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Templar Castles in Outremer

Vadum Jacob

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Templar Castles in Outremer

Vadum Jacob

Jacob’s Ford

Vadum Jacob or Jacob’s Ford was the traditional biblical site on the River Jordan between the Sea of Galilee and Lake Huleh where Jacob crossed the Jordan to meet his brother Esau (Gen. 32:10). During Frankish rule, it was a key river crossing on one of the main roads between Acre and Damascus. The ford remained unfortified until Baldwin IV, in violation of an agreement with Saladin, constructed a fortress, called Le Chastellet, on the western bank between October 1178 and April 1179. It consisted of an enceinte on a low hill, with the main gate on the south side, along which was a rockcut ditch, and postern gates on the other three sides. Inside the castle were a cistern and a communal oven. Although there is no evidence of towers along the walls, written sources suggest the existence of a keep or citadel. The castle was never fully completed, and perhaps a double line of walls was ultimately intended, or, alternatively, a sloping talus around the curtain wall. The purpose of the fortress was both to defend Galilee and to threaten communications between Egypt and Damascus, although the religious significance of the site for both sides added extra impetus to the conflict. The castle was granted to the Templars, who, since 1168, had held Saphet,
15 kilometres to the southwest, and who regarded this region as one of their spheres of influence. Saladin took the threat extremely seriously, unsuccessfully offering the Franks 100,000 dinars to dismantle it, as well as raiding the surrounding area. Saladin launched a full siege on 24th August, capturing the outer compound on the first day, although it was another five days before the keep itself was undermined and the castle taken.

Archaeological evidence confirms several details of this attack. Vadum Jacob consisted of half-finished walls and incomplete vaults, probably with wooden scaffolding in place. There were also several temporary walls, as well as piles of mortar and lime, dressed stones and earth ramps in various places. Around the walls were tracks hardened with plaster where ox-carts could haul stone from a nearby quarry. Stone troughs to feed and water the oxen were placed along theses tracks. There were earth ramps on both sides of the walls as well as large numbers of tools lying around. These included axes and chisels for cutting stone, spades, hoes, and spatulas for laying mortar and plaster. Inside one of the gates was a pile of lime with tools still embedded in it, as well as iron hubs that may have belonged to a wooden cart. Hundreds of arrowheads were found among these tools, showing that the defenders suffered hails of arrows.

On the northern, western and eastern sides of the site were small gates with stepped entrances, bolt holes and beam channels for doors. Their purpose remains a mystery, since they opened inwards and would have been vulnerable to a battering ram. Perhaps they were intended for towers that had not yet been started. An artificial slope made of layers of rubble and soil probably take from the interior of the fortress was piled up against the sides of the castle wall. This slope was leveled and included several layers of hard lime. Oxen presumably hauled stones across this reinforced surface to the base of the wall to the base of the wall from where the stones were lifted into position. Perhaps the builders intended to leave the material of the outer slopes as the basis of a later talus, or the material could have been intended to raise the level of a proposed outer bailey. Material piled against the inner side of the walls raised the ground level during construction, thus minimizing the use of scarce timber for scaffolding though scaffolding remained necessary higher up. Timber formers were similarly used during the construction of barrel vaults, which were initially laid upon a half-wheel framework set into holes in the upper parts of the wall.  From Crusader Castles in the Holy Land 1097 - 1192

Muslim chronicles record the deaths of 800 Templars and others during the six days of battle when the fortress fell in 30 August 1179.  Le Chastellet and its environs were completely demolished. The site was never redeveloped. Archaeological excavation of the remains were started in 1993, leading to many new discoveries and much new information; and also providing a useful background for several documentary filmmakers.

Archaeological excavations have shed fascinating light on how the unfinished Crusader castle at Vadim Jacob was lost. Work on Vadum Jacob began in October 1178, the King of Jerusalem reportedly employing the whole army of his kingdom in its construction. However, the workers were attacked by Saladin in August 1179. The Crusaders gathered their livestock intro an area inside the southern gate and hastily built archery positions inside a small gate to the east. Saladin’s troops attacked from the north, east and south, setting fire to the wooden doors in the gates and shooting an astonishingly dense hail of arrows at the defenders within. Mining of the northern wall probably took place near the north-eastern corner of the unfinished fortress. On 30 August 1179 Vadum Jacob fell and its garrison was slain. After this there were no further attempts to fortify the site.  From Crusader Castles in the Holy Land 1097 - 1192


 

Documentaries


National Geographic - ' Last Stand of the Templars ' 2010 documentary detailing the origins, construction and fall of the Templar castle of Vadum Jacob in Outremer based on the ongoing archaeological examination of the site -- this one is well worth searching out - recommended

Channel4 / October Films - programme about examining and identifying the skeletons uncovered by the ongoing archaeological excavations at Vadum Jacob.

 

 

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