Crusaders in Safed

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Crusaders in Tzfat
Crusaders in Tzfat
הצלבנים בצפת
Crusader rule in Safed during the 12th and 13th centuries.

When the Crusaders reached the Land of Israel in 1099 they quickly captured Jerusalem and then fanned out through the northern regions of the land. They reached Tzfat and as part of their hold on the region, built the largest Crusader fortress in the Middle East. After they massacred the inhabitants of Safed, the city remained desolate of Jewish life. In 1187 the Crusaders were defeated by Saladin but Jews only started returning to Tzfat in 1216. Continuous battles after the Muslim conquest of Tzfat, resulted in the destruction of the fortress in 1220. A peace treaty in 1240 gave the city back under Crusader control, allowing them to once again rebuild and expand the fortress. This time the Jewish community numbering around 300 families, was left alone. In 1266 the Crusaders were overthrown by the Mamlukes under the leadership of Sultan Baybars.


[edit] Crusaders In North Israel

When the Crusaders reached the Land of Israel they moved north after conquering Jerusalem. They established a network of strongholds throughout the north which allowed them to consolidate their rule over the land. From their northern base in Acco/Acre they spread out and built massive fortresses including those at Montfort in the Western Galilee, Belvoir near the Sea of Galilee, Nimrod’s Castle near Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights and the Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon. The largest of the Crusader fortresses was built in Safed on the town’s peak. This vantage point provided the Crusaders with a complete view of the expanse of the Eastern Galilee.

[edit] Citadel’s History

The Crusaders leveled the Tzfat mountaintop when they built their fortress, destroying any archaeological or historical evidence of settlement on the site. Scholars believe that Jews had long lived in the immediate vicinity and that the site had been an important center of the Jewish community for many hundreds of years before the arrival of the Crusaders. The fortress was built on top of an archaeological mound, most probably defense structures built by Josephus in preparation of the 'Great Revolt' against the Romans. Due to the fortress’s construction, the mound today is inaccessible.

[edit] Crusader Fortress

The fortress built by the Crusaders had a moat and was a strategic asset for their attempts to develop a thriving trade in the area through the Acre port. It was also used to protect Christian pilgrims who traveled to the Christian holy sites at the Sea of Galilee, near Safed. There is no historical evidence of a Jewish community living in the area during this time and Benjamin of Tudela, a traveler, noted that there were no Jews living in Safed in 1170. Many historians believe that the Crusaders had massacred the Jews who were living there, as they did in many areas throughout the country.

[edit] Battles

Safed was destroyed during Saladin’s conquest in 1187 and the Crusaders fled. According to Yehuda Elharizi, a Jewish traveler who was in the region during these times, the Jews began to return to Tzfat in 1216. It was during this time that Arabs also began to move into the town and establish an Arab Quarter. The Crusaders continued to attempt to retake the city and further battles in 1220 resulted in destruction of the fortress.

[edit] Curious Meeting

One curious incident of the time concerns a meeting that a traveler, Yehuda El HaLevi, had with a man who arrived Tzfat in 1218. Zadok Tzaddik identified himself as the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivah Gaon Ya’akov, an academy that was believed to have been the continuation of the Temple-Era Jewish Court, the Sanhedrin. Historians note that the Yeshivah Gaon Ya’akov had moved to Damascus and then to Egypt but in his book “Tachkamoni” ElHalevi noted that Rabbi Tzaddik, who identified himself as the head of the academy, had come to Tzfat. No other mention is made of Rabbi Tzaddik nor what happened to him after the meeting.

[edit] Peace

The Crusaders signed a peace treaty with the Muslim forces in 1240 and returned to Safed to rebuild their fortress. A religious/military order, the Knights Hospitaller, expanded the fortress and built an additional structure on the citadel. Written documents from the time note the existence of a Jewish community which numbered approximately 300 Jewish families. The Crusaders themselves wrote that they were building their fortress “between the Jewish synagogue and the Arab mosque.”

[edit] End of Crusader Presence

The Crusaders were overthrown by the Mamlukes in 1266 under the leadership of Sultan Baybars. Legend relates that he signed a treaty with the surviving Crusaders who were isolated inside the citadel fortress. When the Crusaders opened the fortress doors the Mamluke soldiers rushed in and massacred the soldiers. Mamlukes continued to the region until the early 15th century.

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