Akko (Acre): an ancient gateway to the middle east.
About 23km north of Haifa almost to the northernmost tip of Haifa bay is the city of Akko (आक्को) or Acre (आक्रे). It is connected on the Israel Railways and thats the most convenient way to travel. It is possible to see all of Akko in half-a-day as the old city is quite tiny indeed. I went there early in the morning and was back to Haifa by sunset.
Acre has a very old history. It was mentioned by the Egyptians (1500 BCE), Hebrews, Cannanites, and had a stormy history in pre-christian days. Alexander (Greeks) conquered this city, Persians used it as a gateway against Egyptians, while there were murky controls from Syrians, Israelis, Maccabees and the Romans over the town. Arabs captured the city in 638 CE and the Crusaders arrived in 1104 CE. This town was their chief port in Palestine until Saladin captured it. Crusaders re took the city after several battles and in 1229 placed it under the control of the Knights Hospitaller. It was the final stronghold of the Crusader state, and fell to the Mameluks in a bloody siege in 1291. The Ottomans held the city from 1517 CE after which it was in a state of decay. The Turkish rejuvenated the city in 18th century CE and held it against attacks from Napoleon. Jewish groups captured Akko after Israeli independence and most of the town’s Arab inhabitants fled the town.
Acre is a walled city. In 1750, Daher El-Omar, the ruler of Acre, utilized the remnants of the Crusader walls and built fortification around the port city. The walls were reinforced between 1775 and 1799 by Jezzar Pasha and survived Napoleon’s siege.
Jezzar Pasha Masjid:
he Mosque of Jezzar Pasha was built by Jezzar Pasha in 1781. The mosque is Caesarea Maritima: Jezzar Pasha and his successor Suleiman Pasha are both buried in a small graveyard adjacent to the mosque. The mosque is an excellent example of Ottoman architecture, which incorporated both Byzantine and Persian styles. Some of its fine features include the green dome and minaret, a green-domed sabil next to its steps, and a large courtyard. Tourists are required to pay an entrance fees and it is NOT worth spending money to go inside, because there isn’t much to see. Muslim believers can go inside and pray.
The current building which consists the citadel of Acre is an Ottoman fortification, built on the foundation of the Hospitallerian citadel. The citadel was part of the city’s defensive formation, reinforcing the northern wall. During the 20th century the citadel was used mainly as a prison and as the site for a gallows.
Under the citadel and prison of Acre, archeological excavations revealed a complex of halls, which was built and used by the Hospitallers Knights. This complex was a part of the Hospitallers’ citadel, which was combined in the northern wall of Acre.
During the second half of the 12th century the members of the Templar Order began building their quarter in the south-western part of Acre. A writer who lived in the city at the end of the 13th century describes their fortress as follows:
The Templar Fortress was the strongest one in the city and, in the main, abutted the sea line. Its entrance was protected by two strong towers with walls 28 feet thick. On either side of the towers two smaller towers were built and each tower was topped by a gilded lion.
The tunnels were discovered in 1994 and opened to the public in 1999. Even now, excavations and restoration work is being carried out as some parts of the tunnel are buried under the sea.
Walking through the tunnels brought a rush of mixed feelings. I felt like I was transported back in history and spearmen and archers would walk past me. The tunnels have a peculiar smell that weans the enthusiasm out of you, but, at the same time, i was quite excited to walk on this path.
A single ticket purchased at the Citadel will give access to various excavation sites around the town. Audio self-guided tapes are included in the price and are definitely recommended. Lots of the places were closed as restoration work was in progress. The modest visitor center runs a nice film about the history of Akko.
I was sitting in the theatre watching the film with my buddy. Since there were barely 10 people in the hall and we (youngsters) were tired (hahaha), so we put our feet on the seats. A guard promptly arrived and gave us a brief lecture about good manners. At the end of it my Israeli friend remarked – ‘Wow, an Israeli guy talking about politeness.’ That was funny (and embarrassing)!
The Turkish markets (shuk शुक्) inside narrow alleys of the old city were pretty busy. This part of Akko reminded me a lot about the old city of Jerusalem. But the people here looked quite different as they were mostly Israeli Arabs. Lunch was at a traditional Turkish restaurant outside the mosque and surprisingly they had several pita bread, rice, vegetables and lentil (दाल). It became a habit to gulp down 2-3 cups of mint tea while relaxing under the cool breeze.
It is prohibited to walk on the wall’s periphery but it is still possible to sneak in. The walls are thin and very tall but balancing a walk on them is bound to send a chill down your spine.