Monday, May 06, 2013

Crusader Tzuba and Biblical Zobah

The Crusader fortress of Tzuba overlooks the route coming up to Jerusalem from the coast. Jacob Solomon gives an introduction to the site in Haaretz (free access with registration).

Fortress Tzuba is a nice little bonus that transforms the otherwise ordinary Tel Aviv-Jerusalem drive into an excursion. Find it by accident, and you’ll gasp – “Am I suddenly on the wrong side of Europe?” You won’t be completely wrong, either. Fortress Tzuba looks like a medieval Scottish Border castle that somehow missed the attention of restorers.


This fortress – which they named Belmont – controlled the key route between Jaffa and Jerusalem. As you explore, you can identify features common to citadels built during this period in Israel – and all across Europe, for that matter – such as the double walls that protect the inner keep, and the outer vaulted chambers with their herringbone ceilings. This structure is likely to have been erected toward the end of the reign of Baldwin III (1131-1174), the king of the Crusader Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which in its heyday extended from Eilat to Beirut.

The word "explore" is the operative word here. Unlike the Crusader citadels of Monfort and Belvoir farther north, Belmont has not been restored. Entrance is free, but you'll have to be your own guide, especially in working out which parts of the recently excavated site are from the age of the Crusaders, and which belong to the later Muslim Period. (This is part of what makes the site such a curiosity – to be sure, there are no detailed, multi-lingual signs to lead you.) As a general rule, the structures made of larger, rougher-cut stones that fit together like a 3-D puzzle are from the Crusaders. Those made of smaller, pebble-like stones held together by mortar come from the later Turkish Period, when the fortress accommodated generations of village leaders.

The article does not mention that Tzuba may preserve the name of the biblical site of Zobah, mentioned in the city lists of Judah in the Septuagint text of Joshua 15:59.

Zobah castle and village ruins, tb020305207

Ancient ruins of Tzuba, possibly biblical Zobah
Photo from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 4

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