September 13th 2010
Akko (also called Acco or Acre), a city that dates back over 4,000 years, is located about 14 miles north of the city of Haifa. Today, the sleepy and picturesque city provides a great opportunity to encounter the many eras of the region’s history. It is one of the most toured cities in Israel and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Akko is home to archaeological and architectural sites of interest.
Akko is a famous ancient port city, dating back all the way to the Canaanite period as an important trade hub. It was the site of battles during the Hasmonean period and the home of a gymnasium built by Herod the Great. The town was revived during the Arab rule of Palestine and served as the region’s main port. During the Crusader period, the city brought large amounts of revenue to the coffers of the Crusaders. The city fell into ruin during the Ottoman period and was rejuvenated during the British Mandate, but the Jews abandoned the city as a result of the Arab Revolt of 1936–1939.
Remains of the Crusader city can be seen underneath modern Akko’s streets. The most important Crusader building is the refectory hall of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. This order was concerned with the welfare of pilgrims who came to the Holy Land. Their hall is a fine example of Crusader architecture and contains an ancient underground passage discovered and maintained by the order.
The Templar’s Tunnel was built in the late 12th century as a strategic underground route used by the Templar monastery, which moved to Akko after Jerusalem was conquered by Salah A-Din. The palace from which it originated was destroyed in 1921. The tunnel is 350 meters long and runs under most of the historical Pisani Quarter of the Old City. It was discovered by accident in 1994 by the owners of a house above it, who were unclogging a drain.
The Jezzar Pasha Mosque (also called the White Mosque) is the largest Israeli mosque outside of Jerusalem and a prime example of Ottoman architecture. It was built by the Ottoman governor, Jezzar Pasha, in 1799.
Akko also houses the largest British Mandate-era prison, recently repurposed into the Museum of the Underground Prisoners. Arabs who revolted against the British, and Jews who fought in the underground organizations of Hagana, Lehi, and Irgun, were incarcerated here. Criminals and illegal immigrants were also detained in this prison. In 1947, Etzel fighters broke into the prison and freed 41 of their members.
Visitors looking for something a bit more relaxing can take a boat ride around the walls of the ancient city or walk around the Old City walls. A stroll through the city’s market is a great way to absorb the sights and sounds of this charming port city.