Battleground for warriors Alexander the Great, Salah-al-Din

After 30 years, once-crumbling Crusader fortress set to open again

Huge hilltop site near Rosh Haayin, first mentioned by Josephus, was largely built before 12th century; remains from First Temple Period were found under Crusader floor

The interior courtyard of the Migdal Tzedek fortress, near Rosh Haayin, on December 11, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
The interior courtyard of the Migdal Tzedek fortress, near Rosh Haayin, on December 11, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

After more than 30 years of conservation work, a massive Crusader fortress in central Israel will soon be open to the public, the Nature and Parks Authority announced this week.

The Parks Authority celebrated the end to decades of on-again, off-again conservation work at the Crusader fortress in the Migdal Tzedek Park, next to Rosh Haayin in central Israel, on Tuesday.

The imposing stone fortress sits alone on a hill and boasts panoramic views from Jaffa to the Samaria hills. The spot was a strategically important battleground for warriors from Alexander the Great to Salah-al-Din because of its prominent location along the Yarkon River, and archaeologists have found remnants of battlements there dating back over 2,000 years.

Jewish-Roman chronicler Josephus Flavius mentioned the fortress in his writings from the first century.

For years, the inside of the fortress has been fenced off to the public amid safety concerns that large stones could break off or ceilings could collapse. The rolling hills that surround the fortress are a popular weekend picnic spot as well as an important ecological corridor for wild animals including hyenas and gazelles.

Archaeologists started working on the building in 1995. Work petered off after a few years before starting up again in 2006.

Finally, in 2014, as a dozen new high-rise apartment towers in Rosh Haayin’s expansion began to appear along the northern edge of the park, the Parks Authority made a big push to finish conserving the building for the thousands of new residents who will move into the new apartments.

The Migdal Tzedek Crusader fortress near Rosh Haayin in central Israel opened to the public on December 10, 2018. (courtesy Yaniv Cohen/Nature and Parks Authority)

While excavating parts of the interior fortress, archaeologists found remnants from the First Temple Period three meters under the Crusader floor.

Most of the building was built before the 12th century. During the Ottoman empire, Sheikh Sadeq Jamaini, from the village of Jamain near Ariel, settled in the village and the tower was named Majdal Sadeq or Migdal Tzedek.

Future plans for the site include a visitor’s center and a coffee shop.

The fortress’s opening is planned to be part of a concentrated push from the Nature and Parks Authority to preserve open spaces near population centers. The park around Migdal Tzedek also creates a “green corridor” that is important for the preservation of wild animals in the area, including about 10 hyenas and dozens of gazelles.

In 2018, the Nature and Parks Authority also celebrated an increase of 27 percent in international visitors to the country’s national parks, along with a 3% increase in domestic visitors.

Masada (Itamar Grinberg/Ministry of Tourism;

The country’s most popular national parks are Caesarea and Masada. Currently, Caesarea is the most popular park with 1,006,115 visitors in 2018. Masada, which has hosted 981,425 people this year, is sprinting to break the million-visitor mark before January 1.

The country’s other favorite parks include, in order of popularity, Ein Gedi, Banias, Palmachim, Ashkelon National Park, Jerusalem Walls/City of David, Qumran, and the Gan Hashelosha pools.

Overall visits to national parks increased from 10.2 million in 2017 to 11.5 million in 2018.

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