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 this city 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 a few suggestions for places to visit ...
Always a good idea to start off at the Visitors Center where you can get information and buy tickets for museums and places of interest in Akko and Western Galilee. It is located 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.
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, the 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.
This public bathhouse was built by El-Jazzar Pasha, the governer of Akko, in 1795.
Today, it is a museum with a great light and sound presentation telling the story of daily life and events in Akko through several generations of bath attendants. It gives you the atmosphere of the bathhouse as it was until closing in 1950.
The film was recorded by Israeli actors so if you've got a good grasp of the Hebrew it is recommended 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.
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.
The Turkish Bazaar is just a few minutes walk from the Hammam El Pasha. This is the place to buy souvenirs and local arts and crafts. You'll need to bargain so it's preferable if you have an idea of prices first. But if not, a good guide is to start by offering half the price and working up from there.
The main market (see pictures above) runs along a narrow street in the center of the city. The locals buy here fresh produce - fish, fruit, vegetables, spices, nuts, dates and olives. There are also stalls that make pita bread and other baked goods or sweet oriental pastries which are yummy if you've got a sweet tooth - remember, you're on vacation! The prices here are reasonable but especially if you're a tourist, you should try to bargain the prices down a bit.
Akko is famous for its humus, so if you're a humus "connoisseur", one of the best places to eat it is El Said (pronounced Sa-eed) in the middle of the market - if you're there early, you'll recognize it by the queue of people outside!
There's a third market in the old city called Shuk Al-Abiad, known as the white market because it's built from white limestone.
If you continue along the road from the main market, you get to the fishing harbor. From there you can walk along the sea wall promenade until you get to the lighthouse.
By this time, you might be getting hungry and it's worth stopping at Uri Buri Fish and Seafood Restaurant a few minutes walk away. You can sit outside or next to one of the enormous windows overlooking Akko Port. A great way to finish your day!
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