Jordan Star National Park (Kokhav HaYarden) – Full Guide


Jordan Star National Park (Kokhav HaYarden)

Belvoir Fortress is an almost complete Crusader castle in Israel. And it is part of Jordan Star National Park (Kokhav HaYarden). Join us for a visit!

Map

Jordan Star National Park is located in the east of Lower Galilee. About halfway between Sea of Galilee and Beit Shean National Park.

Map of the area:

Directions

When driving on road #90, you will see the sign to this national park. After turning, you will climb with the road for about 6 km and reach the entrance.

And as always, if you are reaching by car, then enter “Jordan Star National Park” into Waze or Google Maps, and it will take you to the entrance.

If you are considering public transport, then you should know that bus #28 has a Kokhav HaYarden bus stop. But the stop is on-road #90. That means that you will have to climb more than 6 km to the park entrance (and descend the same way when you finish). It makes public transport irrelevant for most people.

Here is already a preset link to Moovit. Just enter your starting direction, and you will get the updated directions.

Opening Hours

Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays usually 8 – 13.

Entrance Fee

Adults 22 NIS, children 9 NIS, and students 19 NIS. And free for National Parks annual subscribers.

If you are going to visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves.

Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in March 2020. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.

Names

Jordan Star National Park has three common names, and many use them interchangeably. Let’s review them.

Kokhav HaYarden is the Hebrew translation of Jordan Star. This name preserves the name Kochava (meaning star), which was a nearby Jewish village during the Roman and Byzantine periods.

On the premises of Kokhav HaYarden National Park, you can find the Belvoir Fortress. Belvoir Fortress is an almost complete Crusader castle in Israel. And if you translate Belvoir from French, it means a beautiful view or viewpoint. And indeed, the views from this castle a stunning.

Site Plan

Kokhav HaYarden is not a big national park. You can take the fortress path to visit the castle.

Jordan Star National Park (Kokhav HaYarden) - site plan
Jordan Star National Park (Kokhav HaYarden) – site plan

Note: you can click on the site plan to enlarge it.

Besides the fortress trail, you can take the HaYadid path.

A 1.2 km long path, starting from the fortress and returning to it after a steep but short climb. It is recommended to walk along this path in the afternoon when the sun lights up the Hills of Gil’ad. The path passes among the remains of the groves of the village Kawukab al-Hawa. Which existed here up to the War of Independence, and descends to the eastern foot of the Crusader fortress. Close to the south-eastern corner of the fortress, a sign indicates the location of the path to the monument in memory of Orde Charles Wingate. From there the path leads to the southern moat, then it climbs back up to the fortress.

Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.

In this national park, you can also find Shelter Garden for Rare Plants, Yigal Tumarkin sculpture garden, camping ground, and big parking.

This is a fenced-off sheltered area in which are raised species of rare plants that normally grow on the basalt soils of the eastern Lower Galilee, such as Phlomis (Phlomis pungens) and Galilean Alkanet (Alkanna Galilea). The plants in the garden serve as a kind of breeding nucleus from which the plants will be restored to the Galilee scenery.

The Sculpture Garden: An impressive collection of the works of artist Yig’al Tomarkin in a permanent outdoor display, south of the fortress.

Camping ground: A camping area has been prepared in an olive grove in the Kokhav HaYarden National Park. Here one can stay overnight in tents. There are toilets and drinking water, a barbeque area, picnic tables, and illumination.

Geography

First, we need to understand why this site was initially selected. And shortly, it is a strategical point. First of all, it is the highest point in this area. And secondly, it overviews the crossing point of Jordan at Gesher and the Beit Shean to Damascus road.

Kokhav HaYarden is spread over the north-eastern edge of Ramat Kokhav, at the top of a steep slope rising 308 m. above sea level and about 550 m. above the Jordan Valley. Since lava flows filled the cracks and valleys, these heights are relatively level leaning to the south-west, i.e., the north-eastern corner of each height is the highest point in the area. That is the reason why the Kokhav HaYarden fortress was built in that region.

Kokhav HaYarden is in a strategic location. The fortress, on the north-eastern boundary of the Crusader kingdom, commanded the crossing point of the Jordan at Gesher (Jisr al-Majami), and the high road from Bet She’an to Damascus. The Crusaders named the place Belvoir and also Pont Jadir, based on the name of the ancient city of Gader in the mountains of Gil’ad.

Nahal Tavor, which is the main waterway draining the Lower Galilee, passes to the north of Ramat Kokhav. It begins at the foot of Mt. Tavor, crosses the eastern Lower Galilee, and flows into the Jordan River north of Kibbutz Neve Or. The basalt heights of the Lower Galilee were formed about 4.5 million years ago, long before the Golan basalt flows.

Therefore, the rocks have had time to erode, and they are covered with a relatively deep layer of soil. The small streams flowing here attracted settlers in ancient times, and the remains of ancient settlements have been found next to almost every spring. Even today, the eastern Lower Galilee is an agricultural region, being very suited for non-irrigated crops.

History And Archeology

Here is a short extract from the official site.

Ancient Israelite Period – Kochava

The eastern edge of Ramat Kokhav appears to have been settled already in the ancient Israelite period (12th century BC). The region was within the inheritance of the tribe of Yisasskhar. Subsequently, in the period of the Mishna and the Talmud (2nd and 6th centuries BC), there was a Jewish settlement there named Kochava, and archaeological excavations uncovered the remains of residential homes and a public building. Some have identified this place as Grifina – one of the series of peaks on which, according to ancient Rabbinical sources, torches or bonfires were lit to announce the new moon.

Crusaders

The Crusaders used the stones of the Jewish settlement to build their fortress. During excavations in the fortress, carved basalt stones were found that had been taken from an ancient synagogue, among them a stone on which a seven-branched candelabra was carved. The Arabic name of the fortress, Kawkab al-Hawa (Star of the Winds), preserves the sound of the ancient Hebrew name.

In the 12 century, after the crusaders conquered the land and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the area of Kokhav HaYarden was included in the Principality of Galilee. Because of internal disputes, the region was handed over to the noble Velos family, who built a fortified estate there in the 30s of the 12th century.

In 1168, the Velos family sold the estate to the Knights Hospitalier, and it was they who built the strong fortress which can be seen there to this day. The fortress was named Belvoir. Abu Shama, a 12th-century Muslim historian, described the fortress as being “set amidst the stars like an eagle’s nest and the abode of the moon.”

Belvoir Fortress
Belvoir Fortress

Muslim Period – Saladin

In the 80s of the 12th century, Saladin attacked the Crusader kingdom again and again. After the battle at Karney Hittin (1187), in which Saladin destroyed most of the Crusader army, three fortresses remained under Crusader control – Tyre, Safed, and Kokhav HaYarden. Saladin was determined to conquer Kokhav HaYarden, come what may. His forces besieged the fortress for a year and a half, and in January 1189, they succeeded in demolishing a tower on the outer wall of the fortress (the Barbican). But they discovered that the Christians were entrenched in other parts of the fortress. Both sides were already exhausted. The Crusaders agreed to hand over the fortress on condition that they would be allowed to move to Tyre, and so it was.

In 1193, after the death of Saladin, the Galilee was transferred to the control of Al-Mu’azzam ‘Isa Sharaf ad-Din, ruler of Damascus, who, due to his concern for a renewed Crusader campaign, destroyed the Kokhav HaYarden fortress. That was the condition in which the fortress was discovered in archaeological excavations, but because most of the stones were found, it was possible to restore it and present it in its full glory.

Stargazing

We visited Jordan Star National Park about a decade ago. And during the summer of 2019, special stargazing events were held in this park. Thus we decided to revisit Kokhav HaYarden. And this is also why all my recent photos are night ones.

Stargazing at Kokhav HaYarden
Stargazing at Kokhav HaYarden

When we arrived at this national park, we started with the stargazing activity. A professor from Tel Aviv University showed us different stars and gave explanations. From my perspective, this part of our visit was rather disappointing. I assumed that since Jordan Star National Park was chosen, star visibility will be excellent. But it was not that good. Moreover, the explanations were quite quick, and for a beginner in stargazing it was overwhelming.

Then we joined to the best part of our visit, guided tour at Jordan Star National Park.

Guided Tour at Jordan Star National Park

Our guide took us along the fortress path. As you begin walking you will see the fortress to your left and the Yig’al Tomarkin sculpture garden to your right.

We made a short stop near the moat (POI #2 at the site plan).

The drawbridge and the moat at Belvoir Fortress
The drawbridge and the moat at Belvoir Fortress

This moat is quite impressive. It is 10 meters deep and 20 meters wide.

Then we continued to the observation point (POI #1 at the site plan).

Observation point at Jordan Star National Park
Observation point at Jordan Star National Park

Beneath the observation point, at 220 meters below sea level, you can see the Jordan River. And the fortress overlooks three river crossings. Which are: Zinbari, Naharayim, and Beit Shean crossing.

Observation point at Kokhav HaYarden
Observation point at Kokhav HaYarden

And as I mentioned above, this site has a strategic position. And besides commanding the crossings, it also enables to control the road running in the valley.

Observation point at Kokhav HaYarden
Observation point at Kokhav HaYarden

Of course, at night you can not nether Sea of Galilee, nor Jordan River. But you can see the lights. And the lights on the mountain in front of you come from another country, Jordan.

And now let’s enter Belvoir Fortress.

Belvoir Fortress

The fortress covers about 15 dunams, and touring it gives an opportunity to obtain an impression of an almost complete fortress. The fortifications include an enormous moat and two walls – an inner wall and an outer wall. The moat was excavated out of hard basalt rock to a width of about 20 m. and a depth of about 10 m.

The length of the outer wall surrounding the fortress is about 480 m. The postern gate in the tower of the eastern gate is remarkably well preserved. The tower camouflages it well, and it is invisible to anyone standing outside the fortress.

The majority of the fortress is built of basalt stones from the surrounding countryside. Some well-tooled stones were taken from the remains of the synagogue of Hurvat HaYadid. On one, there is a drawing of the seven-branched candelabra, and it is displayed in the Israel Museum. Unlike all the other buildings, the monastery church is built of carefully-chiseled limestone, to emphasize it and add to its beauty.

Belvoir Fortress proposed layout
Belvoir Fortress proposed layout

We entered the fortress through the main gate (POI #3 – at the bottom of the proposed layout). And probably because it was nighttime, our guide took us straight to the inner fortress.

Inner Fortress

It is a 40 on 40 meters stronghold, with a tower at each of its corners.

The keep served as an independent unit, where defenders could endure a siege after the fall of the outer fortress.

View towards inner western gate (POI #10):

Belvoir Fortress - inner fortress
Belvoir Fortress – inner fortress

The outer courtyard and the vaults used for living quarters and storehouses are well preserved. The well in the eastern vault and the remains of the bath-house are also in good condition.

In the inner courtyard is the stronghold, which served as a fortress within a fortress. The length of the sides of this fortified square tower is 40 m. Vaults also surround the stronghold, and the halls are well preserved. In the eastern wing are remains of the kitchen ovens. At the heart of the stronghold, there is a square stone-paved courtyard. Stairs in the western part of the courtyard lead to the second story, which is sumptuously built. Here, were a ceremonies hall, the church, and the captain’s office.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen

And this is the inner space when looking to the east:

Inside Belvoir Fortress
Inside Belvoir Fortress

Decorated stone from Kokhav synagogue

In the history section above, I mentioned that the Crusaders used the stones of the Jewish settlement to build their fortress. Here is an example of a decorated stone that was removed from the ancient synagogue in Kokhav.

Decorated stone from Kokhav synagogue
Decorated stone from Kokhav synagogue

You can find the stone near the entrance to vaults of the inner fortress (POI #11).

Vaults of the inner fortress
Vaults of the inner fortress

The Inner Western Gate

The inner western gate (POI #10) is composed of two sets of gates, a gatehouse, and a tower.

The inner western gate
The inner western gate

To enter through this gate you have to make a ninety degrees turn inside the gate. This defense strategy was used mainly against horsemen and was quite popular. For example, you can find it in Jaffa Gate at the Old City Of Jerusalem and Crusader Gate at Caesarea National Park.

At this point, about one hour after the guided tour started, it ended. And on our way to the parking, we will pass on top of the drawbridge.

The Drawbridge

The wooden bridge that you can see today is, of course, a reconstruction.

The Drawbridge at Belvoir Fortress
The Drawbridge at Belvoir Fortress

The original drawbridge (POI #15) consisted of two parts. One part was made out of stone. And it was supported by a pillar standing at the center of the moat. And the second part, made out of wood could be raised when required.

Belvoir Fortress at Kokhav HaYarden National Park
Belvoir Fortress at Kokhav HaYarden National Park

Summary

Jordan Star National Park (Kokhav HaYarden) is not a big place. And a typical visit will take one to two hours. But, despite its size, it presents an almost complete Crusader castle in Israel. And if you are driving from Sea of Galilee to Beit Shean National Park or vice versa, then consider making a stop at this national park.

Have you ever been to Ayun Stream Nature Reserve? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!

Stay Tuned!

   

Additional Resources

Here are several resources that I created to help travelers: And if you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel.  
Did not find what you were looking for? Email me at [email protected], and I will do my best to answer your questions.

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