‘Just came back from visit to the Castel (near Jerusalem) – with kids aged 3-9. Lovely short walk up with great views, descriptions of the history, trenches to go into and lots of wildflowers and nature. All in all only around 45 minutes. (Take a torch if you want to go into the bunkers). The kids took their cameras and we got some great shots of the view and the flowers etc. Recommended!’
As per the National Park Website:
‘Castel National Park is located on a hill known as Mount Ma‘oz overlooking the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway within sight of the capital. A visit there gives rise to many and varied associations, from the stories of the Palmach and the War of Independence to medieval castles and biblical sagas. No one knows when settlement began on this strategic hill, but visitors looking down at the highway to the capital, can picture King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant as he passed this way from Kiryat Ye‘arim to Jerusalem. David’s installation of the Ark in Jerusalem heralded the city’s transformation into the spiritual focus and capital of the Jewish people, and later into a center for Christianity and Islam. Visitors can picture the ancients weeping from this mountain after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Greeks, and their rejoicing at its liberation by the Hasmoneans after they emerged victorious from the battles for the road to the city. The Crusaders also understood the importance of this hill. The settlements and forts they built surrounding Jerusalem–in Abu Ghosh, En Hemed (Aqua Bella), Tsuba and elsewhere–were linked by a line of sight to protect the city and its access roads. Visitors can descend below ground level to marvel at the stone vaults of the mighty complex the Crusaders built.
For centuries after the fall of the Crusaders, the Castel disappeared from the historical sources. However, in the 19th century, short references in written sources reveal that a small number of people once again inhabited the site, living among the ruins. In 1869, the highway to Jerusalem was paved with gravel for the first time. During Israel’s War of Independence, many armored convoys that supplied besieged Jerusalem were lost to ambushes, and it became clear that only the capture of points along the road would change the situation. At the beginning of April 1948, a Palmach unit set out from Kiryat ‘Anavim and captured the village of Castel without a battle. However, a few days later, Arab forces attacked the Palmach unit, redoubling their efforts when the rumor spread that the famed Arab commander, Abdul Khader el-Husseini, had fallen in the fray. Visitors receive a flyer at the entrance to the site that briefly describes the long battle for the Castel, as do signs along the way up the hill. The battle for the Castel was unique in several aspects: First and foremost was its importance in keeping the road to Jerusalem open, which was essential to besieged Jerusalemites and psychologically significant to the morale of the whole nation during the War of Independence. Second, the expression: “privates will retreat under cover of their commanders” became part of the heritage of the Palmach and later of the Israel Defense Forces. This was also the first night battle in Israeli military history and the first in which an Arab village was conquered and destroyed. At the end of the War of Independence, the Castel overlooked the border with Jordan to the north. The Israel Defense Forces dug the numerous communications trenches visitors can see ahead of a possible attack on Jerusalem in which the Castel would once again protect the city and the road. When the border receded after the Six Day War, a new Jewish community, Ma‘oz Zion, was built around the fortress, one of many surrounding the capital.
Guided tours and activities are available by reservation, including a lamp-light tour (For more information call the Lowlands and Mountains Education Center, 02-623-2191.); memorial to the Jewish fighters who fell in the battle for the Castel; picnic grove (no barbecuing allowed).