The Old City of Akko (Acre) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In recent years, much work has been done to preserve and excavate historical sites and there’s plenty to see.
Once a strategically important port, it seems that every nation or religious movement has tried to conquer Akko at one time or another. During the last 5,000 years, it has been ruled by the Canaanites – the Greeks – the Romans – the Byzantines – the Crusaders – the Mameluks (whatever happened to them!) – the Turks – the British… and, since 1948, it became part of the State of Israel. Even Napoleon brought his troops here in 1799 but was forced to retreat after a two-month siege on the city.
There are many interesting things to see in a small area and you can get everywhere on foot. Here are my suggestions for places to visit…
It’s a good idea to start off at the Visitors Centre where you can get information and buy tickets for museums
and places of interest in Akko and Western Galilee. It is situated near the entrance to the old city in the Enchanted Garden, which was once part of the gardens of the Citadel. It’s a pleasant, shady spot to sit in the heat of the summer. While you’re resting, you can try to imagine that here, Napoleon’s troops once battled with the defenders of the city.
The Citadel of Akko and the Knights’ Halls
In 1229, Akko was under the rule of the Hospitaller Knights who built a fortress here. The Citadel was built on its foundations during the Ottoman period by the ruler of the time, El-Jezzar Pasha.
During the British Mandate it was used as a prison, and many Jewish resistance fighters were imprisoned here. In 1947, the Jewish Irgun broke into the prison and released the prisoners. It is now a museum and a memorial to the resistance fighters who were executed on the gallows.
Under the Citadel, excavations uncovered a complex of nine long, narrow halls known as the The Knights’ Halls which were once part of the Hospitallers’ Fortress. The guided tour is very interesting and highly recommended.
If you like art, this art gallery is worth a visit. It houses the works of Avshalom Okashi, a well-known Israeli artist who died in Akko in 1980, as well as a temporary exhibition of Israeli art. The museum is situated next to the Knight’s Halls in a building from the Ottoman period which once served as Okashi’s workshop.
Hammam El Basha
(Turkish Bath of the Pasha)
This public bathhouse was built by El-Jazzar Pasha, the governer of Akko, in 1795. Today, it’s a museum – I loved the light and sound presentation which tells the story of daily life and events in Akko through several generations of bath attendants. It really gives you the atmosphere of the bathhouse as it was until it closed in 1950. The film was recorded by Israeli actors so if you’ve got a good grasp of the language, I would recommend you listen to it in Hebrew. Otherwise, you can hear a translation of the script in a choice of languages – including English – on the headsets.
The Templar’s Tunnel
At the end of the 12th century, the Templars built their quarter in the south-western part of the city. Their job was to meet and take care of the pilgrims who came by sea to visit the Christian holy sites. The Templar fortress was the strongest building in the city and the walls of the two towers that guarded the entrance were 8.5 metres (28 feet) thick. A 350-metre long tunnel leads from the fortress to the city port. It was discovered in 1994 when some plumbing work was done in the area and has now been excavated and is open to the public.