Akko (Acre) represents tumultuous the history of the Land of Israel possibly better than any other city in the country. Akko is a city that has been shaped by the Romans, Ottomans, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Byzantines, and British, and fittingly is today home to a brilliantly coexistent mixed population of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Old City of Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest ports in the world, and the city is also home to part of the Bahai World Center (the other part being in Haifa, just down the road), another UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are regular tours to Akko from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The Old City of Akko
Knight’s Halls in Akko by Flickr user 1yen
The Old City of Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the remains of the Crusader town both above and below street level and because the city is one of a very small number of Ottoman walled towns with citadels, mosques, khans and baths, which have been preserved. In Akko, these sites were built on top of the ruins of the Crusader structures.
Akko has been extensively excavated and conserved over the past ten years, with large scale renovations and rebuilding works taking place across the Old City following the UNESCO recognition which was received in 2001. As such, Akko is still not as developed for tourists as other ancient port cities such as Caesarea and Jaffa.
Fishing in Akko by Flickr user Magh
A major part of the development of Akko has been the creation of the new Visitors Center – a number of structures and buildings spread across the Old City, entered through the Enchanted Garden. Sites on the experience include the beautifully renovated Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress which played a major role in the defense of Akko during Crusader times in the 11th century, the Templars Tunnel which is an underground tunnel discovered in 1994 used by Templars to get from the port area in the east into the fortress in the western part of the city in times of battle. Also within the Old City is the Turkish Bath (Hammam Al Basha) where a sound and light performance tells the story of ‘the last bath attendant’. In Ottoman times, the bath house was the social place for the rich and influential, and the striking sound and light performance brings to life this unique setting.
A living, breathing, city
Image via Flickr user bachhmont
The Old City of Akko is very much a living, breathing place. The colorful shuk still trades as it has for hundreds of years with traders selling the whole spectrum of goods you might go to a shopping mall to purchase. As you reach the sea front, you’ll see Akko’s Marina where tens of small, working fishing boats are docked. It is possible to take boat rides in Akko for a small fee and see the walls of the city from the water. If you want to stay on dry ground, take a stroll along the sea front atop the ancient walls. Pass the iconic spot where local kids famously jump into the water, and watch fisherman trying to catch fish which are likely to end up on the table in one of the many fish restaurants found in and around the Old City.
Akko is a great place to visit and spend half a day. As well as the amazing history the city can boast, the Old City has a large number of incredibly popular Arabic style restaurants specializing in the fish caught by the local fishermen.
Tours to Akko leave three times a week from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, more details can be found here. There are also opportunities for private tours to Akko, and Northern Israel multi-day packages including the city.