Acre Tourist Attractions
Situation and characteristicsFrom ancient times until the 19th century Akko (better known in English as Acre) was Palestine's leading port, and it has preserved an abundance of remains dating from the Middle Ages and the early modern period.
The densely populated Old City, with its mosques, caravanserais, fortifications, Crusader buildings, bazaar and old harbor, is in striking contrast to the modern city of Haifa, only 23km/14mi away. Akko has an iron and steel works and chemical, ceramic and metalworking industries.HistoryThe history of Akko goes back to the Canaanite period. It was originally situated on Tell el- Fukhtar (2km/1.25mi east, near the stadium), on which excavations were carried out from 1973 onwards by an international team of archaeologists. Under Hellenistic and Persian occupation levels were revealed remains of a Canaanite settlement which the most recent findings suggest may have been occupied as early as 3000 B.C. The town was conquered by Pharaohs Tuthmosis III and Ramesses II, who recognized the strategic importance of its site. The Phoenicians who had settled here were deported in 640 B.C. by Assurbanipal. From 532 B.C. to the Greek conquest in 332 B.C. Akko was Persian. In 261, while under the sway of the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II, it was renamed Ptolemais. In 219 it passed into the hands of the Seleucids, rulers of Syria, but was able to maintain its independence as a city-state. The Hasmoneans made two unsuccessful attempts to take Akko. In 30 B.C. Herod the Great received Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, here, and later built a gymnasium in the town. In A.D. 67 Vespasian used Akko, along with Caesarea, as a base for his campaign in Palestine. The town also prospered in Byzantine times and, from the seventh century, under the Omayyads, when it was the port for the Ommayad capital of Damascus. The Crusaders were unable to take the town until 1104, five years after their conquest of Jerusalem. They renamed it St Jean d'Acre and built a palace and the massive vaulted structure known as the Crypt of St John (Acre was the headquarters of the Knights of St John). The Italian cities of Genoa, Pisa and Venice established trading posts in the town, and it developed into a busy and flourishing port town. In 1187 the Crusaders were compelled to surrender the town to Saladin, but it was recovered in 1191 by Richard Coeur de Lion. After the loss of Jerusalem in 1187 Acre became capital of the Crusader kingdom, with a population estimated at 50,000. In 1219 St Francis of Assisi visited the town and established a nunnery. In 1228 the Emperor Frederick II landed here during his Crusade, as did Louis IX of France in 1250 after his unsuccessful campaign against Damietta. Soon afterwards there was a bitter conflict, almost amounting to civil war, between the two religious orders, the Knights Hospitallers of St John and the Templars. In 1290 the Crusaders slaughtered large numbers of Muslims. When the Mameluke Sultan El-Ashraf Khalil captured the town in the following year he took his revenge, and the Crusader kingdom came to a bloody end after an existence of just under 200 years. After the destruction of the town it remained uninhabited for over 200 years, until its rebuilding by the Druze emir Fakhr ed-Din in the 17th century. Around 1750 it was enlarged by Daher el-Amr, and this process was continued by his murderer and successor Ahmed el-Jazzar (the "Butcher"), a native of Bosnia, who ruled as Pasha from 1775 to 1805. In 1799, with British help, he withstood a siege of the town by Napoleon. From 1833 to 1840 Akko was held by Ibrahim Pasha, who defeated the Turks in Palestine with his Egyptian forces but was compelled by the European powers to withdraw. In the latter part of the 19th century Akko lost its importance as a port to Beirut and then Haifa. When British forces captured the town from the Turks in 1918 it had a population of 8,000, most of them Arabs. In 1920 and again during the Second World War the British authorities used the Citadel as a prison for Jewish underground fighters. The town was occupied by Israeli troops on May 17th 1948.
The most interesting part of Akko is the walled Old City with its Arab and Oriental atmosphere. Outside the massive town walls are extensive residential areas in plain and unpretentious style developed since the Israeli conquest. Ancient Akko (Tell el-Fukhtar) lies 2km/1.25mi east of the Old City. To the southeast of the Old City extends a long sandy beach (Argaman Beach), with a number of large hotels and restaurants.The sights of the Old City are described in the form of a walk round the town.
From the central bus station in Akko, Weizmann Street runs past the Cultural Center and the Town Hall to a breach in the town walls, which were given their present form by Ahmed el-Jazzar in the 18th century. From here we go up the ramp and walk along the walls to the Land Gate. At the northeast corner is a massive tower, the Burj el-Kummander, which defied Napoleon in 1799. It stands on the foundations of the "Accursed Tower", from which Richard Coeur de Lion hauled down the Duke of Austria's banner in 1191.Until the opening of a breach in the walls for Weizmann Street in 1910 the Land Gate was the only entrance to the town on the landward side.
Ahmed el-Jazzar Mosque
From the Land Gate in Akko, Saladin Street leads to the Ahmed el-Jazzar Mosque, the largest of the town's four mosques. Occupying the site of the Crusader cathedral, it was built by Ahmed el-Jazzar in 1781 on the model of the Ottoman domed mosques.The courtyard of the mosque is entered by a flight of steps, on the right of which is a small Rococo kiosk. The courtyard is rectangular, with arcaded halls round three sides. The rooms round the courtyard once provided accommodation for pilgrims and Islamic ecclesiastics. In the arcaded gallery on the east side are steps leading down to a cistern dating from the time of the Crusaders which provided a water supply for the population when the town was under siege.In front of the main entrance to the mosque is a fountain for ritual ablutions with a copper roof borne on elegant columns. A small plain domed building to the right of the entrance contains the sarcophagi of Ahmed el-Jazzar (d. 1804) and his successor Suleiman Pasha (d. 1819).The mosque itself, with its tall, slender minaret, is a fine example of Turkish Rococo architecture. The huge interior is decorated in blue, brown and white.
Beneath the citadel built by Ahmed el-Jazzar is the Crusader City, buildings of the Knights of St John. The site was excavated in the 1950s and 60s.
Opposite the Crusader city in Akko is the entrance to the Municipal Museum, housed in the old Pasha's Baths (Hammam el-Basha) which were built by Ahmed el-Jazzar in 1780 and remained in use until 1947. The numerous rooms, mostly quite small, house a number of permanent exhibitions on the history of the town and surrounding area - collections of archeological finds from Akko, Islamic art, costumes, weapons and other material, together with photographs illustrating more recent history.
Khan of the Franks
Turning right from the Municipal Museum in Akko in the direction of the old harbor, we pass through the bustling streets of the bazaar into the southern part of the Old City, with two large caravanserais (khans). The Khan el-Afranji (Khan of the Franks, i.e. of the Europeans), the town's oldest khan, was built by Fakhr ed-Din around 1600. Here there is a small Franciscan convent, occupying the site of the house of Poor Clares founded by St Francis in 1219, whose nuns disfigured their faces in order to avoid attracting the interest of the Arab conquerors.
Khan of the Columns
A little way south of the Khan of the Franks in Akko is the Khan el-Umdan ("Khan of the Columns"), so called because of the granite and porphyry columns which Ahmed el-Jazzar brought from Caesarea when building this khan on the site of the Crusaders' Dominican monastery. Over the north entrance is a clock-tower commemorating Sultan Abdul Hamid's jubilee in 1906.
From the wall beyond the sea wall in Akko a little street leads to the entrance to Ahmed el-Jazzar's Citadel (18th century), which was used during the British Mandate as a prison. A memorial room with a collection of photographs and documents commemorates the Jewish underground fighters who were imprisoned or executed here by the British authorities.
St George's Church
From the Khan esh-Shuna in Akko a street runs north to the Greek Orthodox church of St George, which is built on medieval foundations. There is a memorial tablet to Major Oldfield, a British officer killed during Napoleon's siege of Acre.
Tower of the Vine
Returning from the church of St George in Akko to the sea wall and following it northward, we come, at the northwest corner of the walls, to the Burj Kurajim (Tower of the Vine), a Turkish bulwark against attack from the sea built on foundations dating from the Crusader period.
Immediately east of the Khan el-Umdan in Akko is the harbor. A busy port in ancient times and the Middle Ages - sometimes occupied by as many as eighty ships in the time of the Crusaders - it is now silted up and is used only as a fishing harbor. Continuing west along a street in which are the youth hostel and the church of St John, we come to the lighthouse and the sea wall. The breach in the sea wall was the result of an earthquake in 1837. Going north along the sea wall and turning right at the Greek Catholic church of St Andrew, we come to the Maronite church (on left).
On the road from Akko to Nahariya, shortly before Regba, is the kibbutz of Lohamei Hageta'ot, founded in 1949 by survivors from Nazi concentration camps, with a richly stocked museum. In addition to a cultural center and a documentary collection named after the poet Beit Katznelson, murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, the building, which is of several storys, contains a collection of material and documents on the various concentration camps and on Jewish resistance to the Nazis in Poland and Lithuania. Every year on April 19th, the anniversary of the rising in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943, there are special exhibitions and lectures here.On the ground floor are displays illustrating the history of Vilnius, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania", and the town's Jewish community from 1551 to 1940. In addition to small wooden figurines there is material on the early days of the socialist and Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century and objects illustrating the everyday life of Polish Jews. From the entrance hall stairs lead down to two underground rooms. On the staircase are plans and Nazi insignia recalling the extermination camps of eastern Europe. In one of the rooms is a large plan of Treblinka, in the other a portrait of Janusz Korczak (1879-1942), doctor and teacher, and some two thousand drawings and paintings by prisoners, including portraits of concentration camp inmates. On the first floor of the museum are documents on anti-semitism under the Nazis, the ghettoes and the deportation of Jews, a plan of Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, pictures of the Terezín (Theresienstadt) camp and some thousand photographs of the Warsaw rising.
3km/2mi north of Akko, on the east side of the road to Nahariya, are the Persian Gardens of Bahji. In these beautifully laid out gardens is the shrine containing the remains of Baha Ullah ("Glory of God"; 1817-92), founder of the Bahai faith. He was exiled to Akko in 1868 and spent the last years of his life in the red-roofed house which is also in the gardens.
Map of Acre Attractions