Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Day 3: Montfort, Nazareth and Tiberias

Today saw us back on the tour bus experiencing the industrial as well as the military side of the Crusader Levant. Our first stop was the castle of Montfort, which from 1226 was the headquarters of the Teutonic knights. The standing remains make a detailed reconstruction impossible, but even what we were able to see struck various group members with its similarity to complexes we had seen in Turkey earlier in the summer. High winds brought home the isolation of the location and the issues of supply which the castle must have faced.

The Crusader tower at Montfort

The remains of a Crusader sugar mill, with Edna Stern explaining
From there a short drive took us to the site of a sugar mill previously excavated by Edna Stern. Her guide to the site was extremely illuminating and focussed our attention firmly on the economic and social changes brought by the crusader period. Questions remain, as Edna highlighted, about the management of these economic ventures, and above all about regional diversity but they can only be answered by extensive discussion and data sharing by both archaeologists and textual historians. 

The group assembles at the sugar mill
Thirteenth-century remains gave way after lunch to the distinctly modern Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where some very distinctive architectural choices have been made in surrounding the original grotto, which forms the spiritual focal point of the church… The museum, however, included not only a selection of pottery in styles which are now becoming familiar to the whole group, but also the famous set of late-twelfth-century capitals found in the church and depicting scenes from the lives of Apostles as well as the role of the Church in guiding the Apostolic mission. These enigmatic capitals have been the focus of discussion and debate concerning their possible European influence, their role in hypothetical built structure and their stage of completion when they were ultimately buried in the medieval period. 

One of the 'Crusader capitals' at the museum of the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, showing the church (personified as the femal figure, Ecclesia) leading an aspotle through a landscape of demons.

After our spiritual stop we drove past the Horns of Hattin on the route to Tiberias and arrived in time for a walking tour of the crusader remains of the city before dinner, including the probably Crusader gate, part of the defensive wall, and some possibly-Crusader vaults. Little of Tiberias’ Crusader heritage is visible but what there is, read in the context of Tiberias’ location along the coast of the Lake of Galilee offers another perspective on Crusader occupation of the region. 

The movement north has also provided opportunities to reflect on the different opportunities and restrictions imposed by the landscape, such as the climatic conditions needed for growing sugar cane, or the relationship of the narrow, steep settlement of Tiberias with its lake-side fortifications.

Tomorrows journey to Jerusalem will hopefully bring continued insights, but until then it is off to bed in the historic ‘Dona Gracia’ hotel, complete with in-house museum…

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