On a Splendid Construction
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
There are few places more beautiful than this. The sun rising over the hills east of the castle is a silver disc and around it is transparent silver. A few dark clouds are banking up, but to the west the sky grows progressively bluer; the snail blue directly above, steadily deepening in intensity until the very essence of blueness is gathered over the sea.
Across the valley the cliffs are of gilded rock, the forest trees are highlighted here and there where the light strikes directly. The morning is upon us, its silence broken only by our small noises, the chipping, clinking, scraping sounds of excavation and the quiet voices of still drowsy conversation.
Above us the great arch of the vault rises, fractured, fissured and red from the fire that brought the castle down. At their base the walls are cut from the natural rock, but between and above there are rows of cut stones; first of broad, pink ashlars, and then, as the springers curve up to the vault's apex there are narrow, rough-cut brick-shaped pieces. Stone in the castle is ubiquitous and the masons have used it as a composer uses his instruments. Though almost the entire use is of local limestone the variety is astonishing. There are roughly shaped pink conglomerates with pockets of grey or blue flint, there is fine, almost white limestone, flawlessly shaped and tooled to perfection by the master masons' combed chisels, bearing the signature diagonal tooling of the Franks and the inventive forms of their finely incised masons' marks. There are the monstrous, well-shaped ashlars of the keep, many of them two to nearly three metres in length, some smooth but with a thick chiselled surface, others with Herodian type stepped margins and flat bosses.
Elsewhere, on the lower levels and in the surrounding enceinte the stones are hardly worked at all. Here they used coarse fieldstones, almost carelessly placed. These led Joshua Prawer, the Israeli historian who loved this castle, to dismiss the quality of its masonry (“There are few crusader buildings with such poor stone-work and where lime has been used to cover the coarse masonry of the interior so frequently as in Montfort”)*, but although it is indeed poor and hastily constructed in places, in other parts, and in most of the now fallen upper levels it was in fact of splendid construction.
* Joshua Prawer, The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1972, p. 308. Admittedly, Prawer later states that “some parts of the castle have excellent stonework” – p. 309. His criticism of the castle was not only with regard to its masonry. He refers to its planning as “rather slapdash” and even “very un-Germanic” (I am almost personally insulted by his, albeit true enough reference to the chamber we are now excavating and its adjacent twin as “two rather ugly vaulted rooms” – p. 311), yet he admired Montfort enough to use a photograph of it on the title page of volume 2 of his Histoire du royaume Latin de Jérusalem, Paris, 1970.