When you were a kid, did you ever imagine yourself discovering an ancient castle? Did you make believe you reached the peak of a mountain to find yourself amidst the overgrown remains of an ancient fortress? And in this dream, did you come across darkened stairways, secret chambers, and any number of lookout points? Did you look out and see miles and miles of beautiful land stretching out in all directions?
Well, bust out that inner child, because these things really exist.
The day we went north to see Caesarea Philippi, we thought it might be cool to follow the Frommer’s Guide advice and make another stop at the Nimrod Fortress. In ancient times, the road to Damascus went right below it, making it a very strategic place to have a fortress, or at least, both the crusaders and Muslim caliphs thought so. As we drove up the hill toward the magnificent stone remains of the fortress, I imagined trying to storm the castle, running up that huge hill under fire of flaming arrows raining down on top of me from beyond the walls of the fortress. Intimidating much? Up and up we climbed, switching back and forth on hairpin turns until finally we reached the entrance to the national park. “The view is worth it,” the book said. This turned out to be a great understatement. Nimrod Fortress stood at the top of an enormous hill with a 360 degree view of the Promised Land. The air was cool and dry and the whole place smelled sweet. Across the valley you could hear bells ringing from around the necks of distant sheep—you could barely make out their little white figures as they traversed the rugged terrain. The whirring of a gentle breeze flowed past our ears. We could barely stop staring at the vastness of the view.
On a side note, we worried in planning this trip that there might be bad weather if we went to Israel in the winter. It only rained twice on our whole trip, and one of those was at night so that doesn’t really count. Temperatures never got too cold or too hot—I’ve rarely had such pleasant tourism as far as the weather was concerned. We soon realized December is a fantastic time to visit this country because so few other people do! We rarely if ever waited in lines to see the sights; I could barely believe our good fortune. I knew that coming at any other time of year we likely would have been constantly fighting crowds, not to mention blistering heat. We experienced neither problem on our trip. In the entirety of Nimrod Fortress we probably saw a total of four other people, so for most of it, we really felt as though we could have very well been discovering it for the first time. We felt like Indiana Jones. I’m going to need a hat and a whip if I ever get to do something like that again.
Do you remember that scene in Prince Caspian when the Pevensie Children discover the ruins of Cair Paravel? In case you don’t, time in Narnia is faster than time on Earth, which means that when you leave Narnia, Narnian years speed by without you noticing. So when the children returned to their home castle they found it had been 1300 Narnian years since they had left, though for them it had only been a year. The whole castle was overgrown with moss and shrubs and some gnarly trees sprouting out from the piles of white stones. Nimrod’s Fortress looked so similar to that scene my Narnia fanaticism flared up so I was like a Trekkie meeting Patrick Stewart.
Unlike so many of the other archeological finds in Israel, Nimrod Fortress stands out because so much of it is still in tact. There were whole rooms that were still going strong with impressive engineering of enormously weighty stones. More than this, we found darkened staircases and tunnels, which, of course, we never hesitated to explore. And not just staircases, but twirly staircases…can you believe it? The rule was, if it’s a dark tunnel of stone, go down it. I had to keep pressing on my camera flash to see where I was going. The tunnels led out to many look-out rooms with slots in the stone where, I surmise, guards used to man watch posts. We made sure to explore every possible opportunity for secret chambers.
The fortress stretches along an ascending ridgeline, so we gradually made our way up to the taller end, taking our time exploring the various rooms along the way. In one of the chambers we saw a huge column in the center that curved outward at the top to form five points which turned downward to five pointed windows. It completely boggled my mind thinking of what it must have been like to carve all that stone so perfectly as to create that effect, and to have it standing millennia later.
At one point in our visit I turned around and discovered my brother was no longer behind me. I went back to see where he could have gone. There was a secondary path leading down around the opposite side of the castle. I figured he must have gone down there, but I couldn’t see him. I called out his name. I will never forget seeing my brother’s head emerge from a crevice in the side of that castle with a huge smile.