Latrun is a beautiful hilltop located in the Ayalon Valley 25km west of Jerusalem, overlooking the highway connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The name Latrun may have been derived from Le Toron des Chevaliers, the name of a Crusader castle that once stood here. The hill is best known as the site of an important battle during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Today, Latrun is home to Mini Israel, the International Center for Study of Bird Migration, the Yad La-Shiryon Memorial of Fallen Israeli Armored Corps soldiers (founded within a former British fort), the Neve Shalom Jewish-Arab community, and the Trappist Latrun Abbey.
Ayalon Valley, where Latrun stands, is mentioned in the First Testament as the location of a battle between the Israelites and the Amorites. During the Hellenistic era, Jewish rebel Judah Maccabee set up his battle camp here. The battle is recorded in the Book of Maccabees, and archaeological findings have confirmed the location.
Crusaders arrived in the 10th-century and nobleman Rodrigo Gonzalez de Lara built a castle on the strategic hill overlooking the road into Jerusalem. He later gave the castle to the Knights Templars, a military wing of the Crusaders. The Ottoman Turks ruled Palestine from 1516 to 1918, and during their reign, a few villages existed around the remains of the Crusader castle. In 1890 European Trappist monks established a monastery at Latrun.
Under the British Mandate, Latrun was the site of police fortresses and the British Latrun detention camp where members of the Jewish resistance were held including Moshe Sharett, who went on to become Israel’s second Prime Minister. When the British withdrew they handed Latrun over to the Jordanian Arab Legion and the hilltop was used to shell Israeli vehicles traveling to Jerusalem.
Ten days after the State of Israel was declared on 24 May 1948, Arab nations surrounding Israel attacked all fronts and Israel fought back. Israeli forces made an unsuccessful attempt to take Latrun, and many soldiers were lost. A second attempt to take Latrun again resulted in failure and the total casualty figure for both battles was 139.
From 1948 to 1967 Latrun was occupied by Jordanian forces and stood at the edge of no man’s land between the Latrun salient armistice lines. To avoid the constant attacks along the road to Jerusalem, the Israelis constructed a bypass route nicknamed the Burma Road after the emergency supply route between Kunming and Lashio was built by the Allies in WWII. The road became fully operational within a month, preventing further losses on the road beneath Latrun. The hilltop, together with Jerusalem, was captured by the Israeli’s in the 1967 Six-Day War.
In 1890 a group of French monks was sent to establish a contemplative monastery at Latrun. The monks bought 200 hectares on the hilltop and built the monastery dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows which is still active today. At the end of the Ottoman era, the Turks expelled the monistic community, and the buildings stood empty from 1914 to 1918.
In 1926 they returned and began rebuilding the monastery. In 1937 it was given the status of an abbey. The monastery building was designed by the monastery’s first abbot and has stained-glass windows made by the monks. From 1931 to 1963 the monastery ran a Juniorate school for boys. The community thrived, they worked the land and established a vineyard.
Today the monks at Latrun Monastery produce and sell a range of wines, soap, religious souvenirs, olives, jams, honey, and olive oil at the abbey store. The monastery is also known as the Silent Monastery as the monks have taken a vow of silence.
The monastery church is open to the public daily, 8:30 am to 12 noon and 3:30 pm to 5 pm, except on Sundays and Christian holidays when it is closed. The monastery store is open Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, and closed on Sundays. If you’re using public transport, take a bus to Latrun Junction and walk to the monastery from there. If you’re driving, use Waze or Google Maps and enter “ Latrun Monastery”. You can also visit Latrun on a private tour.