The fortress of Athlit (Chateau-Pelerin)

Translation : Carole Resplandy
No pictures available

Israel, Mehoz (district) of Haifa

Israel, district of Haïfa , on Mediterranean coast, at around 25 km north of Cesaree and around 12 km South of Haïfa.

Vue des ruines du Château- Pèlerin
Ruins of the fortress of Athlit
Source :

Hugues de Payns and his first companions had initially been given the mission of protecting pilgrims who wished to meditate at the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem.
In order that this protection was effective, they decided to ensure the guard of the most dangerous pass, known in the chronicles under the name of "the Strait" and which skirted the coast between Césarée and Haîfa.
At a place off shore, they raised the first building on a rocky hillock, which they used as a watch tower. This tower will be the base around which Templars will build one of their most considerable fortress.
The primitive tower will be integrated in the south-eastern angle in the first line of the fortifications of the fortress which will be set up later on a vast headland dominating the floods.

Athlit - Croquis des fortifications
Sketch of the fortifications
Source : Fortification and Settlement in Crusader Palestine (Ashgate Publishing) - Denys Pringle

In 1218, Templars, helped by Teutonic Knights and Gauthier d' Avesnes(1), a Flemish baron, strengthen the position of the tower known as "the Strait" or "Pierre-Encise".
During their work, they discover ancient wall foundations, onto which they decide to assemble the fortifications of their new castle.
Several sources of drinking water are found, as well as remains of walls, which they use for their building.

After the first defensive line, Templars set up one second wall over all the width of the isthmus.
This wall is protected by a moat and is reinforced with three squared salients. At the southern end, the entry door of the castle opens in a recess which faces the sea.
Just behind this second wall, two enormous oblong towers, built with gigantic blocks of stones and connected by a curtain, ensure the defence of the roadway leading to the second door, located that one at the north of the isthmus.
These towers were constituted with rooms arched on two stages, and surmounted by a crenellated terrace. The basement was occupied by vast cellars and stores.

Athlit - Croquis des fortifications
Sketch of the fortifications of the main castle
Source : Fortification and Settlement in Crusader Palestine (Ashgate Publishing) - Denys Pringle

At the back of this defensive system, a large esplanade opens, surrounded by several defensive buildings, walls, salients.
The basement of these buildings also contains various stores and warehouses.
On southern side of the esplanade, towards half of its length, rose the hexagonal vault, which according to Jacques of Vitry, has being one of the most beautiful specimens of the Gothic architecture in the East. This vault had a plan of construction about identical to that of the templar vault of Laon.
All in the west of the headland, were the harbour installations which allowed the supply of the stronghold and the unloading of the goods.
Stores and warehouses were also built around these installations.
As for the buildings reserved for the use of Templars, they were built beside the church, but have completely disappeared now.

Athlit - Croquis des fortifications
Sketch of the fortifications around the the Tower of the Destroit (The Strait)
Source : Fortification and Settlement in Crusader Palestine (Ashgate Publishing) - Denys Pringle

In 1219, immediately at the end of its construction, the sultan Malik al-Mu'azzam Musa(3) who had just conquered the fortified town of Cesaree, tries in vain to besiege the fortress which Arabic also name "Ateleyt".

In 1229, the Germanic Emperor Frederic II evaluating that Chateau-Pelerin would be perfectly suited for his own use as a fortified town on the coast, tries to take the Castle by surprise.
He enters followed by his train into the enclosure and summons the commander of the Temple to surrender the Castle without delay.
Templars, far from letting themselves intimidate by the arrogance of the emperor, lock the doors, take weapons and declare that if the emperor does not leave the place immediately, he will be imprisoned.
Frederic II fulminating with rage against The Order, complies to depart.
In 1291, after the fall of Acre, the citadel is given up by it's defenders, thus falling into Muslim hands, who dismantle it at once.

Notes :

(1)Gautier II of Avesnes, born around 1170 and died in 1244. He was the first son of Jacques 1st of Avesnes. He participated in the Battle of Bouvines in 1214 alongside the King of France Philip II Auguste, before taking the road to the Holy Land to join the armies of the Fifth Crusade.

(2)Jacques de Vitry was born around 1170 near Reims. He became canon of St-Augustin and was ordained priest in Paris around 1210.
He preached the Crusade against the Albigensian and also the 5th Crusade led by the King of Hungary, Andre II. In 1216, he was appointed Bishop of Saint-Jean d'Acre.
Around 1229, he became Bishop of Tusculum, and until his death in 1240, he will perform several missions in the south of France and in the Holy Land as Papal Legate. He was also the author of a "History of the Crusades".

(3)Malik al-Mu'azzam Musa is a member of the powerful Ayyubid dynasty. He was born around 1176 and died in 1227. He was the nephew of Saladin. He was emir of Damascus from 1218 to 1227. His father, Al-Adil Sayf al-Din, brother of Saladin, was sultan of Egypt and Damascus.

  1. "Essai sur la domination française en Syrie durant le Moyen-Age" (link on Gallica )
    E.G. Rey ; Imprimerie Thunot & Cie Paris, 1866
  2. "Etude sur les monuments de l'architecture militaire des croisés en Syrie et dans l'île de Chypre" (ink on Gallica )
    E.G. Rey ; Imprimerie Nationale Paris, 1871
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