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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Understatement

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

Composed in a hospital bed, in gratitude for being alive.

The minibus ascends the narrow twisting road up to the heights, and here it is, hidden in the trees, as always a bit of a surprise. Castles are so often seen first from afar, but Hunin keeps its drama contained. Like Belvoir, far away to the south, it too overlooks a broad swath of valley. Somewhere below the Jordan snakes a narrow way between swamps, fields and banana plantations. The view from here is breath-taking. But Hunin, unlike Belvoir, avoids theatricals. It does not dominate the scene. It is simply there, silent, between the pines, practical, ready to do its job.

Hunin is indeed a modest castle. It belongs to the early years before Frankish castle builders really became experts in their field and created those extraordinary behemoths that employed every latest innovation and on a vast scale, to dazzle the enemy not only with their superlative technology but with their sheer size and dramatic positioning. Hunin has little of that. It is not large and its design appears to be fairly simple. It does have dramatic potential, standing six hundred metres above the valley, but somehow misses the mark. It is not the highest location in sight; there are higher hills to the west and north. It overlooks, but it is also overlooked.

What we know of the history of Hunin is as modest as its physical appearance. It was built by Hugh of St Omar, prince of the Galilee, himself a character of whom our acquaintance is limited. Land in its vicinity may have become a possession of the Teutonic order in the thirteenth century.* In the contemporary sources it appears as the New Castle - Chateau Neuf, Castellum Novum. But what did that mean? And did anything dramatic happen here? We can only speculate.

We simply do not know very much. It was examined by the British Survey of Western Palestine in the 1870s and again by Israeli archaeologists a century later, and in 1994 limited excavations carried out in and around the gatehouse exposed two medieval towers. But the most impressive feature remains the gatehouse, and that is of Ottoman date. The broad moat, too, is remarkable. Through it to the north Mount Hermon is viewed, magnificently snow-clad from the winter through into early summer months. But it is the surroundings here that are dramatic, not the fortress. It does not hold its own against the splendour of its setting as does its Muslim sister, Subeibeh (Qal'at Namrud) across the valley. It is silently awaiting its exploration. Perhaps, as at Belvoir, the archaeologist's spade will prove Hunin to be much more than it appears?

* E. Strehlke (ed.), Tabula Ordinis Theutonici, Berlin, 1869, reprinted Toronto, 1975, no. 66.

** I. Shaked, "Margaliot Fortress", Excavations and Surveys in Israel 16, 1997 pp. 17–18.

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