Why go to Acre?
Old Acre, or Akko, is a great day trip from Tel Aviv, just 1.5 hours by train to the North. Acre’s rich history has meant a long list of cultures playing an important role, including Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and Arabs. Old Acre is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This historic walled port city was continuously populated since the Phoenician period. Old Acre is unique since it consists of two separate levels - the Crusader city and the Ottoman city. The two levels are separated by hundreds of years in which Acre stayed in ruins, from the Mamelukes conquest in late 13th century until its revival in the Ottoman period (from 16th to early 20th century). Remains from the Crusader City date back to 12th and late 13th century. They have survived virtually intact both above and below today's street level, and paint an extraordinary picture of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The present city has emerged from the fortified Ottoman city in the 18th and 19th centuries, with a citadel, mosques, khans and baths.
Here is my list of must sees in Acre:
Underneath the Citadel and Acre Prison in the Old City of Acre, a spectacular complex of 11th and 12th century Crusader halls was uncovered. The fabulous complex was built by Knights Hospitaller and is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture in Israel. It is made up of six giant halls, a dungeon, a huge hall supported by eighteen massive pillars, and a smaller hall. In addition, there is a crypt, a dining hall and remains of a Gothic Church. Preservation of the fortress began in the 90s, alongside archaeological excavations and removal of thousands of tons of soil and sand. Conservation work was carried over 25 years and still continues. Currently, an area of about 5000 m2 is being excavated.
Visitors of the site see the remains of the first floor of Hospitaller headquarters. The upper floors were destroyed by invaders. The museum there is excellently designed, with a great audio guide and gorgeous visual effects.
Al-Jazzar Mosque is known in Arabic as Jama El-Basha, the Pasha's Mosque. This is Israel's largest mosque outside of Jerusalem and the largest one among the mosques built in Israel during the Turkish period. The mosque was built in 1781 on the ruins of a church that was, in its turn, built on the ruins of a mosque from the early Muslim era. The mosque is named after the ruler of Acre who lived at the end of the 18th century. The building dominates Acre's skyline to this very day. The Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East for four hundred years, from 1517 to 1917, but after a short golden age, the empire gradually declined.
"Treasures in the Walls" Museum
Acre's "Treasures in the Walls" Museum is located inside the north-eastern walls of Old Acre.
Hundreds of items displayed in the museum enable its visitors to get acquainted with traditional craftsmen who worked in the markets, the spectacular furniture of the city's well-to-do and the fabric of life in a city that was a unique meeting place of art and religion. The magical blend of the original stone halls and the hundreds of objects on display generates a unique and special experience.
Also, make sure to visit the inner courtyard on the walls of which canons once stood. The garden there now serves as a reception area for cultural evenings and private events.
At the end of the 12th century, the Templars built the Templar fortress, which was one of the strongest buildings in the city. They also built a 350-metre long tunnel, which leads from the fortress to the city port. It was only discovered in 1994 when some plumbing work was done in the area. The tunnel extends from the Templars fortress in the West to the city's port in the East. It crosses Pisan quarter and in the past, served as a strategic underground passageway that connected the palace to the port. The lower part of the tunnel is carved in natural stone. Its upper part is made of hewn stones covered with a semi-barrelled dome. The tunnel's western section was opened to the public in August 1999 and in 2007, the entire length of the tunnel was opened. The underground Templars Tunnel is great fun to walk through, as you hear the sea above and around you.
Visit the marina for some sea breezes and a wander past some of its old fishing boats. If you’re feeling particularly touristy, be tempted by a ride on one of the tour boats. At ten shekels a person, it’s a great little ride out into the deeper waters where you get a terrific view of the Old City walls.
Tips for travellers
Acre is a great addition to your Telaviv itinerary. Be warned that getting around Acre is complicated because signs are not very helpful for orientation. On the other hand, Old Acre is small and everything is in a walking distance. If you want to find everything easily, come prepared: with your own map with main attractions noted. Bring at least half a litre of water to drink. Put a couple of small snacks in your backpack. Food is also available in the town. The Old City locals are used to tourists, but they’re conservative people, mostly Muslim. Respect their space and wear modest clothing. Don’t snap your camera in people’s faces and keep reasonably quiet as you walk in their neighbourhood. Read more in my general Israel visiting tips – also applicable for Acre - clicking this link.
Getting to Acre
Acre is fairly easy to get to as it lies just to the north of Haifa and is on the main rail route from Tel Aviv, which I recommend. Trains run every 20 minutes at peak hours. Buses are just as frequent, though you may need to change at Carmel or Haifa, depending on where you are coming from. There are also service taxis from Haifa that are just as cheap as the bus, running from the Hadar neighbourhood or Herzl Street. A walk from the train station to the Old Acre is about half an hour on foot.
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- Published by Anita on June 03, 2017
Author: Anita Sāne
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