December 31st 2014
The Old City of Akko, sometimes spelled Acco or Acre, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, inrecognition of its universal, historical significance. An ancient, walled port city, Akko has been populated since Biblical times. Its location at the northern tip of the Haifa Bay overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
Akko’s Knights Hall, also known as the Citadel of Akko, is located in the northwestern section of the Old City. Its history stretches back to the Hellenist Period, 2,300 years ago. In each era, with each new conquering nation, the citadel served a different purpose. Most of the ruins that visitors see here today are from the Crusader period, approximately 900 years ago.
Knights Hall is a massive stone building, originally conceived as a Crusader-era fortification in order to protect the walled port city from attacks by sea. During the period of the British Mandate (1918-1948), it was converted for administrative uses. Until Israel won independence in 1948, the structure’s gruesome history included its use as a prison for those in the Jewish resistance movement and a place to hang condemned prisoners. After being captured from the British in 1948, the building served simultaneously as a museum dedicated to the memory of the executed Jewish resistance fighters and also as a hospital for mentally ill patients.
The complex includes multiple halls built of stone, with high, arched openings, a crypt (dungeon) and a refectorium (dining room). An extremely narrow tunnel leads from the dining room to the underground crypt – only one person can pass through the tunnel at a time. Tombstones from the Crusader period are on display in the crypt. Also visible on the site are the ruins of the church of St. John, built in the Gothic architectural style, characterized by lofty heights, very large windows and distinctive arches.
During the 1990s, structural decay led the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to finance an extensive excavation and restoration of the entire complex. During the excavation and renovation process, much work was done with the goal of making the site as welcoming as possible to tourists. Today, visitors enter the citadel from the city’s museum entrance. There is a small parking lot outside the museum and gardens to the east.