If walls could talk, oh, the many tales Akko’s could tell. Boasting the likes of the Egyptians, Romans, the Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and even Napolean, the walled city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast allows visitors to step back in time and relish a millenia’s worth of imprints left on this charming city. A rich, maritime history, coupled with a romantic atmosphere, the old cliché of ‘good things come in small packages’ holds true for Akko.
Walk the Wall
The best way to explore Akko (Acre) is by first strolling along its ramparts. Begin on the city’s western edge and walk along the sea wall towards the old lighthouse on HaHaganah Street. From this vantage point, the sweeping views of the Mediterranean and rising Mount Carmel in nearby Haifa are breathtaking.
Once reaching Doniana Restaurant at the south side, take the steps down to Sala Ve Bazri Street, which leads to the 18th century Khan al-Umdan (the Inn of Columns) and its famous clock tower from 1906. Conveniently located near Akko’s port, camel caravans arrived at this inn from the backcountry, bringing with them grain and other goods for international trade. The rooms on the ground level of the courtyard sheltered animals and stored the stock, while the upper floors accomodated the travelling merchants.
Traverse the little alleys from the khan and head to Akko’s busy port. Fancy a harbour cruise? The double-decker Akko Queen offers a half-hour tour around the tip of Akko and provides another fantastic panorama of this ancient city.
The Land Wall Promenade at the city’s eastern edge is an impressive fortification, which Napolean even failed to breach. Facing the former moat, canons remain in place upon their stone platforms, and plaques along the wall recount the French general’s 53-day campaign to siege Akko in 1799.
At the north end of the wall, the Museum of Underground Prisoners documents a time when the 18th century Akko Citadel was a prison, which also held members of the Jewish resistance during the years of the British Mandate in the 1920s. Other musuem exhibits include a memorial to the nine executed Jewish resistance fighters and the mass excape in 1947. The founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’ullah, whose religious order created the famous gardens on Mout Carmel, also spent time here in the late 1800s.
Perfect for a Pasha
Named after the man who brought the city back to life during Ottoman rule in the 18th century, Al-Jazzar Mosque is easily recognizable by its green domes, towering mineret and Turkish flair. It is also the final resting place of Al-Jazzar himself, along with his successor, Süleyman, and adopted sons, whose sarcophogi are in the small, twin-domed building along side the mosque. Set amid the tranquil setting of the courtyard, the compact rooms, which line the vaulted colonnade of marble and limestone Roman columns, once housed madrasa students who attended classes on the teachings of Islam and the Arabic language.
A Templar’s Tale
Discovered by chance in 1994, when residents complained of a blocked sewer, the Templars’ Tunnel, which connected a palace with the city’s port, dates to the time when the knights of the Order began shaping their quarter in 12th century Akko. To experience this subterranean trek of 350 metres, where underground water continues to trickle down the narrow passageway, look for the entrance at the end of HaHaganah Street or at the Khan es-Shunan.
A Hammam to Remember
Tucked away in the heart of Akko, Hammam al-Pasha dates to the era of Al-Jazzar. After an experience at a Turkish hammam (bath), one can say that the Turks know how to pamper themselves. A 30-minute show, entitled “The Story of the Last Bath Attendant,“ also gives an inside look into how Akko’s inhabitants had congregated here to relax, socialize and enjoy the warm waters and steam rooms amid stunning architecure.
Hummus is one of the main staples of Middle Eastern food. Families pass down their recipes from one generation to another, each having its own unique touch and flavour. For a tasty bowl of hummus with meat or fava bean (fuul), head to Hummus Issa on busy Salaadin Street, which runs along the arches of the White Market (Shuq al-Abiad). Keep an eye open for the poster of a father and his young son stirring bowls of the creamy substance.
Akko is easy to reach while travelling around northern Israel. It’s a half-hour train ride along the coast from Haifa and 40 minutes by bus from Nazareth. Once arriving at either Akko’s bus or train station, it’s a quick taxi ride to the old city, costing approximately 12 NIS (New Israeli Shekel).