Nimrod Fortress (Qal'at al-Subeiba)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The fortress (قلعة الصبيبة) was built around 1229 by Al-Aziz 'Uthman, nephew of Saladin and younger son of Al-Adil I, to preempt an attack on Damascus by the armies of the Sixth Crusade. It was named Qal'at al-Subeiba, "Castle of the Large Cliff" in Arabic. The fortress was further expanded to contain the whole ridge by 1230.


The fortress overlooks the deep, narrow valley that separates Mount Hermon from the rest of the Golan Heights, the road linking the Galilee with Damascus, and the former Crusader town of Banias. In 1260 the Mongols captured the castle, dismantled some of its defenses and left their ally, the son of Al-Aziz 'Uthman, in charge of it and the nearby town of Banias.


circa 1229 CE

Upper Keep
Panoramic view of the upper keep at the eastern end of the complex. Known as the Oz Tower, it is actually a fortress within a fortress, and is elevated in relation to the rest of the fortress and controls all its parts and gates. Along with the remains of luxurious halls, water pools and many rooms it may have housed the governor's residence as well. The central part, which is accessible by a path within the fortress, contains the remains of a keep surrounded by large rectangular towers.

circa 1229 CE

The modern day entrance through the north-western tower. At the end of the 13th century, following the Muslim conquest of the port city of Acre (Akko) and the end of Crusader rule in the Holy Land, the fortress lost its strategic value and fell into disrepair. The fortress was ruined by an earthquake in the 18th century. After the Mamluk victory over the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut, Sultan Baibars strengthened the castle and added larger towers.

circa 1229 CE

South-western Tower
Remains of the south-western tower, originally installed during the reign of Baybars and Bilik circa 1260-1277 CE, is one of the several rectangular and semi-circular towers roofed with pointed cross-arches. 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 the first. The fortifications follow the contours of the long, narrow ridge and are visible to this day. The fortress measures 420 meters in length and 60-150 meters in width and is built of large, carefully squared stones.

circa 1229 CE

A large cistern was hewn in the rock beneath and a narrow staircase connected the towers different stories. A 27-meter-long stepped, secret passage led from the gate tower to the outside. It would have enabled the defenders of the fortress to launch a surprise attack on besiegers, or if necessary, to flee from it. At the end of the 13th century, the Muslim conquest of the port city of Acre on the Mediterranean signified the end of Crusader rule in the Holy Land. The Nimrod fortress lost its strategic value and fell into disrepair; the ruins visible today bear silent witness to its past might.

Inscriptions and Reliefs

circa 1229 CE

Construction Inscription
Arabic inscription above the western gate, mentioning the construction date 1230 CE and builder al-Aziz Uthman. The Ottoman Turks conquered the land in 1517 and used the fortress as a luxury prison for Ottoman nobles. The fortress was abandoned later in the 16th century and local shepherds and their flocks were the sole guests within its walls.

circa 1265 CE

Lion Relief of Sultan Baybars
One of the at least six known Lion reliefs depicting the royal symbol of the Mamluk Sultan of Baybars (of Egypt and Syria), who ruled the region from the years 1260 CE to 1277 CE. In 1993 and 1998, two towers in the western wall of the Nimrod fortress (tower 11, the western gate tower; and tower 9, in the southwestern corner of the fortress) were excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the direction of M. Hartal.

circa 1275 CE

Inscription of Baybars
The Inscription of Baybars commemorating and glorifying the extensive construction carried out in the fortress during the rule of Malik Sultan Baybars. The fortress was given to Baibars's second-in-command, Bilik. The new governor started the broad construction activities. When the construction was finished, Bilik memorialized his work and glorified the name of the sultan in a 1275 inscription.

The inscription reads:
[Line 1] in the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This blessed tower was renewed by the grace of our lord, the Sultan al-Malik al-Zahir, the most splendid master, the scholar, the just, the fighter of the holy war, the warrior on the border, the heavenly assisted, the civtorious, Rukn al-Dunya wa'l-Din
[Line 2] Sultan of Islam and the Muslims, killer of revellious deviators, renewer of justice in the whole world, Abu 'l-Fath Baybars al-Salahi, the partner of the Commander of the Faithful. Ordered its work, our lord, the honourable sir, the lord, the great officer, [sultan of Mamluks] al-Zahir and al-Said(?), the most glorious
[Line 3] the most felicitous, lofty, the well served, al-badr al-Dunya wa'l Din, the splendor of Islam and the Mulims, leader of the armies of the monotheists, king of the commandrs in the whole world, Bilik, [Mamluk of] al-Malik al-Zahir and al-Said, may god perpetuate his days. This was during the governorship of the great commander Badr
[Line 4] al-Din Bekut, and under the command of the great(?) commander 'Alam al-Din Sanjar al-Mujahid, and under the supervision of the master 'Abd al-Rahman al-Muhandis, and [with] the authorization of 'Abd al-Wahab al-Mi'mar. This was on the date of the twentieth of Muharram of the year 674 (circa 17 July 1275 CE). This inscription was according to the design of Yusuf.

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