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'Atlit the Impregnable

T he Castle of 'Atlit (also known as Chateau Pelerin or Castle Pilgrim), built from 1218 onward was the only major Templar castle never to be taken by the enemy. Its appendage "impregnable" stands true. The greatest of all Templar castles, 'Atlit was largely built as a defensive installation. It was built on the only promontory between Jaffa and Haifa, an spike of land jutting out into the Mediterranean, leaving the castle surrounded by sea from three sides.

T he defences of the castle were impressive and are so today. They consist of a fosse, a bailey, and three towers. Entrance to the castle was through two of these towers, one of which has a portcullis and one does not. Anyone entering the castle was lead through a turning corridor, subjecting the enterer to a hail of arrows from at least four holes in the walls at any time. The bailey walls are six metres (18 feet) thick. There is a natural harbour within the installation, and the area was rich in all kinds of produce. Thus it could easily support thousands of people during a siege, with supplies brought in from the sea.

W hen the castle was excavated in the 1930's, the archaeologists marveled at the skill of the builders. For example, if the attackers had tried the often-used tactics of undermining the castle walls, they would have been flooded as the fosse had its groundwork well under sea level. Indeed, in 1220 'Atlit was attacked by Al-Muazram, who used a trebuchet, three petraries, and four mangonels in his attack, but these failed because of the thick walls. 300 Templars under the command of Templar Grand Master Pedro de Montaigu resisted valiantly and even managed to have the trebuchet and one petrary out of operation. After a month the siege had to be called off.

T he castle resisted also some people one might not imagine to be resisted. One such person seeking entrance, Frederick II was declined the permission to enter the castle, because he was not among the list of preferred visitors of the Templars. He, too, had to call an attack off because there was not the slightest chance of success.

T he story of 'Atlit ends on a low note. In 1291, after Acre fell, 'Atlit was evacuated. It is important to note that it was not taken by the enemy but left for them, as there was no point in holding on to it only to be killed a bit later. Considering the dual purpose of 'Atlit as bot a defensive castle and as a stopover for many people of importance on their way south or north along the coast, this is a shame, but there was no option. Yet, the remains of 'Atlit stand proud as the greatest testimony of Templar power and presence even today.

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