Akko, which is also known as Acre, has an ancient history, and it represents a milestone and historical landmark in the history of the Land of Israel. Indeed, the city of Akko is much more critical and important than other cities of Israel from the historical point of view. Akko history has been determined by many civilizations such as Byzantines, British, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans and Romans. Nowadays, Akko is home to a blend of cultures and religions since it hosts Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Old City of Akko is one of the most significant and ancient places in all of Israel, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Moreover, the city of Akko is one of the oldest ports in the world, as well as the city of Jaffo. Acre hosts part of the Bahai World Center, and the other part is in Haifa, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Old City Of Akko
The Old City of Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the archaeological remnants, which are above and below the street level and date back to the Crusader period. Additionally, Akko is one of the few Ottoman walled towns of Israel. In Akko, there are places such as baths, citadels, khans, and mosques in conserved conditions, built above the Crusader ruins. Akko had mainly been preserved after being almost wholly excavated for over ten years because of restorations and rebuildings through the Old City after UNESCO recognized it in 2001. Many new structures such as the new Visitors Center and the Enchanted Garden have been built across the Old City. A beautiful example of a restored building is the Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress, which was a defence structure during the Crusader period in the 11th century, and it includes the Templars Tunnel. The Templars Tunnel is an underground tunnel discovered in 1994 by the Templars when they reached the fortress in the western part of the city, coming from the port in the eastern area.
Inside the Old City, the Hammam Al-Basha was the Turkish bath where the rich and influential met to socialize. The sounds and light performance bring the past alive. The Old City of Akko is a lively place that breaths a new life every day. In the colourful Shuk (i.e. market), people trade as it happened for hundreds of years. The seafront is close to the Marina where there are many small fishing boats, and it is possible to visit Akko by boat taking a boat ride to see the city walls from the water. You can also have a walk along the seafront above the ancient walls. Around the Old City of Akko, many fish restaurants serve fresh fish and seafood fished daily by the local fishers. Immersed in medieval Crusader history, Akko is an evocative old town enclosed by high fortifications. It is one of the best places to visit in Israel because of the conservation of its stone architecture. Several historical tourist landmarks and activities are among its squiggle of narrow alleyways with caravanserais, fortifications, and monuments dating back to the Crusader period.
Main landmarks of Akko
Akko owns fantastic historic walls, which remained preserved in time and wrapped the old city, making it unique. The unique panoramic views are along the ancient defensive walls. The ancient ramparts were built in the 18th century at the behest of Ahmed el-Jazzar. Starting a walk from Weizmann Street, it is recommended to climb up onto the ramparts and proceed to the northeast corner dominated by the colossal tower Burj el-Kummander. This tower stands on the foundations of the Accursed Tower, where Richard the Lionheart took down the flag of the Duke of Austria in 1191. The Treasures in The Wall Museum is located in the southern area beside the walls, with an ethnographic collection of artefacts dating back to the early Zionist settlers’ period in that area. Going towards the sea, you will find the beautiful Burg Kurajim, i.e. Tower of the Vine, which is a bulwark that the Ottomans built to defend the city against sea attacks. The Burg Kurajim was erected above foundations dating back to the Crusader era.
The Ahmed Al-Jazzar Mosque
The Ahmed Al-Jazzar Mosque was constructed in 1781 in the manner of an Ottoman domed mosque with a courtyard that is preceded by a flight of steps with a Rococo-style kiosk on the right side. Around the arcaded courtyard, there are rooms that, in the old times, were the accommodations for Islamic scholars and pilgrims. On the east area of the arcaded gallery, some steps lead downstairs to an old cistern that was a water supply for the Akko’s inhabitants when the city was besieged and was built back in the Crusader period. A small domed building on the right side of the prayer-hall entrance contains Ahmed Al-Jazzar’s mausoleum and Suleiman Pasha’s successor. The mosque has a tall and slender minaret. It was built as a typical example of Turkish Rococo architecture; moreover, the mosque has a spacious interior with ornate blue, brown, and white decorations.
The The Citadel
Most of 18th-century Ahmed Al-Jazzar’s Citadel lies inside the old city walls and is one of Akko’s most important landmarks. The actual building, which dates back to the Ottoman period, is situated above an elder citadel structure built by the Crusaders. Throughout the British Mandate period, the citadel construction had the function of prison, and nowadays, it hosts the Museum of Underground Prisoners. This museum memorializes the Jewish combatants detained or executed by the British governments during the Mandate time, including a collection of old black and white photographs and original documents dating back to that period.
The Crusader City
The Crusader City historical site is located beneath Ahmed Al-Jazzar’s Citadel. The site includes gothic vaulted halls that were the Knights Hospitaller headquarters. The Crusader City comprehend six connected vaulted halls, a dungeon, the Knights Hall and the Dining Hall, which are all examples of Gothic architecture typical of the medieval Crusader period. After finishing the visit of the halls, it is a unique experience to explore their way through a narrow underground tunnel that ends up in a crypt.
The Khan al-Umdan
The Khan al-Umdan, i.e. Khan of the Columns, got this name because of the granite and porphyry columns Ahmed el-Jazzar brought from Caesarea to build this khan. Built on top of the Crusader’s Dominican monastery, the khan accommodated travelling merchants while trading in the city. The ground floor rooms, which are arranged around a large rectangular courtyard, were used for storage and shelters, while the upstairs area was employed as a sleeping quarter for the merchants. Above the north entrance, the clock tower is located to honour Sultan Abdul Hamid’s jubilee in 1906.
The Crusader Tunnel
The Crusader Tunnel is one of Akko’s most beautiful tourist attractions, and it was discovered in 1994 by a local plumber. The underground passage initially connected the harbour with a Templar palace, providing a secret getaway to the sea whether there was an attack. Nowadays, it stretches from HaHagana Street to the Khan al-Umdan and provides a captivating sight of the Crusader architecture. It is highly recommended to do a walkthrough, especially if you are intrigued by the medieval Crusader history of this marvellous ancient city.
The Church Of St. John
The Church Of St. John is the most impressive church of Akko, and it was built in 1737 in an old site where there was a 12th-century Crusader church devoted to St. Andrew. Inside the Church Of St. John, the style is plain, but the frontage is unusual and beautiful. The wonderful combination of the white walls in the church’s crisp and the bright red bell tower amid the stone walls of the seafront of Akko deserves a picture, especially in the late afternoon.
The Akko Harbour
The harbour of Akko is featured by colourful fishing boats and yachts. It was an important and busy harbour from the classical age up to the medieval era in ancient times. In the Crusader period, eight ships could occupy this harbour; nevertheless, this port is small and a quiet fishing location nowadays. From this port, you can enjoy a tourist boat trip heading to the Mediterranean and admire the stunning views of the Old City of Akko from the sea.
The Hammam al-Pasha Museum
This Turkish bath, i.e. hammam, was completely renewed and transformed into a beautiful museum that hosts an exhibition about the history and culture of the Turkish baths. This hammam was built in the 18th century with an Ottoman-period bathhouse architectural style, being employed as a Turkish bath until the 1940s. This museum makes it possible to learn about the hammam history and traditional practices thanks to dioramas located in the rooms and an audio guide. There are also explanations about the bathing process and the daily hamman culture.
The Old City Shuk
The Old City Shuk of Akko is the central marketplace of the town, and it is a vibrant bazaar where there are many fresh and cheap products such as spices, food and souvenirs. This shuk is the right place where you can buy an original gift to bring with you and a beautiful place to find textiles and bric-a-brac. It is fantastic to stroll through this place also to experience the ancient and middle easter atmosphere of the markets with local shoppers, smells and traditional streets.
The Bahje Baha’i Centre
The beautiful gardens of Bahji contain the shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, who was the founder of the Baha’i faith. In 1868, Bahá’u’lláh was exiled to Akko, and he lived the last part of his life in the red-roofed house located in the gardens. The more famous Baha’i Gardens are located in Haifa. Even though Akko’s Baha’i Gardens are much smaller and more modest, they are similarly flawlessly well-kept. These gardens are much less visited than Haifa’s ones; hence, they are a very peaceful place. You can visit the shrine by joining an organized tour that runs between 9 am and noon. Differently, visitors are welcome to walk through segments of the gardens independently.
The kibbutz of Lohamei HaGetaot was established in 1949 by both Polish and Lithuanian Jews who endured the fight against the Nazis during the Second World War. This kibbutz hosts a moving museum devoted to commemorating the Jewish resistance and the Holocaust. Displays of the history of Vilnius are located on the ground floor. Vilnius was the Jerusalem of Lithuania with a significant Jewish community from 1551 to 1940. Other documentation of the museum is relative to the early days of the socialist and Zionist movement dating back to the end of the 19th century. Some objects illustrate the daily life of Polish Jews through almost two thousand drawings and paintings made by concentration camp prisoners who also painted portraits of inmates.
History Of Akko
The history of Akko dates back to the Canaanite period, and this city was initially located in Tell el-Fukhtar, which is two kilometres east and close to the stadium. The excavations were performed by an international team of archaeologists starting from 1973 onwards. Archaeological remnants of a Canaanite settlement were unveiled underneath the Hellenistic and Persian occupation levels, and they date back to 3,000 BC.
The town was surmounted by Pharaohs Tuthmosis III and Ramses II, who understood the strategic value of this location. Akko was Persian from 532 BC to the Greek conquest in 332 BC. In 219 BC, it was seized by the Seleucids, the rulers of Syria, even though Akko kept its independence as a city-state. Herod the Great, who received Octavian, i.e. the future Emperor Augustus, later on, built a gymnasium. In AD 67, Vespasian benefited from Akko and Caesarea as bases for his campaign in the whole country.
Akko flourished during the Byzantine domination, and starting from the 7th century under the Umayyads, Akko became the port for the Umayyad capital of Damascus. Five years after their conquest of Jerusalem, The Crusaders conquered the town in 1104, renaming it St. Jean d’Acre, and making it the headquarters of St. John Knights. The Italian cities of Pisa, Genoa and Venice settled trading stations in the town, which became a busy and flourishing port town. In 1187, the Crusaders were forced to abandon the city that Saladin seized, and lately, the Crusaders reconquered Akko in 1191 at the hands of Richard Coeur de Lion. After the seizure of Jerusalem in 1187, Acre became the capital of the Crusader kingdom, with a population of almost 50,000 inhabitants. In 1219, St. Francis of Assisi established a convent after visiting the city. In 1228, Emperor Frederick II arrived during his Crusade, as well as Louis IX of France in 1250. And a little while later, there was a harsh conflict, almost becoming a civil war, between the Knights of St. John and the Templars. In 1290, the Crusaders massacred most Muslims; nevertheless, the Mameluke Sultan El-Ashraf Khalil seized the town in the following year, taking revenge. After 200 years, the Crusader kingdom ceased.
After the city’s destruction, Acre remained deserted for more than 200 years until its reconstruction by the hands of the Druze emir Fakhr ed-Din in the 17th century. Around 1750, Akko was expanded by Daher el-Amr, and this process was advanced by his murderer and successor Ahmed el-Jazzar, the “Butcher”, who was a native of Bosnia ruling as Pasha from 1775 to 1805. In 1799, with British support, Ahmed el-Jazzar endured a siege of the town at the hands of Napoleon. From 1833 to 1840, Akko was possessed by Ibrahim Pasha, who defeated the Turks with his Egyptian armies but was forced to withdraw by the European governments.
In the last part of the 19th century, Akko lost its greatness because of Beirut and Haifa. When British troops occupied the town seizing it from the Turks in 1918, the number of inhabitants was 8,000, mostly Arabs. In 1920 and newly during the Second World War, the British government used the Citadel of Akko as a prison for hidden Jewish fighters until the Israeli troops occupied the town on May 17th, 1948.