Acre, Israel City Story: Israel's Crusader Legacy Etched in Stone

The city of Acre (Akko) is one of the most ancient port cities in the Middle East. Located in northern Israel on the western Mediterranean coast, Acre is recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The city contains some of the oldest archaeological ruins in Israel and beneath the ground is a whole other universe of tunnels, remnants from the Crusader Period. In fact some of the most well preserved Crusader sites in the world can be found here. This ancient city has plenty of modern features as well with renowned restaurants, beaches, markets, and festivals. On your next trip to Israel make Acre one of your preferred destinations.  

the walls of the old city of acre

The History of Acre

Acre is one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world. Before the region even existed as a city the earliest signs of human occupation date all the way back to 3000 BCE. At this time, the city consisted of small Canaanite farming communities. The first written designation of Acre is from a 19th century BCE Egyptian document known as the Execration texts. The city was known across the ancient world, and has retained its popularity through Israel’s various historic periods of conquest. It is not mentioned in connection with the Jewish people until the Biblical chapter of Judges and Isaiah. The Israelites had conquered the area and distributed the land amongst the twelve tribes of Israel. Hellenism appeared with Alexander the Great in 332 BCE who later turned the city over to the Ptolemy Dynasty and renamed the city Ptolemais. 

old archeological archway in acre

Next came the Romans who used the city as a base of operations during the Jewish Revolt in 66 BCE. After that came the Persian conquest (614), then the Arabs (638), the Crusaders in the 12th century and the Mamluks. Ottoman Turks controlled Acre from the 16th-20th century which ended with the establishment of British Mandate Palestine in 1918. For all those periods Jews continuously inhabited Acre as a minority until Israel troops seized the city in the War of Independence. After that the city once again became a Jewish majority with a few remaining Arab families. Today Acre is one of the most diverse cities in Israel with substantial Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, and Baha’i populations. The city is a true representation of the high level of diversity that is a staple characteristic of Israel today. 

a street with stone buildings in the old city of acre

Top Sites to Visit in Acre

The city’s broad history under the rule of many nations has contributed to the multilayered aspect of the Old City. Acre is a very typical ancient city that follows a layered construction plan. The last society to conquer Israel built its structures on top of previous rulers’ sites. Therefore the Old City of Acre is located both above and below the surface level. In the layers below one can find fortifications from the Crusader period over which there are numerous Turkish style structures including citadels, mosques and ancient public baths. Just a few streets over from the Ottoman built walls of the Old City is the Or Torah Synagogue.

This Tunisian Jewish house of worship was erected in 1955. Among synagogue styles Or Torah is truly one of a kind, featuring mosaic-covered walls and floors as well as seven Torah arks. The entire synagogue is a visual depiction of Jewish history, both past and present. Its mosaics include scenes from the Bible and classic ancient Jewish symbols like the menorah. Inside the walls of the Old City is the Citadel of Acre, a large compound that served as fortifications for several of Israel’s conquerors dating all the way back to the Hellenistic period. The most extensive remains belong to the Crusader period. During this time the Citadel was known as the Knights Hospitaller and extended over an area of 8,300 square meters. 

the acre port with boats docked in front of the old city

During the Crusader period the notable Jewish scholar Nachmanides (Ramban) brought the study of Torah back to Acre. At the time Jewish learning was not a prominent pursuit. The Ramban made Acre his home until his death in 1270. Other than the iconic sites and Jewish personas, Acre is also home to a rich modern cultural life including some of the best food to be found in Israel. Uri Buri, a restaurant located right on the edge of the Mediterranean in the Old City is one of the best spots to sample the fruit de mer of Israel. Chef Uri Buri is famous for his eclectic personality and innovative dishes like his bass or trout casserole. 

the knights hospitaller as part of the citadel of acre

This introduction to the city of Acre just scratches the surface of experiences to be had. There are several resources available to make your trip as in depth as possible. Be sure to check out some of the local tours led by experts in Acre’s cultural scene that focus on food and archaeology. Some of the tours are even private, giving you the opportunity to gain a one on one learning experience. Acre is a paradise of history and culture, keeping its patrons engaged and awestruck at every step of the journey.   

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