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Canaanite girl statuette found in Merchavia

The crusader fortress “La Feve” ‘s site has already been inhabited during the early Bronze period, as archeological findings such as the Canaanite statuette in the picture indicate. Recent archeological excavations carried out in Merchavia reinforced this assumption..

Crusader archway seen on Fulla Hill

The settlement’s location was chosen due to its proximity to a busy crossroads (the “Sea Road” from Egypt to Babylon intersected here with the cross-country route from the beach to the Jordan Valley), as well as the existence of nearby water sources (which subsequently formed a big swamp west to Tel Fula). Roman milestones found in the fields of Merchavia also indicate its connection to the main road leading to Beit Shean, a prominent Roman city in those times.

The Templar Order who built the fortress dominated the area around the Tabor Mountain. The exact date of the fortress’ construction is undetermined, but a German pilgrim who visited the region in 1172 reports that the Templars built a fortress at the foot of the “small Hermon” (meaning ”Givat Hamore”). He adds that the fortress is “not small” and that they placed a water-pumping wheel on its western side.

Jewish Sarcophagus dating from The Second Temple period, possibly transported from Beit Shearim and incorporated in the fortress walls

Various calculations indicate that there were usually 50-60 horsemen in the fortress as well as assistants, horse grooms and administrators. It is a well-known fact that the fortress functioned both as a protector of the main crossroads and as a major link between the crusader fortress in Megiddo and the Galilee’s largest fortress – Belvoir (today called the Star of Jordan). Among the objects used by the crusaders in building the fortress were big sarcophagi, probably transferred from the large Jewish burial site in Beit Shearim, as we can learn from the sarcophagus in the picture, discovered in Fulla Hill.

 The northern part of the fortress with the moat

 

The deep moat surrounding the fortress was an impressive sight; its northern remains can still be detected today. Merchavia’s contemporary inhabitants call the site “ The Hill”.





A cartoon taken from a newspaper in Beirut: Saladin is threatening Hankin with his sword during the process of the land purchasing, but Hankin, relying on his money, hands over the pre- arranged payment to the tenant farmers




There was a smaller village beside Fulla, named A-Fulla, where the city of Afula stands today (the city’s name derives from that village). A small external crusader fort was built there and remained undamaged. Its wall’s square-shaped foundation can be distinguished even today, revealing sarcophagi resembling those found in Merchavia. In April 1187, great Christian armed forces gathered here in order to stop a Moslem army from conquering the Galilee. But on May 1st the crusaders were defeated east of Nazareth and their army was destroyed. After Saladin triumphed over the crusaders in the great battle in Karney Hitim (and thus put an abrupt end to the dream of “ The Kingdom of Jerusalem”), all the Galilean fortresses were either deserted or surrendered to the Moslems, including the one in Merchavia.

But there was yet another historical role for the ruined fortress to play during Napoleon’s attempt to conquer Israel. The “Tabor Battle”, renowned in French history, took place around La Feve, and it was here that Napoleon accomplished his greatest victory in Israel. In the hundreds of years that followed, travelers describe the place as a desolate fortress where a few miserable families live among the ruins and store their crops in its subterranean vaults. This state of affairs lasted until Hankin bought the village lands in 1910.

In 1940, Kibbutz Merchavia built some houses for its members on Fulla Hill and was even fined for building on an archeological site. In 1947, they added a swimming pool on the site’s western side, but on the first night it was filled with water, an enormous hole appeared at the pool’s bottom and the water was drained. It is assumed that the water’s weight made one the subterranean halls’ ceiling collapse, and the water went right through it. In 1956, during “Kadesh Operation”, the kibbutz members tried to dig an entrance to the crusader halls in the same spot where the water disappeared in order to convert them into bomb shelters, but the war ended within days and the hole in the ground was filled before it reached the underground cellars.

In order to coordinate your visit the Great Courtyard, please call Shlomo Sdeur and inform him of the date and hour you will be coming. Mr. Sdeur’s cell phone number: 052/3638156.