During the Crusader period Nebi Samwil gained symbolic significance, because from here, after a three-year journey, the Crusader army had its first glimpse of Jerusalem (7 July 1099) . They called the hill Mons Gaudii [Mountain of Joy] and constructed a fortress there, to protect the northern approaches to Jerusalem from Muslim raids. Convoys of pilgrims also found shelter within its walls on their way to the Holy City. The church within the fortress was built in 1157 over the traditional tomb of the prophet Samuel.
The Crusader fortress was rectangular (100 x 67 m.) surrounded by walls and with a church at its center. The stones used to build the fortress were quarried on the top of the hill, creating 5 m.-high rock-cut cliffs on the northern and eastern sides of the fortress, upon which the walls were constructed. Strong terrace-walls were built on the southern and western sides, which artificially raised the base of the fortress. The walls were some 2 m. thick, built of large ashlars reinforced with cement; a large tower (7 x 6 m.) protected the southwestern corner, a smaller one the northwestern corner of the fortress. An additional large tower (6 x 6 m.) was built on the southern side.
Two gates in its western wall gave access to the fortress. They led directly into the courtyard in which the church stood. One gate, for everyday use, was approached via a ramp next to the wall; the second one was reached over a stone bridge, 28 m. long and 2.5 m. wide. The bridge was supported by a series of arches, ascending from north to south. Along the southwestern side of the fortress two long, underground vaults were built, the southern one 72 x 8 m. and along its inner, eastern side, a 46 x 6.4 m. vault. These vaults were part of the podium upon which the courtyard was built and relieved the pressure on the retaining walls of the fortress. The spaces thereby created were used for storage.
Of the large, elaborate Crusader church, which occupied most of the fortress' courtyard, only some architectural elements, such as capitals and marble columns, were found in the excavations. A mosque, preserving portions of the earlier structure, now stands on the central part of the Crusader church. An examination beneath the mosque revealed that the traditional tomb of the prophet Samuel is the crusader crypt, which was reached by descending stairs from the church.
North of the fortress compound a large, rock-cut camping area (47 x 37 m.) was prepared for use by the crusader army, and by groups of pilgrims. It had stables with rock-cut troughs in its eastern part, and a hostel for pilgrims was built on a bedrock terrace. This compound was protected in the east by a watchtower erected on a large square base hewn out of the bedrock.
The fortress was pillaged in 1187 by the Muslims under the command of Salah ed-Din (Saladin) and was later destroyed to its foundations, for fear of falling once more into Crusader hands. A collapse of hundreds of stones, in its southeastern corner, bears witness to the destruction.
In the ensuing centuries, Nebi Samwil, as the traditional tomb of the prophet Samuel, became a place of pilgrimage for Jews, until a mosque was builtthere in 1730. It was badly damaged in 1917, during a battle between British and Turkish forces. The mosque was restored after World War I and took on its present appearance.
Remains of all periods of settlement at Nebi Samwil have been preserved at the site. Particularly impressive are the remains of the Crusader fortifications, now exposed after removal of the debris that had covered it for centuries. Above the ancient remains stands the mosque with its high minaret, a landmark clearly visible from a considerable distance.
The excavations were directed by Y. Magen on behalf of the Archeological Staff in Judea and Samaria.