by Yael Adar
According to the ancient Greeks, Hercules was once seriously wounded. He found the herbs to cure his wounds, in this port city. Greeks settled here in the third century BC and apparently, they believed that the word Akko derived from the Greek word for cure, Aka. This might explain why the name of this 4,000-year-old city appears in so many different ways. Officially, it is usually spelled as Acre (in English). However, in Hebrew, the city’s name is pronounced Akko.
Hercules may not have been a mortal but many humans of no-less notoriety are associated with this ancient city. King David – conquered it in the 10th century BC. Herod the Great and Emperor Augustus met here during the Byzantine era and in 1191 Richard Lion Heart and Philip Augustus captured it. Reputedly, Marco Polo sailed on his journey to the Orient from here.
Ahmad Pasha Al-Jazzar the notorious Turkish governor ruled the city from 1775-1804. His cruelty earned him the nickname Al Jazzar – which literally means "The Butcher". The mosque that bears his name may have played a role in a stunning defeat suffered by one of the world’s greatest military minds. In 1799, In spite of a long siege, Napoleon Bonaparte was unable to conquer Akko from Al-Jazzar. Underneath the Al-Jazzar mosque is a vast underground reservoir (which you can visit). It has been suggested that this water supply probably contributed to local residents’ ability to withstand the siege. It is worth visiting the mosque (one of the most important mosques in the country) and its beautiful courtyard.
In 1291 Khalil, al-Ashraf Salah ad-Din – the Mamluk King, conquered Akko and put an end to the Crusader’s rule in the Holy Land. A new religion saw its beginnings in the city, when the founder of the Bahai faith, the Baha' U’llah , was a political prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, for many years.
The city’s geography dictated its development, according to Raanan Kislev, a Conservation Architect with the Israel Antiquities Authority. While most cities develop in an outward fashion, Akko, which sits on a peninsula developed instead in layers. The two primary periods are from the Crusader and Ottoman eras. The Crusader city, was comprised of distinct quarters, Genoese, Pisan, Venician, etc. representative of the European merchant cities, and various ecclesiastical ordrers, such as the Hospitallers and Templars.
Interestingly, the fact that so much of the Ottoman period building was done right over Crusader foundations contributed greatly to their preservation. However, uncovering these well-preserved Crusader ruins is a long-term project that requires moving tons of debris.
Due to the city’s unique sheltered cove, the city’s port was once one of the most important in the region. Akko developed into an important trade route. The city rose from national to international prominence, twice. From 1191 to 1291 when it served as the capital of the Crusader kingdom, (during the second Crusade). In the 18th century, it was the principle city of northern Israel and became famous around the world due to Napoleon’s defeat.
Most people who have visited Akko are probably familiar with the Knights' Halls. But now, after much restoration, the city's primary attraction is the Hospitaller Castle, so while you are taking in the city's Gems, don't miss its main attraction. With such a longstanding history and so many colorful figures associated with this city, walking here one almost gets the sense of stepping back in time.