The Old City of Akko (Acre) illustrates the interactions between diverse cultures and the complexity of history. As a hub of international trade, this port city was once home to the Canaanites, Romans, Crusaders, Turks, and the British. Each left their mark. Traces of the Ottoman Empire and the British can be observed on the surface while earlier groups can be found beneath the city.
Even though we had visited this site before, we were happy to return. Our options of places to visit on a Saturday were limited. One of the shortcomings of taking a cruise is that you have to rely on the ship’s itinerary. In Israel, many tourist sites close early on Friday afternoon and are not open on Saturdays.
Akko was conquered by the Crusaders in 1104. For approximately 200 years the Crusaders maintained a thriving port and built up the city. In the late 12th century, the Templars and the Hospitallers built a magnificent compound to serve as their headquarters.
The Hospitallers were a monastic military order that were headquartered in the Land of Israel. These individuals were responsible for treating the sick.
The Templars were a monastic military order that guarded European pilgrims who were visiting holy places in the Holy Land.
The Mamluks conquered Akko at the end of the 13th century. The city remained abandoned until the middle of the 18th century. Thereafter, the Ottoman rulers chose to cover up the existing structures and built on top of the freshly laid soil. Some buildings were destroyed in the process.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman ruler’s palace was converted into the Central Prison of the British Mandate. It became the largest prison in Palestine. This prison incarcerated the fighters of the Jewish underground who fought against the British prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. During our last visit, we had stopped at the Underground Prisoners Museum. Since it was Shabbat, the museum was closed. I would highly recommend visiting Akko when the museum is open. It highlights the mindset of the Jewish resistance by showing the importance of Zionism, heroism, and sacrifice.
One of the first rooms we entered was the Prison Hall. In the stone walls were square holes. This showed where the prisoners’ chains were attached.
Many of the medieval travelers arriving at this port city were exhausted and needed medical assistance. The hospital (seen below) was where they received their treatment. Sugar vessels were found in a nearby room. The sugar was used to sweeten the medicine.
This open space was where the knights trained for combat at least three times a week.
All medieval structures included a communal latrine.
All of the residents ate their meals in the Magnificent Hall. There was a list of rules that governed their daily life. No one was allowed to leave the table until everyone had completed their meal. A violation of this rule would result in a punishment of Septaine
Segments of tombstones were on displayed. It was a reminder of the people who once inhabited this fortress.
Underground passageways peaked our interest.
An amazing double tunnel connected the fortress to the sea. It was easy to imagine the knights secretly traveling back and forth.
A modern pump kept water levels under control in the tunnels.
The threatening sky and the vigorous waves made us wonder if we would have to retreat inside.
The original Turkish Bazaar was built in the 18th century. After being renovated, it now hosts dozens of small shops. We walked into the Sousa Gallery and were graciously met by the owner of the boutique. She has been selling Druze embroidered purses and Israeli artwork for more than 17 years. She modeled a selection of colorful handmade bags.The stitching and the workmanship were topnotch.
For generations, the Mesika family has been making exquisite silver and copper handmade objects. One wall had lower priced machine made item while the other wall (pictured below) had handmade platters and objects. This unique Middle Eastern craftsmanship is becoming a lost art. The youngest generation of the Mesika family has shifted their attention to creating silver jewelry.
If you’re in Akko and are looking for an item “made in Israel,” I would recommend both of these shops.
Visiting Old City of Akko (Acre)
A visit to the Old City of Akko can also include stops at the el-Jazzar mosque, the Ramchal Synagogue (Moshe Chaim Luzzato), the Tunisian Djerba Synagogue (one of a kind synagogue with mosaics from Kibburz Eilon), the Okashi Art Museum, Treasures in the Walls Museum, and the Turkish bathhouses.
If you’re traveling to Israel, try to include a stop at the Old City of Akko (Acre)- A city beneath a city.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.