Post-classical history


Saphet or Safad (mod. Zefat, Israel) was a Templar castle in the kingdom of Jerusalem, situated in Upper Galilee about 13 kilometers (c. 8 mi.) northwest of Lake Tiberias.

There are few visible remains of the castle, which stood on a prominent hilltop position commanding fine views over the surrounding country. It is now a public park. Excavations have recovered some evidence of crusader work and Mamlûk rebuilding.

The castle was originally constructed by the Templars but lost to Saladin in 1188. In 1240 it was restored to the Templars in the aftermath of the Crusade of 1239-1241 and rebuilt on a large scale. In 1266 the Mamlûk sultan Baybars I took the castle; he had apparently promised the defenders safe conduct, but 150 knights and 769 other members of the garrison were executed. The local Syrian Christians were allowed to go free. Saphet is best known for the account of the rebuilding of the castle after 1240 written for the bishop of Marseilles, Benedict of Alignan, who visited twice. It was Benedict who had persuaded the Templars to undertake the refortification. His account was probably written as a fundraising pamphlet and describes the strategic position of the castle and its design in some detail. It is the fullest account we have of the building of any castle in Outremer.

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