Kastel Fortress, just outside Jerusalem has a rich history because of its unique, strategic location, and features the remains of several ancient settlements, and the story of one of the most significant battles in the establishment of the State of Israel. Nestled in the green forests of the Jerusalem Hills, about 10km west of the city, Kastel Fortress is now a National Park is an interesting place to explore and admire the beautiful landscapes.
The strategic location of the Kastel at the entrance to Jerusalem, overlooking the main road has made it a desirable site for centuries. The Romans first establishes their Castellum or fort and following them the Crusaders settled here. You can see why the Crusaders called it Belvoir (beautiful view) as you gaze down across the hills of Jerusalem. Later when the Arab village Al-Qastal was established here the muhktar’s home took pride of place on the hilltop fortress ruins.
However the most significant historical events occurred here in 1948 during the War of Independence. Jerusalem was under siege and running out of food and water supplies and so armed trucks made the treacherous drive along highway 1 where they were prime targets for the enemy in Al-Qastal. To solve this problem Operation Nachshon was launched by the Jewish Palmach who entered the Arab village. A legendary Arab leader, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni was sent to attach and recapture the strategic hilltop village. The Arab leader was killed which led to a fierce battle but in the aftermath when Husayni’s body was taken to be buried the Palmach took the hill for the final time. The park is a memorial site to the lives lost in this pivotal battle and here you can see a monument created by Israeli artist Yitzhak Yamin.
While in the park you can explore the underground bunkers and war trenches. Take a look at the Crusader fortress ruins and see the war memorial. What remains of the Crusader fortress easily conjures up a picture of the structure’s original form. There are several walls and arched windows through which you can look down upon the hills of Jerusalem and the city beyond. There are intact fireplaces windows and door ways. At the foot of the Kastel Fortress is the Jewish settlement Maoz Zion.
A tour of the park takes up to three hours and can be undertaken throughout the year. The park has several organized tours including the “Conquer the Mountain” game experience and “Candlelight tour of the Trenches”. These educational tours and other information about tours of the park are available at: 972-02-6232191. The site is not wheelchair accessible or suitable for baby-strollers.
The Kastel National Park is open from April to September between 8am and 5pm and from October to March until 4pm, on Fridays and holidays the park closes an hour earlier. For more information call: 972-02-5330476. Admission is 14NIS for adults and 7NIS for kids. It is possible for groups to stay overnight in the park campground. In 2011 government funding was approved to renovate and expand the Kastel Park and develop a Light and Sound Show as well as further campgrounds.
Very close to Kastel is the village of Abu Gosh, Israel’s hummus capital. A visit to the two at the same time makes perfect sense.