Karnei Hittin National Park - an important battle and wonderful views

Karnei Hittin, close to Tiberias, is the remains of a very ancient volcanic crater that collapsed inwards leaving horns on its northern and southern sides. This is where the Crusaders were defeated by Saladin in the Battle of Hattin in June 1187. With few knights left after this defeat to defend the country, this was effectively the end of almost 90 years of Crusader rule over their Kingdom of Jerusalem. This circular hike walks up and down the sides and within the crater. There are wonderful views over Wadi Arbel and the top of the cliffs of Arbel.

There was a Canaanite fortress on the southern horn of Karnei Hittin, but it was replaced by a Jewish settlement after its destruction by Joshua. A suggestion is that this could be the site of Mei Merom mentioned in the Book of Joshua regarding the conquest of the northern Canaanite kingdoms (Joshua 11:7). Prior to 1948, there was an Arab village, Hittin, at the base of the hill. Many Christians believe that this was the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

THE HIKE

 

Time: About 1½ hours.

Type of hike: Circular.

Difficulty: This hike is minimally difficult as you will be climbing on rocks up and down the sides of the crater, but it is not at all dangerous.

Directions: Enter into Waze “Karnei Hittin” and click on “Karnei Hittin National Park.” It is on the right side of Route 65 coming from Tiberias. In theory, there may be a tunnel under the road if coming in the other direction, but I was unable to find it. You will therefore need to do a U-turn several kilometers along the road. Be careful when you turn off Route 65, and follow the Waze directions slowly and carefully at the beginning. If you make the wrong turning it's difficult to turn back.

Starting point: The starting point is slightly before the Waze destination provided. You will see on your right a gravel path with three signs, including the green sign of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, before some wooden steps. Park your car in the open space by this path.

Admission: This site is run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, but there is no ticket office, no admission charge and no brochure. However, there are helpful signs along the trail with explanations.

Battlefield from Karnei Hittim.jpeg

View of the battlefield from Karnei Hittim

View from top.jpeg

View of the Sea of Galilee, Wadi Arbel and the tops of the cliffs of Arbel from Karnei Hittim.

The Battle of Hattin

The Kurdish leader Saladin had been planning this battle for many years. The Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem had lasted for almost 90 years because of the inability of Muslim leaders to unite. However, by force, bribery and persuasion, Saladin was able to unite the Muslim princes, and in 1187 CE he assembled an army of 12,000 cavalry men and 30,000 volunteers to confront the Crusaders. The Crusaders had no option but to also gather their forces from throughout their kingdom and they assembled an army of 1,200 knights and 18,000 infantry. This was the largest Crusader force ever assembled. Nevertheless, it was heavily outnumbered. If defeated, their strongholds throughout the country would be sparsely protected.

 

The Crusader army assembled in Saffuriya with its Crusader fortress (now known as Zippori) in the Galilee close to Nazareth. Saladin’s strategy was to induce the Crusader forces to leave Saffuriya and advance into the open countryside. He therefore besieged the Crusader fortress in Tiberias on the eastern outskirts of the Christian kingdom where one of the wives of the Crusader leaders was living. Her husband Raymond of Tripoli urged the other leaders to remain in Saffuriya, but King Guy was persuaded that this would be cowardly and the Crusader forces left the city and advanced towards Tiberias. They had fallen into the trap that Saladin had prepared for them.

 

Saladin now brought most of his forces back from Tiberias. He guarded all the springs in the area, including the spring at Hittin, so that the Crusader army had no water. He began harassing the moving Crusader army, and blocked their path to water in Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. The Crusaders were unable to progress forwards and they were forced to pitch camp in an open defenseless area. The next day Saladin allowed the Crusader force to move and waited for the heat of the day before attacking. He set fire to the surrounding shrub so that the air was filled with smoke. At around noon he bombarded them with arrows, aiming particularly at the horses. Guy’s infantry either perished, fled or surrendered. The cavalry reached higher ground on the ruins of the fort on Karnei Hittin where they prepared their last stand. They attempted several cavalry charges from Karnei Hittin but were unable to break through the Muslim lines. Eventually their position was overrun.

 

Following this defeat, Jerusalem surrendered, as did most of the Crusader fortresses throughout the country as they had inadequate forces to defend them. Jerusalem, for example, had only two knights left.

 

The Christians did attempt a Third Crusade (1189-1192) under the leadership of Richard the Lionheart, but he was unable to capture Jerusalem or reestablish the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, he was able to capture Acre and Jaffa and reestablish a Christian state along the coast, which would last for 100 years.

 

For a short YouTube movie about the Battle of Hattin and some atmospherics click here:

Trail around Karnei Hittin. To follow your location on your smart phone, click on https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/share/RuPwHzPXiN. Now click on the black box with a cross at the top left of the map and it should change color to green. Unless you wish to there is no need to download the free application.

THE HIKE :

  • Go up the blue-marked path and steps. You will soon come to a monument erected by the Church of God.

 

  • The trail continues up a rocky path.  At the top of this path, you can turn onto a path on the left to view the location of the battle site. After this, return to the blue-marked trail to encircle the crater.

 

From the top of the crater you have wonderful views of Wadi Arbel, the top of the cliffs of Arbel, the Sea of Galilee, and in the distance on the other side of the Sea of Galilee the Golan. There is a sign to help you identify these landmarks.

 

  • You will pass a path on the left. If you found the ascent difficult you may wish to return on this path as it has a smooth descent without any climbing, although it does shorten the hike. After the descent, turn left on the jeep trail towards your car.

  • Otherwise continue on the blue-marked trail until you meet a green-marked trail on the left. On the map on the sign at the beginning of the hike and also on the map shown here, this is marked in red – but the color is in error. This path will take you down the side of the crater climbing on rocks. When you come to the jeep trail, turn left towards your car.

 

For a much longer one-way hike, it is possible to start on a path by the cowsheds at Kibbutz Lavi. This path goes by the fields of the kibbutz to Karnei Hittin.

NEARBY PLACES OF INTEREST:

 

The Tomb of Yethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is contained within the nearby main temple of the Druze. A blue-marked trail descends from Karnei Hittin to the temple. You will need to be modestly dressed to enter, including pants for males, otherwise you will be refused entry. Unless you have two cars, you will either need to walk back up to Karnei Hittin or you can try and hitch a ride. There is a good chance you will get a ride from the temple to route 65, but after that you will probably need to order a taxi on Gett.