Post-classical history

Toron des Chevaliers

A Templar castle built on a low hill in the Judaean foothills adjacent to ‘Amwas (in mod. West Bank) at the point where the road from Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) to Jerusalem was met by one from Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel).

The foundation of Toron des Chevaliers between 1137 and 1141 is attributed by the Chronica Aldephonsi imperatoris to Rodrigo Gonzalez, count of Toledo, who was apparently serving with the Templars at the time. Like the castles of Ibelin, Blanchegarde, and Bethegibelin, its purpose was to protect the southern parts of the kingdom of Jerusalem from Muslim raiding from Ascalon, and to serve as a nucleus for Frankish settlement. In 1169-1171, the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela refers to it in Spanish as Toron de los Caballeros (Tower of the Knights).

Archaeological remains confirm that this name, from which the Arabic name Latrun was subsequently derived, referred to a large tower, or donjon, that stood at the center of the castle, within a rectangular enclosure filled with vaulted buildings, including a chapel. Enclosing this was a larger polygonal enceinte, containing stables and other buildings.

It seems likely that the Templars held an extensive estate in the area, including ‘Amwas (Lat. Emmaus) and Chastel Hernaut (Lat. Castellum Arnaldi), though information about it is sparse. They surrendered Toron and Gaza to the Ayyûbid prince al-‘Ādil in September 1187 in return for the release of their master, Gerard of Ridefort, and in December 1191 Saladin ordered its destruction. Although it was returned to the Christians between 1229 and 1244, there is no evidence that the order ever rebuilt it.

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