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 Pilgrims' Castle, Atlit stands on a low promontory and was built from 1217 onwards. A fortified town was added later. The concentric defences of the castle itself are separated from the mainland by a rock-cut ditch and counterscarp 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 had 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.

The Templar castle of Atlit, or Pilgrims’ Castle, seen from the ruins of the 12th-century castle of Le Destroit, which it replaced. Atlit castle was in a very strong position, which could be directly resupplied and supported from the sea. Consequently it resisted long after the now abandoned town of Atlit (to the left of this picture) had fallen to the Mamluks. The Templars also gained considerable revenue from valuable salt-evaporation pans seen in the foreground.

(I) Caesarea Maritima:

1 - North Gate;

2 - East Gate;

3 - Sea Gate;

4 - excavated Crusader building;

5 - excavated Crusader houses;

6 - Cathedral of St. Peter;

7 - port;

8 - Citadel. (After Benvenisti and Kaufmann)

(2) Atlit:

I - inner ward of the Citadel;

2 - harbour;

3 - North Great Tower;

4 - South Great Tower;

5 - outer wall;

6 - north Beach Gate;

7 - south Beach Gate;

8 - urban fortified wall;

9 - baths;

10 - faubourg, or town;

11 - unfinished church;

12 - stables. (After Johns and Pringle)

(3) Section through the Citadel of Atlit (surviving structures are shown in black):

1 - north-west tower;

2 - north-west hall;

3 - west undercroft;

4 - inner ward;

5 - east quarters;

6 - north gate tower;

7 - east bailey;

8 - outer wall;

9 - fosse. (After Pringle)

ABOVE The main entrance into Le Destroit, on the low coastal ridge next to Atlit castle, was a gateway partially cut through the rock. Another secondary entrance seems to have been approached via an external wooden stair supported on timber beams, which were slotted into a series of holes in the man-made rock face, as seen here.

ABOVE Atlit in the 1930s, looking inland from the castle across the valuable salt-pans to the coastal plain and hills of Palestine beyond. This is now a closed military zone. The fortified medieval town of Atlit lay to the right, between the castle and the salt-pans, while the beach, also on the right, formed a rather exposed harbour.

Crac des Chevallers in the mid 13th century

The picturesque Sea Castle at Sidon stands on a small rocky islet only a few metres from the shore. It was built in 1228 to protect the northern harbour of Sidon, which itself formed a vital stage in the sea route from Acre to western Europe. In the 13th century most ships hugged the coast and preferred to come ashore each night, which necessitated a chain of secure harbours. (Museum of the Order of St. John)

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