Israel's Good Name

Beit ‘Itab

In Israel, Judea on November 30, 2021 at 4:08 PM

In the beginning of October, I embarked on yet another Crusader ruins-themed adventure with my friend Avner Touitou, this particular trip highlighting the lesser-known fortified manor called Beit ‘Itab located in the mountains between Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. The name itself actually belongs to the village that existed before, during and after the fortress, as the estate’s name was not preserved (to the best of my knowledge). It was believed to have belonged to Crusader knight Johannes Gothman, who owned nice properties in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and who was later captured and had his land sold by his wife to pay for his ransom. Avner and I had encountered this Johannes when researching manuscripts, and his name had rung a bell because he was believed to have owned the fortified manor of Khirbet Luza, a site we had visited back in December of 2019.

The ruins of Beit 'Itab

The ruins of Beit ‘Itab

Our journey to Beit ‘Itab began in the early morning with a drive out of the urban centre of the country and into the scenic mountain roads which brought us to the USA Independence Park, where we found a little lot to leave the car. Leaving the shade of the Greek strawberry tree, we started down the Beit ‘Itab trail with its picturesque mountain views and signage that pointed us in the right direction.

Setting out on the scenic trail

Setting out on the scenic trail

We passed a few vineyards along the rocky terra rossa road, seeing not much other than one or two shrikes. Suddenly, I stopped Avner in his tracks and took some quick photos of a beautiful female semi-collared flycatcher which we had caught unawares. She flew up and we continued down to the natural spring system of Ein Hod, which marks the lower end of the archaeologically interesting part of our adventure.

Semi-collared flycatcher on a gnarly fence wire

Semi-collared flycatcher on a gnarly fence wire

Shaded from the morning sun by oaks and a particularly gnarly fig tree, we examined the constructed spring pool and channel, built sometime in antiquity. We were far too excited to see the fortress ruins, so we hurriedly continued on the trail, pausing only briefly as a cacophony of throaty bird calls were heard, followed by a sleek sparrowhawk which apparently failed a sneak attack on some unsuspecting prey-to-be. The trail up the slope was rough and flanked with loads of cactus plants, threatening to puncture us as we plodded upwards. At last, the fortress came into view as we approached it from the northeast.

The springs of Ein Hod

The springs of Ein Hod

There was a dry moat of sorts which prevented us from entering the ruins willy-nilly, so we continued on the trail to the southern side where the official entrance is. Great views of the coastal region made it immediately clear to us why one would build on such a hill, although lugging water up the slope must have been exhausting work. The manor of Beit ‘Itab was renovated and added to during the later Ottoman period, so it was a bit of a challenge for us discerning what belonged to our period of interest, and what was “modern”.

Looking into the vaulted chamber

Looking into the vaulted chamber

Upon entry we embarked on a circular tour of the site, starting with a crudely built vaulted chamber of unknown purposes. The fortified manor was, in essence, a rectangular enclosure of buildings that ultimately formed a secure courtyard. We exited via the other side of the vaulted chamber and began walking along the semi-ruined western walls in the direction of the Ottoman building which was erected in the middle of the courtyard. We could plainly see that there were different stages of development in many sections of the ruins, and even the materials and quarrying efforts varied from here to there.

Admiring the arches

Admiring the arches

As we attempted to unravel some of these mysteries, we enjoyed the simple pleasures of appreciating the architecture and craftsmanship that went into building this remote fortress. A narrow staircase on the northern end of the ruins excited us temporarily, as we were also looking for the upper semi-collapsed entrance of an enigmatic escape tunnel that was carved through the mountain side, ending in a columbarium near the springs below. Alas, it was not the tunnel, and we continued on, treading carefully along the overgrown walls flanked by sumac and palm trees.

Sneaking into the columbarium cave

Sneaking into the columbarium cave

The eastern side proved to be the least interesting, and we made it back to the southern gate without having spotted the tunnel entrance – perhaps it was overgrown with vegetation. We had our final looks at the ruins from atop the vaulted chamber’s roof and then began the hike back down the slope in search of the lower tunnel entrance. This too proved to be a difficult task, and time was ticking away rapidly. We found a tiny cave, but not the right cave, yet it was the thread that unraveled into the proverbial ball of yarn. Scrambling uphill, we then found a promising looking cave with a warning sign outside. We had found the lower entrance, so we quickly nipped inside.

The joy of finding the secret tunnel

The joy of finding the secret tunnel

The cave itself was small, and was used at some point as a sparsely-populated columbarium, relegated now to the usage of wild animals. A pile of fresh porcupine droppings intrigued us, yet no porcupine was to be seen. There was no time to actually enter the tunnel, no matter how much we wanted to, so we gathered ourselves and scooted back out. We hiked back to the car quickly, pleased with what we had found, yet full of wonder as to the lore of this once-majestic manor which had commanded the local village and surrounding lands.

NB I have opened a new blog – Israel’s Good Bird – dedicated just to my birding trips. These posts are written more as a cursory summary with additional important information, as well as obligatory pictures. Feel free to check it out, and subscribe if it interests you!

  1. Do you have any idea if the Columbarium Cave was used by people in Obadiah’s time, when he was hiding prophets from Jezebel?

    Dave

    PS – Love the title Israel’s Good Bird

    Dave Parks *Tales by Dave *

    On Tue, Nov 30, 2021 at 8:08 AM Israel’s Good Name wrote:

    > Israel’s Good Name posted: ” In the beginning of October, I embarked on > yet another Crusader ruins-themed adventure with my friend Avner Touitou, > this particular trip highlighting the lesser-known fortified manor called > Beit ‘Itab located in the mountains between Jerusalem and Bet S” >

  2. […] we were so inspired by the rich archaeological finds of the region of our last trip – Beit ‘Itab – that we decided to go back. However, this time we fancied the scattered ruins just over two […]

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