Casal des Plains Fortress
Many Holy Land tours include visits to Casal des Plains, the first fort to be built in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The fort is located on the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) overlooking the ancient Jaffa-Jerusalem road, and it was therefore a site of strategic importance for control over the Holy Land in the days of the Crusaders.
Today, all that visitors will see remaining at the fort, called Azor in Hebrew, are two towers, one of which was used as a mosque during the Ottoman period. Due to its central location, the site also played a role in the Israeli War of Independence. Plans are currently underway to restore the fortress and make it a major tourist attraction. In addition to the fortress, tour participants can see the remains of an Iron Age cemetery, an 1800-year-old water cistern and two ancient sycamore trees, possibly from the time of Jesus. Also worth a visit at the site is the monument to fallen soldiers from the War of Independence and a cannon from that same war.
The site is mentioned by Sennacherib in the Assyrian Prism Annals, in a list of cities conquered and plundered by the leader. Godfrey of Bouillon, a Frankish knight, took over the site during his conquest of the Holy Land to host his horses and cavalry. The fort was originally built in 1099, and it was completed under the leadership of Godfrey's brother, Baldwin I of Edessa. It was captured and destroyed by Saladin in 1187, during the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land. Richard the Lionheart eventually restored the fort, but it was destroyed once again by the Mamluks.