The Crusaders of Appolonia
Apollonia National Park is a large park on the outskirts of Herzliya with archeological ruins, that includes a Crusader fortress. It is on a ridge overlooking a sandy beach and the blue Mediterranean Sea. With its paved and unpaved trails, this is a lovely, serene place for walking. If you are interested in medieval history, this site together with Acre (Acco) provide a useful picture regarding the Crusader period. It is also only a short driving distance from a Herzliya beach.
Apollonia was first inhabited by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BCE and its natural cove enabled these sea-faring people to maintain contact with the Greek world. From this time on Apollonia was continuously occupied up to the end of the Crusader period by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Muslims. The name Apollonia is a Greek name and means the city of the god Apollo. This name was given to it by the early Phoenicians and later by the Greeks. The Muslims called this place Arsuf, as did the early Phoenicians after a Phoenician deity. There was a Samaritan and perhaps Jewish community here during the Roman and Byzantine periods, and the ruins of a Samaritan synagogue can be seen.
The ruins you see around you are mainly Crusader, often built on top of Byzantine structures. We will therefore focus on its Crusader history.
Time: About 1¼ to 1½ hours for a circular walk.
Distance: 2¾ km for a circular walk.
Type of walk: There is circular trail on an asphalt-covered path from the entrance of the park to the fort and back suitable for a stroller and wheelchair. If you wish, you can add to this a short easy hike on a footpath, also by the cliff. All the trails are clearly marked on the brochure, which is also available in English. The observation points are covered to provide shade. The ruins are nicely marked and explained.
Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It is open Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 8.00 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and holiday eves 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. It closes 1 hour earlier in the winter. There is an admission fee. There are WCs by the park entrance. There is a shaded area with many picnic benches on the outer paved road. Their phone number is 09 995 0929. This is their website.
Directions: Enter “Apollonia” into Waze and click on “Apollonia State Park.”
Public transport: Enter “Apollonia National Park” into Moovit. There are a number of local buses from Herzliya and it is an 11 to 19-minute walk from the nearest bus stop to the park.
The fortress at the highest part of the city
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The Crusaders of Apollonia
Israel was conquered by the Crusaders in 1099 CE. Their first conquest was Acre (Acco) and then Jerusalem, and this enabled them to establish their Kingdom of Jerusalem. Two years later in 1101, King Baldwin I was able to conquer this Muslim city with the help of the Genoan fleet. The Crusaders strengthened and fortified a wall around the city on all sides except facing the sea and added a moat. Parts of this wall and its moat can be seen a short distance from the park entrance.
In the Battle of Hattin in 1187 the Crusader forces were defeated by the Kurdish leader Saladin and that year Apollonia was taken over by the Muslims, as were other Crusader strongholds, as the Crusaders no longer possessed an army. Their defeat was the impetus for a Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart of England and Phillip II of France that took place between 1189 to 1192. After a long and grueling siege, Acre fell to the Crusaders in 1191. Richard continued along the coast and was able to establish a new Crusader kingdom from Sidon to Gaza that included Apollonia. However, he was unable to retake Jerusalem. The best he could achieve before he went home was unrestricted passage for Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Apollonia functioned as the regional capital for this area. Fifty years after its conquest the Crusaders built a fortress on the highest and northern-most part of the city overlooking the port and these are the ruins you can see. It had 4 levels of protection - an outer wall with semicircular towers and a gate, a moat, a parallel 18-meter-high fortified inner wall and an inner keep or donjon. These can be identified as you can wander through the ruins.
However, there would arise a new power in the region, the Mamlukes. These were slave soldiers who rather that fight for their masters decided to take over Egypt and form their own ruling dynasty and empire. They were also determined to get rid of the Crusaders. The fortress at Apollonia had by this time been given to the Crusader order the Hospitallers to defend.
The Mamlukes launched a military campaign against the remaining Crusader fortresses in 1265, that included Apollonia. Under the leadership of the sultan Baibars, the Mamlukes besieged this fortress, filled the moat with logs, and after 40 days managed to breach its fortifications. The Crusaders were taken prisoners and forced to burn down the fortress so that the Christian kingdom could never again be reestablished. It was used as a military outpost for a while but then abandoned.
Crusaders will greet you in the fort
The ancient port beneath the castle
Places of nearby interest
Public beach. Close to the park in the direction of Herzliya is the Sidna Ali Mosque, named after a holy man and notable of the town of Asruf who was buried here in 1081. The mosque was built in the 14th century. Adjoining the mosque is a very nice sandy public beach. It has a large parking area, some portable WCs but no changing area, showers and a lifeguard. It is not a particularly large beach.