Acre: A Historic Blend of Religions
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
I took advantage of the fact that I was invited to stay at the ‘Aquaduct Hotel’ in the Western Galilee this week to make a trip to ‘Acre’ also termed ‘Akko’ in Hebrew or ‘Ptolemais’ in the Hellenistic period. Acre is one of the most ancient cities in the world with archeological findings dating back to the early bronze age (~3,000 BCE) and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The continuous settlement has been attributed to its coastline location on a natural harbor. Walking through Acre allows you to experience the layers of history and religions that continue to live side by side to this day.
I would like to thank the Municipality of Acre, Head of Tourism Dept. & Projects in Acre for their guided tour of the Old City and ‘Ozrot Hagalil’ initiative for access to the ‘Treasures in the Wall’ museum.
Trip Itinerary Options
The Enchanted Garden
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Shop
The Hospitaller Fortress (Knights’ Hall) - Ottoman Fortress
Gabriel Mesika and Sons Original Crafts
The Ramchal Synagogue
The Templars Tunnel
The Treasures in the Wall Museum
The El Jazzar Walls
Ghattas – A Modern Turkish Bath House
Baha’i Gardens and Shrine
The Tour Operators’ House
The Enchanted Garden - Visitors’ Center - Ahava Dead Sea Labs. Shop
What a beautiful name, isn’t it? This garden belonged to the palace of rulers from the Ottoman period and currently provides welcome shade to all the tourists who are interested in visiting the Old City. If you have never visited Acre before, it should be your starting point. The visitors center is located within the garden grounds and is where you can receive maps in 12 languages and information to continue further on your own. The visitors’ center also screens a brief film giving you an overview of the history of the city. Guided tours are available by reservation with the visitors’ center in advance.
Address: Visitors’ Center, 1 Weizmann St., Acre
A recent addition to the garden is the new Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Shop, the only one of its kind in the north of Israel. The large shop is situated in an Ottoman building and offers the full array of cosmetic products based on the unique dead sea mineral composition. It is an opportunity to receive information about them and purchase a gift that is endemic to Israel.
The lower layers of the fortress are from the crusader period dating back to the 12-13th centuries, whereas the upper layers served the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can purchase an audio-tour at the visitors’ center that will take you through the intact crusader town, the Knights of St. John ceremonial halls, the ‘Refectorium’ or dining hall that served the crusader kings Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Philip Augustus, King of France, the crypt of St. John’s Church, the craftsmen streets and more. The city has even opened a few craftsmen stalls to recreate the atmosphere. The audio-tour also provides explanations on another site, the Turkish Bath ‘Hamam Al Basha’ that was closed during my visit.
The fortress during the Ottoman Empire served as a prison, which can be visited, but I have left that for another post.
The templars were a military-monastic order responsible for overseeing the safety of the pilgrims arriving in Israel. Following the initial victory of the first crusade, they settled in Jerusalem as guardians of the Temple. However, after Jerusalem fell to the Muslim ruler Salah Al Din in 1187, the headquarters of the crusader kingdom were transferred to Acre. The 350-meter tunnel served as a strategic underground passageway connecting the templar fortress in Acre to the port.
The market that I am referring to can’t be missed as it crosses the old city from north to south. It is the best place to get authentic souvenirs, spices and oriental sweets.
As I explained in my previous post on the Baha’i gardens in Haifa, the Baha’i gardens in Acre surround the home and shrine of the Prophet Bahá'u'lláh, the second founding prophet of the Baha’i faith. The lovely gardens are worth a short visit.
The Ramchal Synagogue
The “Ramchal” short for Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, was an Italian Rabbi and Kabbalist who lived in the 18th century in Padua. He published ~80 books overall, many of them related to the Kabbalah, but is most famous for his book of ethics “Mesilat Yesharim” (Path of the Just). In 1743 he moved to Acre due to his frustration with the prominent Rabbis in Europe that forbade him to teach Kabbalah. He died in Acre in 1746 in a plague at the age of 39. He established the synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Old Acre in a building given to him by the Ottoman ruler Dahar El Omar.
The ‘Treasures in the Wall Museum’ is within a few minutes’ walk north from ‘The Enchanted Garden’ and is located next to the ancient El Jazzar walls and cannons. The museum is located in an 18th century building termed ‘Burj al Commander’ or ‘The Commanders Tower’. situated is the loving product of two collectors, Michael Luria and Dan Hartman who focused on the communities living in the Land of Israel from the 18th century till the 1960’s. It shows every aspect of life from the workshops of various artisans and craftsmen through traditional clothing, home décor, currencies and even games played by the children during the first two decades of the State of Israel. Currently, the interchanging exhibition section is dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of the State of Israel.
The El Jazzar Walls
The northern walls were new walls, built by El Jazzar between 1800-1814 to refortify the city further to the destruction caused by the siege of Napoleon to the previous Dahar El Omar walls. The 30 meter thick walls and watchtowers were further fortified with cannons.
If you are intrigued by the ‘Hamam El Basha’ bathhouse and want to see what it’s like, you can try it here. I have called it a modern bath house because it is active, but it is also located in an ancient building dating back from the 12th century (crusader period). The bathhouse is privately owned by Emil and Carmila who worked with the Israel Antiquities Authority on restoration of the building. They then furnished it with original Turkish marble and now offer a full hamam treatment with special olive oil-based soap, hot and cold water, a jacuzzi, dry sauna, deep therapy massages and even light refreshments. The hamam can handle groups of up to 20 people so they also cater to small family occasions like henna and Shabbat Chatan parties. If you’re interested, don’t forget to bring a bathing suit.
The Tour Operators’ House
I just wanted to mention that there is a Ministry of Tourism office located 2-3 houses away from the ‘Ghattas Turkish Bath House’. If you need additional information or recommendations, you can step inside or call.
Gabriel Mesika & Sons – Original Crafts
As you walk out of the Hospitaller Fortress, you will see a handcraft art shop specializing in handmade copper, brass and silver plated articles and jewelry. The shop belongs to a Jewish family from Lybia who opened it in 1949 and have continued the traditional craftsmanship till today.
Acre offers a fine choice of Mediterranean and seafood restaurants. A short list includes: ‘Uri Buri’, ‘El Marsa’, ‘Doniana’, 'Dalal', 'Shota', ‘Hummus Said’, ‘Savida Seafood Bar’, ‘Kukushka Premium Snack Bar’, ‘Maadali Local Kitchen’, ‘Mercato’, ‘Abu Christo’, ‘Abu Sohil – Sohila’ and ‘Gallery Somaan’.
I stayed at the new ‘Aquaduct Hotel’, which is near the settlement of Regba, a 15 min drive from Acre. I’m linking to my post.
The locations in the Old City of Acre took a day, starting from 10:00-17:00. We visited the Baha’i gardens the following day on our way home.
This is what it looks like on the map:
I wrote about some of the locations in Acre. There are several more and I am looking forward to my next visit.
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