Post-classical history

Montfort

A castle in western Galilee (in mod. Israel), known in Arabic as Qal‘at al-Qurain, belonging to the Teutonic Knights, who called it Starkenberg (literally, “strong mountain”) in German.

Montfort was built by the Teutonic Order from 1226 onward on the land that had belonged to the Seigneurie de Joscelin, the lordship the order had purchased from the heirs of Joscelin III of Courtenay. The building work was carried on by German crusaders until their departure in spring 1228. An annual subsidy of 100 bezants contributed by Prince Bohemund IV of Antioch in June allowed work to resume, and the following year Pope Gregory IX issued an appeal for additional funds.

By the mid 1240s, Montfort had become the main seat of the lordship and was the Teutonic Order’s principal administrative center outside Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel). In May 1266 the castle was attacked unsuccessfully by the Mamlûks. In 1268, all but ten of its villages were lost to them and, to compensate for the loss of production, in July 1270, the order leased Manueth from the Hospitallers. In June 1271, Sultan Baybars I brought up siege engines and attacked. The faubourg (suburb) fell on 11 June and the outer ward the following day, at which point the garrison surrendered and departed to Acre. The castle was then demolished.

The ruins occupy a rocky spur between the Wadi al-Qarn on the north and a tributary valley on the south. Two main phases are identifiable. The first consisted of a massive D-shaped keep, some 20 meters (651/2 ft.) wide, which effectively blocked access down the spur from the east and was preceded by two rock-cut ditches. Behind this there extended down the spur a rectangular inner ward, some 46.5 by 17 meters (152 1/2 by 55 1/2 ft.). In a second phase, the inner ward was almost completely filled with a system of groin vaults, providing service areas at ground level and a chapel and residential quarters at first-floor level. The inner ward was also extended similarly further west, and an outer enceinte was built downhill to enclose it on the north, west, and possibly south. In the same period, a mill standing below the castle on the north was converted into a residential hall, possibly to serve as a guesthouse.

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