Safed is an important, but comparatively modern town of Palestine, eight miles north-west of the sea of Galilee, famous especially as a mediaeval seat of Jewish learning. The following account of it is taken from Murray's Hand--
book for Syria (page 418). Further details may be found in the Memoirs accompanying the Ordnance Survey (1:199, 248).
"Safed lies on an isolated peak, which crowns the southern brow of the mountain range. A deep glen sweeps round its northern and a western sides, and a shallower one, after skirtinng the easternside, falls into the former a few miles to the south. Beyond these, on the north-east, north, and west, are higher hills, but on the south the view is open. The old castle crowns the peak; the Jewish quarter of the town clings to tile western side, considerably below the summit, the rows of houses arranged like stairs. There are, besides, two Moslem quarters — one occupying the ridge to the south, and the other nestlng in in the valley to the east. The population may be estimated at about four thousand, of whom one third are Jews and a very few families Christians.
"The only attraction of Safed is the splendid view it commands. This is best seen from the summit of the castle. The latter is surrounded by a deep, dry ditch, within which was a wall. All is now a mass of ruins. Only a shattered fragment of one of the great round towers has survived the earthquake of 1837. Before that catastrophe it was not in the best repair, still, it afforded accommodation to the governor and his train; but then, in a few minutes, it was utterly ruined, and many of its inmates buried beneath the fallen towers.
"Safed is first mentioned in the Vulgate version of the book of Tobit [rather as Safat in the Jerusalem Talmud; perhaps also the Seph of Josephus (War, 2:25)]. Tradition has made it the site of Bethulia of the book of Judith, but without evidence. The castle seems to have been founded by the crusaders to guard their territory against the inroads of the Saracens. It was garrisoned by the Knights-Templars. Its defenses, both natural and artificial, were so strong that Saladin besieged it for five weeks before he was able to capture it. After lying in ruins for many years it was rebuilt by Benedict, bishop of Manseilles, in the year 1240. But it only remained twenty years in the hands of the Christians, for, being hard pressed by Sultan Bibars, the garrison capitulated and here murdered to a man, the chief being flayed alive by the barbarous Mohammedans. From that period till the past century it continued to be one of the bulwarks of Palestine.
"We know not when the Jews first settled in Satfed, or at what period they raised the town to the rank of a 'holy city.' There were no Jews in the place in then middle of the 12th century; when Benjamin of Tudela visited the country; and it was not, in fact, until four centuries later that the schools of Safed became celebrated. Then a printing-press was set up, synagogues were built, and the rabbis of Safed were acknowledged to be among the chief ornaments of Hebrew literature. The 16th century was their golden age in the 17th both learning and funds began to decline, and the earthquake of 1837 gave a deathblow to the Jewish cause. Printing-press, synagogues, schools, houses, and people were all involved in one common ruin."