Driving up north to Nimrod Fortress we drove through the mist covered mountains. All along the side of the road were fences with “Danger, Landmines” signs covering them. We couldn’t see down into the valleys and coming around one bend we saw the castle perched on top of a mist covered mountain. It looked like something out of Lord of the Rings.
Walking around the ruins of the castle midst the thick layer of mist gave the whole day an eerie feeling. Nimrod Fortress is a medieval fortress situated in the northern Golan Heights, on a ridge rising about 800 m (2600 feet) above sea level.
The fortress was built around 1229 by Al-Aziz Uthman, to pre-empt an attack on Damascus by participants of the Sixth Crusade. It was named Qala’at al-Subeiba, “Castle of the Large Cliff” in Arabic.
At the end of the 13th century, following the Muslim conquest of the port city of Akko (Acre) and the end of Crusader rule in the Holy Land, the fortress lost strategic value and fell into disrepair.
The Ottoman Turks conquered the land in 1517 and used the fortress as a luxury prison for Ottoman nobles who had been exiled to Palestine. The fortress was abandoned later in the 16th century and local shepherds and their flocks were the sole guests within its walls. The rest of the fortress was ruined by an earthquake in the 18th century.
As we entered the fortress we found that the first section contains “secret corridors” — winding staircases and underground water cisterns with some of the original plaster still visible. There are many windows that are narrow on the outside but wide on the inside. They were designed specifically for shooting bows and arrows or crossbows, giving the defender inside the fortress plenty of room but the attacker only a narrow slit as a target. The central part, which we accessed by a path within the fortress, contains the remains of a keep surrounded by large rectangular towers.
In the western section, there are the remains of a fortress within a fortress, which was protected by its own moat and drawbridge. This is the oldest part of the castle, which was built first.
We got to see the little Hyraxes who live all over the fortress. They are little animals found around the Golan Heights that share 90% of their DNA with elephants. They are actually quite ugly if you ask me.
It got dark around 5h when we made our way down the mountain, all along the Syrian border with their landmine fences and barriers to the Genghis Khan village next to the Sea of Galilee.
It was misty and so bad we couldn’t see anything in front of us. Was very stressful driving along these winding roads in this mist. More than once we went through barriers and had a couple of hairpin turns to make. The Genghis Khan tents are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains. Although it was close to a very small town it felt like it was far removed from everything. The tents were big and warm inside which was a big plus.
The polish guy disappeared around 7h30. He was like Houdini’s cousin, every time we turned around or just got out of the car he would be gone. He would turn up again later but he would just wander off without saying a word. That night he only returned after 11pm, we were a bit worried as it was dark out and he didn’t even have a map with him (he believes he has a built in GPS).
We then drove to the waterfront and greeted the New Year looking out over the Sea of Galilee with a cup of mint tea.