Yehiam Fortress National Park is located in the Upper Galilee, between Nahariya on the coast, and Mount Meron to the east. The park’s main attraction is the ruins of Yehiam Fortress, which looks down on Yehiam Stream Nature Reserve, where thick woodlands fill a deep ravine.
History of Yehiam Fortress
Archaeological remains show that the site was inhabited during the Byzantine period, and may have begun as a fortified agricultural farm. In the 12th century, the land was inherited by Lady Stephanie de Milly, a Crusader noblewoman, and in 1249 the site was gifted to the Teutonic Order, a military wing of the Crusaders established in Acre in c.1190. The Crusaders would have chosen this site to build their fortress because of its strategic, elevated position where they could control the road that connected Acre to Lebanon.
Sometime in the 1260s-70s, the fortress was destroyed by Mamluk Sultan Baibars. In the 1700s, local leader Mahd al-Hussein claimed the abandoned property. Later it was captured by Zahir al-Umar, a Bedouin leader during the Ottoman era. He rebuilt and renamed the fortress Qal’at Jiddin. Just a few years later in 1775 Yehiam Fortress was destroyed by Ahmed Jazzar Pasha, the Ottoman governor of the region, best known for the structures he built in Acre. The fortress was no longer known as Qal’at Jiddin (Jiddin Castle), but as Khirbat Jiddin or the Jiddin Ruins. The ruins were abandoned, and over the following years were used by the al-Suwaytat Bedouin tribe.
Birth of Kibbutz Yehiam
In 1946 Kibbutz Yehiam was established by a group of about 50 Hungarian Holocaust survivors. They used the remaining rooms of the castle and camped outside in tents. The fortress was turned into a military training camp, and survival was not easy with no potable water, and little communication with the outside world. They were also plagued by ticks left from the animals that once inhabited the ruins.
The 1947 UN Partition Plan divided Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs, placing Khirbat Jiddin in Arab territory. But when the Arab nations surrounding Israel attacked in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (War of Independence), the Arabs were pushed back and Israel’s Sheva’ Brigade captured the fortress and surrounding land. Trenches were dug around the fortress for defense.
During the 1948 war, kibbutz members were held under siege in the fortress for two months. They barricaded themselves within the fortress walls, and with the help of Haganna Field Corps defended themselves in a life and death standoff. The Kibbutz was named after Yehiam Weitz, who was killed nearby during the “Night of the Bridges” when the Palmach set out to blow up the bridges over the Kziv Stream. The national park was declared in 1967 and covers 0.5km²/12 acres.
Points of Interest at Yehiam Fortress
The Crusaders built the fortress around two towers, with an outer enclosure wall. But the ruins that have survived date back to the 18th-century structure when Zahir al-Umar reinforced the outer walls and added a moat, gatehouse, living quarters with vaulted ceilings, a small mosque, and a bathhouse. On the walls, you can see gun slits used for defense.
Fortress Gate: Visitors enter the fortress through an 18th-century gate that would have had heavy wooden doors.
Crusader Tower: A semicircular Crusader tower guards the front gate. Today the tower is 15 meters high but thanks to its thick walls it would have once had three stories. From the top of the Crusader Tower, there is a lookout point across the hills of Western Galilee.
Fortress Trenches: Visitors can walk through the trenches surrounding the fortress which were dug out by the kibbutz members during the Israeli War of Independence.
Round Tower: An 18th century round tower stands in the northeastern corner of the fortress, and beneath the tower is an ancient cistern.
Mosque: You can see the room that functioned as a mosque and a mihrab niche in the wall facing Mecca. The fortress was built of limestone but the mihrab was made of sandstone.
Western Lookout Point: On the roof facing west, (which would have been the floor of the second story) there is a magnificent lookout point.
Reception Hall: One of the most impressive parts of the fortress is the Reception Hall with a vaulted ceiling supported by 15 piers. The rest of the fortress was built above the Reception Hall. The Ottomans would have used it as a storeroom, and the kibbutz members turned the hall into their living quarters before they moved to their permanent kibbutz location.
Mushroom Hall: The kibbutz members used a second hall to grow mushrooms during the 1950s. Today the Mushroom Hall is home to a video presentation covering the history of the Yehiam Kibbutz.
Archaeological Site: On the southwestern slopes of the park is an archaeological site that has not been excavated. The site encompasses ancient burial caves and the remains of a 6th-century church where mosaics were found.
How to Reach Yehiam Fortress National Park
The national park has washrooms, parking, signposted routes, wheelchair-accessible routes, picnic areas, and a film about the history of the site. There are facilities for camping overnight including electrical outlets, drinking water, cooking areas, and lighting. The park is open Sunday to Thursday and Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm, in summer, and until 4 pm in winter. On Fridays and holidays, the park opens until 4 pm/3 pm. During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the park hosts a Renaissance Festival.
To reach Yehiam Fortress take the Ma’a lot Road (route 89) from Nahariya and about 2.5km east of Kabri Junction turn south to Kibbutz Yehiam (route 8833). Continue for 5km to the Yehiam Kibbutz and park entrance. If you’re using Waze, enter “Yehiam Fortress National Park”.
To visit Yehiam Fortress National Park book Acre and the Western Galilee Private Tour.