that grows olive, palm and other trees for transplanting into yards and parks. No signs mark the archeological site, though, and visitors are currently free to roam about.

“The Third Crusade was especially noteworthy as it was the one that the English king Richard the Lionheart led. This Crusade was also one of the most ‘romantic,’” says Ram.

Romantic or not, the sad remains of this historic site now lie near a road that thousands travel on daily, possibly not having a clue of the significance of the remaining wall of th former fortress, established to help guard the area from attacks of hostile Mameluke forces led by Saladin, who held Jerusalem after the Crusaders were expelled in an earlier crusade.

Qaqun fortress – Tel Qaqun

The fortress of Qaqun, located near Moshav Gan Yoshiya at Tel Qaqun off Road No. 5803, is about 5 km. northeast of Burgeta, as the crow flies. A Crusader fortress that was afterwards turned in a Mameluke one, Qaqun is a tel, or archeological mound, in which several layers of past civilizations are represented, dating back to before the Common Era.

The earliest settlement at Qaqun was during the Assyrian period when armies of this northern Mesopotamian kingdom conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel in the seventh century BCE. The Crusader castle, known as Caco, was said to have been still occupied by the Crusaders in 1153, when it was under the jurisdiction of the Crusader ruler in Caesarea.

From a Jewish standpoint, Qaqun was considered to be the biblical town of Keilah, according to the Jewish world traveler Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Qaqun in 1160. Keilah is mentioned in the Book of Samuel as the place where David defeated the Philistine army for King Saul and later hid nearby to escape Saul’s vengeance (I Samuel 23:8-18). Modern theologians and historians, however, now say that Keilah was located in Judea, close to Hebron.

Following its capture by the Mameluke sultan Baybars in 1267, Qaqun was rebuilt and converted into a Mameluke regional capital. It later became an Ottoman town, falling to the armies of the French Emperor Napoleon I, who were in the Holy Land in 1799 in a futile effort to defeat the Ottoman rulers of occupied Christian holy sites. Following the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I, Qaqun became a small Arab town in Mandatory Palestine until it was captured by Israeli forces during the War of Independence.

Today Qaqun is a national park, and can be reached by taking Road 574 from Highway 57 and then turning left onto Road 5803.

“This site is well worth visiting and the ruins are in good condition. The British archeologist Dennis Pringle wrote books about this site as well as other Crusader fortresses,” says Ram. Upon visiting the site, I found that compared to the first three sites I visited Qaqun is indeed in much better shape.

The Nature and Parks Authority has made the site very presentable, and besides having parking areas for both private cars and buses and a picnic area, a gravel road leads all the way to the top of the tel so people with disabilities can visit it. The ruins are also much more impressive in themselves, and the views of the surrounding countryside are well worth seeing.

By examining the construction of the fortress it is possible to note elements of both Crusader and Mameluke architecture. The hillside leading up to the fortress is littered with rocks and boulders that are said to be remains of houses and other buildings destroyed when the Arab inhabitants of the village left in 1948.

Also on this site is a memorial to the soldiers of Israel’s Alexandroni Brigade, who attacked and defeated the Iraqi defenders stationed there on June 5, 1948.

The only thing that this impressive historic site appears to lack is public awareness that it exists.

For more information on archeological sites in Israel, or to participation in scheduled digs, visit the Antiquity Authority’s website: