A town and port in northern Palestine, known in Latin as Cayphas (mod. Hefa, Israel), a lordship in the kingdom of Jerusalem.
On the eve of the First Crusade (1096-1099), Haifa was a small town, mainly populated by Jews, with its own harbor and a castle manned by a Fātimid garrison. The crusaders decided to attack it in the summer of 1100 in the search of a better port than that of Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel). The conquest was planned by Godfrey of Bouillon, Frankish ruler of Jerusalem, before his death: it was intended to be a combined naval expedition by a Venetian fleet and terrestrial forces commanded by Tancred, prince of Galilee, who was promised the lordship of the town. However, surprised by the fierce defense of the garrison, the Venetians withdrew, and Tancred’s knights were challenged by the inhabitants and compelled to conduct a long siege. They finally set fire to the fortress and conquered the town, having massacred the Jewish population.
The death of Godfrey of Bouillon and the succession of Baldwin I as king of Jerusalem, despite Tancred’s opposition, brought a revision of the royal policy concerning Haifa. Baldwin enfeoffed it to Tancred’s rival, Geldemar Carpinel, whose claims were based on an earlier promise by Godfrey. Geldemar settled in the restored fortress of the town with his vassals and until 1108 held a lordship separate from the principality of Galilee; it extended over Mount Carmel and included several villages on the coastal area between Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) and Athlit (mod. ‘Atlit, Israel). According to the Arab geographer al-Idrisi, who wrote in the middle of the twelfth century, the harbor of Haifa was the main seaport for Galilee and its revenues were the principal source of prosperity of its lords.
After Geldemar’s departure to Hebron, Baldwin I granted the lordship to another of his vassals, Pagan, who founded a dynasty that ruled until the second half of the thirteenth century. The lords enjoyed baronial privileges, such as rights of justice and use of a seal bearing the symbol of the castle of Haifa. They had to provide ten knights to the royal army. Despite their relatively high rank within the Frankish nobility, the lords of Haifa did not play an important role in the political life of the Latin kingdom and dedicated themselves to administering their lordship. In the aftermath of the battle of Hattin (1187), Haifa was conquered by Sal- adin’s army.
This conquest proved to be important during the Third Crusade (1189-1192), especially when the crusaders laid siege to Acre. Haifa became a rear base of Saladin in his efforts to rescue Acre; Egyptian vessels carried supplies to his army, and the harbor became an important store for food.
Its strategic importance was obvious to King Richard I of England, who attempted to conquer it. In order to prevent Haifa and its stores from falling into crusader hands, Saladin ordered its evacuation and the destruction of its walls. After the reconquest of Acre, Haifa was restored to its former lords. However, its fortifications were not rebuilt until a program of reconstruction was carried out by Louis IX, king of France (1250). During the struggles among the nobility of the kingdom after Frederick II’s crusade, the lords of Haifa supported the emperor, and one of the members of the family, Reynald, was appointed as governor of Jerusalem.
Due to the expansion of monasteries near Haifa and their endowment with some of the villages of the lordship, the lords of Haifa became more dependent on revenues from its harbor. Although a minor port compared with Acre, Haifa had an important share of the maritime trade. It attracted the interest of Genoese merchants, who in 1244 obtained trade privileges in Haifa, although these did not include the establishment of an autonomous commune.
The history of Frankish Haifa came to an end in 1265, when the Mamlûk army of Baybars I stormed the city and destroyed it. Part of the population remained within its ruins until its final conquest in 1281.