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Castle Pilgrim - Atlit

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Templar Castles in Outremer


Castle Pilgrim - Atlit

Le Destroit was built on a system of foundations excavated from the rock. It commanded a defile through a low ridge parallel to the shore, along which the north- south road ran until modern times .These fortifications played a vital role during the Third Crusade, but in 1220 Le Destroit was demolished by the Templars and was replaced by the stronger fortress of Arlit. Today only the rock-cut foundations and some of the lower course of masonry remains. The tower (2) originally consisted of a vaulted chamber with a staircase within its north wall (2a) leading to an upper chamber; this hypothetical reconstruction is based upon similar towers within the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The stone-cut foundation plinth contained cisterns on its eastern ( Id) and western ( Ie) sides, plus rock-cut supports for an entrance stair on the south ( Ib). Peg-holes on the western slope ( Ic) may have been for a wooden stair to a wall between two main yards (3).The inner yard (4) contained rows of rock-cut mangers, once covered by simple wooden roofs. Whether any of the outer rock-cut areas were roofed is unknown.   ---   Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302

Castle Pilgrim

In 1217- 18 the Templars demolished the late-12th -century fort of Le Destroit and replaced it with the much larger castle of Atlit. The latter was largely built with pilgrim manpower, and became known as Chateau Pelerin. It was so strong that it survived the fall of Atlit town in 1265 and was only abandoned in August 1291, after the fall of Acre itself. A variation on the way Crusader builders reused ancient materials occurred in 1218, when the Templars cut a moat across the narrow isthmus at Atlit. They not only found ancient walls, which offered a ready supply of cut stone s, but also gold coins with which they paid their workers! .  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302

The defences of Atlit castle were similarly designed with defensive artillery in mind. Here three rectangular gate towers were placed approximately 44m apart. They had two floors and were surmounted by a platform enclosed by a parapet . All three projected about 12m from the curtain wall. Behind them was an inner wall with two huge towers approximately 28m long by 18m deep, both of which were originally over 3m high . Their great size and height reflected their role as artillery bastions to bombard enemy artillery, or at least keep it at a reasonable distance.  ---   Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302


At Atlit  the three gate towers had straight-through entrances, two with a portcullis and one possibly having a slit machicolation .   ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302


The dramatic coastal castle of Atlit is now a closed military zone, and it remains to be seen how much damage is being caused by its use as a training area for Israeli marine commandos. However, it was well recorded during the British Mandate of the 1930s. Otherwise known as Pilgrim s' Castle, Atlit stands on a low promontory and was built from 1217 onwards. A fortified town was added later. The concentric defences of the cast le itself are separated from the mainland by a rock-cut ditch and counter scarp wall in front of two massive walls. The inner wall is 12m thick and was over 30m high, being flanked by two rectangular towers. The outer is over 6m thick and was 15m high with three towers. Beyond the castle, the town wall ha d a ditch and counterscarp, three gatehouses, each with a portcullis and probably slot machicolations. There were wooden bridges over the ditch, and an additional postern . A small harbour south of the castle provided limited protection from storms, and on the far side of the town was a stone-faced earthen rampart, which marked the southern edge of the precious salt-pans that brought considerable revenue to Atlit. The seaward end of this rampart also had a moated tower.  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302

The Templar stables in the city of Atlit.

13th century

The extensive stables that were built against the southern wall of Atlit were not reused after the fortified city was destroyed by the Mamluks in 1265.This reconstruction attempts to illustrate one corner of the Templars' stable area next to the southern city gate of Atlit town, as it probably looked early in the 13th century before various modifications were undertaken; a section of the stable walls has been removed in the illustration. The whole area contained permanent stabling for over 200 animals, including war-horses, smaller horses for turcopole cavalry or to be used as baggage animals, plus draught oxen and even camels. Oxen seem to have fed from continuous troughs, whereas horse- troughs or mangers were usually divided into individual sections .There were also wells, drainage systems, grain chutes, tethering points and rooms that might have served as storage, offices or accommodation. .  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302


The town that was later built outside Atlit castle was defended by much weaker fortifications, although the huge stables were very impressive. These seem to have been based upon the traditional design of an Islamic khan, or protected lodging place, for merchants. Here archaeologists found evidence for the everyday working life of a garrison , including tethering points and sockets for halter-rings for animals, and a courtyard well with a drain leading outside the buildings. The flat roofs that covered this remarkably large area rested on piers and wooden beams and consisted of boards. A concrete crust consisted of gravel and lime, rendered smooth with lime plaster, just as in traditional Palestinian domestic architecture. Most of th e timber came from Mount Carmel, though some fragments of cedar were also found in the ruins, possibly shipped in from Lebanon or Cyprus . .  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302

The Atlit garrison relied on shallow dug wells, which produced slightly brackish but drinkable water, and one well in the middle of the stable yard remained in use until modern times. Other neighbouring buildings were not linked to the interior of the main stable structure but were accessed from the beach . The northern gateway of the complex was intended for heavier traffic than the other entrances, and had a roadway paved with diagonal slabs. The impressive door was approached by a metalled slope and seems to have been the only entrance to t he main stable yard. Carts probably remained outside in a shaded area or shed. Stone 'grain chutes ' made it easier to get the grain into various storage bins. Other rooms were possibly used as stores for the harnesses. However, only one room was specifically designed for larger horses, presumably the war-horses of the Brother Knights. It had sufficient space for animals to lie down, perhaps in separate wood en stalls. Meanwhile, the grooms were provided with comfortable living quart ers next to the stables. Much broken pottery was found here along with a steel 'str iker' to be used with flint and tinder to start a cooking fire, while their drinking water was cooled in the semi-porous jars which remain traditional throughout much of the Middle East . Most of t he ceramics were locally made, though some finer ware had been imported from Cyprus or Italy. A blacksmith also worked somewhere around the site, though the exact spot could not be identified. .  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302


A sentry on the inner towers of Atlit, for example, was said to have been able to see an approaching enemy 13km away, but this was merely a result of its coastal location. Furthermore the site of Atlit could, to some extent, 'control' movement along the vital coastal road.  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302

'Great crossbows' were used by the Templars of Atlit in 1220, causing such heavy casualties that the Ayyubid Sultan al-Muazzam withdrew his army. The Templar garrison of Jaffa used the same sort of weapons in defence of Jaffa in 1266.  ---  Crusader castles in the Holy Land 1192-1302.

In the kingdom of Jerusalem, Château Pèlerin (mod.
‘Atlit, Israel) was constructed in 1218. As its name (“Pilgrims’
Castle”) implies, much of the labor was contributed
by pilgrim volunteers. The castle stood on a promontory in
the sea, and the defense was concentrated on the land side
where there were two lines of wall, the inner one defended
by two massive oblong towers. In the interior there were the
halls typical of the work of military orders and an elegant
chapel. The castle, defended by 4,000 men, survived a Muslim
siege in 1220 and remained in Templar hands until it was
abandoned after the fall of Acre in 1291.
- The Crusades; An Encyclopedia

Château Pèlerin
Château (Chastel) Pèlerin was a Templar castle, whose name
means “Pilgrims’ Castle,” also known as Castrum Filii Dei or
‘Athlith (mod. ‘Atlit, Israel), occupying a rocky seagirt
promontory 20 kilometers (121/2 mi.) south of Haifa.
The castle replaced an earlier tower built by King Baldwin
I of Jerusalem for the protection of travellers at Districtum
(Le Destroit), where the coastal road passes through a rock
cutting. Construction was begun during the winter of
1217–1218 by Walter of Avesnes, together with pilgrims who
had come to the Holy Land in the course of the Fifth Crusade
(1217–1221), Teutonic Knights, and Templars. Excavations
in 1930–1935 fully confirmed the contemporary description
given by the chronicler Oliver of Paderborn. The principal
defenses consisted of two massive walls preceded by a ditch
and counterscarp wall, cutting off the promontory. The
inner wall, 12 meters (39 ft.) thick and over 30 meters (98
ft.) high, was strengthened by two projecting rectangular
towers, each 21 by 27 meters (69 by 881/2 ft.). The outer wall
was only 6.5 meters (21 ft.) thick and 16 meters (521/2 ft.)
high and had three towers so placed that the defenders of the
inner wall could fire between them. The gates were set in the
sides of the towers, and the access to them was so contrived as to expose anyone approaching them to the defenders.
Within the castle was a central courtyard, surrounded by two
concentric ranges of vaulted buildings, the outer built almost
to the water’s edge. They would have included the refectory,
dormitory, and chapter house, besides a twelve-sided chapel.
Before its abandonment in 1291, the castle successfully
withstood Muslim attacks in 1220 and 1265, though the latter,
led by Sultan Baybars, succeeded in sacking the walled
faubourg (suburb) that had developed east and south of it.
Archaeological investigations show this to have been
enclosed by a wall 645 meters (2,116 ft.) long on the east and
230 meters (755 ft.) on the south, with a rock-cut ditch, three
gate towers, and a postern. It enclosed a defensive tower, stables,
a bathhouse, and an unfinished church. To the northeast
of it lies a cemetery containing some 1,700 tombs,
many marked by stone slabs bearing carved crosses and
symbols of the dead person’s profession.
–Denys Pringle - The Crusades; An Encyclopedia





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