Zohar Fortress


The main military road that was used by the armies of Judea, Moab and Edom kingdoms, probably passed through this place, through Zohar brook since it’s the easiest passage compared to all other ascents. It is convenient to cross since it is the only ascent in the central and southern Dead Sea Mountains that does not pass through a cliff. Yet this road has a limitation – the lack of water sources along its entire length. The testimony to the importance of this road are the two fortresses in Zohar brook: the eastern one is called the Israeli fort, what is left of it is a pile of stones. There are various estimations regarding the dating of the site, from the Iron Age somewhere between 800 and 1000 BCE, to the Hellenistic period.

The second one, is the eastern impressive Zohar Fort. Some sources indicate that it is from the Roman and Byzantine periods, and some indicate that it is from the Crusader and Mamluk periods, and actually there may be no conflict between the sources. In tests carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2017, at the top of the fort and in several pits on its western & eastern sides, the finds from the excavation indicate that the Zohar Fort was established during the Crusader period and continued to exist during the Mamluk period. The tests also indicated to the archaeologists that it is a complex structure, much more than it looks today, but large parts of it have not been preserved mainly due to natural disasters and hence we don’t know when they were constructed.

It seems that the fort was built by the Crusaders to ensure control of Zaron ascent – this is the ancient road connecting Hebron to the Crusader fortresses in southern Jordan. The twin of Zohar Fort is the Crusader fort in Karak, a city in Jordan about 20 km east of us, and I will shortly provide some more details about this important city. The upper level of the fort may have served as a signal tower, visible from the fort in Karak Jordan overlooking the Dead Sea from the opposite side.

As I indicated before, this is the most convenient topographic ascent from the Dead Sea to the upper desert plain, because there are no cliffs here as exists along the entire length of the Dead Sea. The length of the ascent is just over three kilometers and its slope of about 10% is considered a moderate slope.

In 1250 a kind of political revolution took place in the middle East. The Ayyubid Empire, which ruled Egypt, Syria, and parts of the Fertile Crescent, ceased to exist and Saladin successors were replaced by those served in the Ayyubid empire army. These are Mamluk soldiers and officers who were skilled military men and excellent cavalry, most of them from Central Asia.

Their reign lasted over two hundred and fifty years. Mamluks also had a long-term impact on this country, the demolition of certain places such as some of the coastal ports, & the subsequent restoration of several cities. In the context of Zohar Fort, they created a fast communication route between the Egyptian center in Cairo and urban centers in Syria and Jordan, and the interesting city for us is the one we spoke about a minute ago, Karak.

Karak is also known by its Hebrew names as “Kir Moab”, “Kir Heresh” and “Kir Haroshet”. KARAK served as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Moab. In the Bible the city is mentioned several times.

So back to the fast communication path that connected the provinces of the state and provided its rulers with information, what was then called ‘real time’, mostly information about what was going on in the remote provinces. This road is known as the postal route.

The concept of the postal route infrastructure, to update the center in Cairo with news regarding military threat, brought into use the natural and main advantage of the Mamluks – the cavalry skilled in long rides and shooting while riding. To shorten the riding time as much as possible, they, among other things, equipped some of the stations along the postal route with accommodation, cisterns, also with alternative horses, companion riders and horse keepers as well as food for riders and horses, all that to ensure rapid arrival of the news. The main stations along the postal route included Cairo in eastern Egypt, Al Arish, Rafihach, Han Yunis and Gaza.

Most of the activity along the postal route was between Egypt and Syria. In Gaza there was a split of the route, towards Hebron via Beit Guvrin with the target station being in Karak, Jordan.

And to conclude, as usual a question – who was the first dominant Mamluk ruler – for the answer, please view the last 30 seconds of the video.

How to get there?

You can use Waze – Search for Zohar Fort.

When descending on Road 31 from Arad towards the Dead Sea, at the intersection with Road 90, turn left onto Road 90 (driving north). After 800 meters, turn left onto a narrow road that is mostly paved dirt road, on which you drive about half a kilometer until you cross Nahal Zohar (Zohar brook). Continue straight for another half km and Zohar Fortress will appear in front of you.

Information Sources

  1. Book: the Ancient Landscapes of the Land of Israel, Author: Menashe Har-El, Publisher: Kinneret, Zmora Bitan, Dvir
  2. Archaeological News – Issue# 129, 2017, Zohar Fort: Authors: Tali Erickson-Gini, Dov Nachlieli & Robert Cole - Israel Antiquities Authority
  3. Article: Mamluk Postal route, Author: Prof. Yosef Drori

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