Acre/Akko was conquered by Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), then by the Greeks, the Persians and the Syrian Seleucids. Herod the Great and Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) used Akko and Caesarea for their campaign. The town prospered in Byzantine times and Ommayad times, when it was the port for their capital in Damascus.
The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099 and Akko in 1104. They renamed it St Jean d'Acre and made it the head quarters of the Knights of St John. The Italian port cities established trading posts in Acre, and made it a flourishing port. After Jerusalem fell in 1187, Acre became the large capital of the Crusader kingdom. In 1219 St Francis of Assisi visited the town and established a nunnery. In 1228 Emperor Frederick II landed here during his Crusade, as did Louis IX of France in 1250. Soon afterwards there was a bitter civil war, between the two Christian orders, The Knights Hospitallers of St John and The Templars. In 1290, the Crusaders slaughtered large numbers of Muslims. When the Mameluke Sultan arrived in 1291, the Crusader kingdom ended.
Fortified walls around the Old City
Crusader knights' hall - the refectorium
Akko was not rebuilt until the Druze emirs took over in 1750. It was enlarged by the Bosnian Pasha Ahmed el-Jazzar who ruled 1775-1805. In 1799 he withstood a siege of the town by Napoleon, with British help. From 1833-40 Akko was held by Ibrahim Pasha who defeated the Turks with Egyptian forces but was compelled by the European powers to withdraw. In the later C19th, Akko lost its importance as a port to Beirut and then Haifa. British forces captured the town from the Turks in 1918 and used the citadel as a prison. Finally the town was saved by Israeli troops in May 1948.
Visit the City
With its caravanserais, fortifications and Crusader buildings packed in the narrow alleyways, history-lovers will be very happy. Akko's incredible surviving walls around the Old City are the town's most distinctive fortifications. They were built in their present form by Ahmed el-Jazzar in the C18th. Climb up onto the ramparts and walk along the walls. The northeast corner is dominated by the massive tower that stands on the foundations of Richard the Lionheart’s tower. Further south is the Treasures in the Wall Museum, which has a collection of artefacts from C19th Jewish settlers in the area. Along the sea-side wall, inspect the Ottoman Tower of the Vine, built to defend against sea attacks.
Akko harbour was an important port from the classical age until the medieval period. During the Crusader era, it could be occupied by up to 80 ships. That port has now silted up, and all that is left is a small tranquil fishing harbour. From here the tourist boats sail out to give excellent views of Akko Old City.
Fishing and tourist boats in the Marina
See the late C12th Hospitallers and Templars Fortress where visitors can wander through the strong stone rooms with vaulted ceilings. See the spectacular dining hall, dormitories and ancient latrines. In the large courtyard, note the stables, the well and the etched crusaders’ tombs.
In the underground Crusader Tunnel, the sea above is audible. The 350m passage originally connected the harbour with a Templar palace, providing a secret escape route to the sea during attacks.
Khan al-Umdan/of the Columns was named because of the granite and porphyry columns which Ahmed el-Jazzar brought from Caesarea. Built on the site of the Crusader's Dominican monastery, the khan provided travelling merchants with housing while trading in the city. Set around a large rectangular courtyard, the ground floor rooms were used for storage and stables, with the sleeping quarters upstairs. Over the north entrance is the clock tower commemorating a 1906 Sultan.
On the Crusader cathedral site, Ahmed el-Jazzar Mosque was built in 1781. The mosque has its tall slender minaret, a fine example of Turkish rococo architecture with a mammoth interior decorated in ornate blue, brown and white. A small plain domed building to the right of the prayer hall entrance which had the mausoleum of Ahmed el-Jazzar (d1804) and of his successor Sulieman Pasha. The arcaded courtyard has a small rococo-style kiosk and accommodation spaces for pilgrims and Islamic scholars. On the east side of the gallery, a cistern dating from the Crusader era ran a water supply for the population, whenever the town was under siege.
Akko's finest church, St John's Church, was built in 1737 and occupies the site of a C12th Crusader church dedicated to St Andrew. Note the juxtaposition of its white walls and red bell tower surrounded by the crumbling stone walls.
An C18th hammam/Turkish Bath now houses the Hammam al-Pasha Museum with exhibits on the history and culture of Turkish baths. This preserved hammam has colourful tiles walls enclosing the space where important men bathed and women held parties in a separate enclosure.
Underneath Ahmed el-Jazzar's citadel is a series of gothic vaulted halls, which were once head-quarters for the Crusader armies. See their Knights Hall and the Dining Hall, a series of narrow subterranean tunnels and a crypt. The grand bulk of Ahmed el-Jazzar's C18th citadel sits just inside the Old City walls.
covered with mosaics, inside and out
covered with mosaics, inside and out
Akko’s Old Town Souk/market place is in the centre of the Old City and is a vibrant bazaar full of fruit, spices, textiles and souvenirs. Eat the Arab pastries in the bakeries!
During the British Mandate, the Citadel was used as a prison; today it houses the Museum of Underground Prisoners. This museum commemorates the Jewish fighters who were imprisoned or executed here by the British authorities.
Lohamei Hageta'ot Kibbutz was founded in 1949 by Polish and Lithuanian Jews. Now is home to a moving museum dedicated to the Jewish resistance against the Nazis and the Holocaust. On the ground floor are displays illustrating the history of Jewish Vilnius until 1940. There is material on the early days of Jewish nationalism at the end of the C19th, the everyday life of Polish Jews and an exhibit of art works by concentration camp prisoners.
Just north of Akko, the lovely gardens of Bahje Baha'i Centre contain the shrine of Bahu Ullah, founder of Baha'i faith. He was exiled to Akko in 1868 and spent the later life in the red-roofed house in the gardens. Just like the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.
The World Heritage Committee inscribed The Old City of Acre on the World Heritage List in 2001. You will love this city, NaftaliTours