Acre or “Akko” is an ancient city in Israel which has been almost continuously inhabited since at least 3,000 BC, during the Early Bronze Age. Today, the Old City of Acre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a myriad of ruins representing the many civilisations that ruled the area over the centuries.
History of Acre
Allocated to the tribe of Asher under the Israelites, Acre would come under the rule of the Assyrians (9th century BC) and the Phoenicians (6th-4th centuries BC) before being conquered by Alexander the Great. It would later be ruled by the Egyptian Ptolemid Dynasty, Syria’s Seleucids and form part of the Hasmonean Kingdom, then being taken by the Romans in 63 BC. From 638 AD, Acre became an Arab city, part of the Caliphate of Cairo.
All of these cultures and civilisations left their mark on the Old City of Acre. The ruins of various fortifications and structures can still be seen there today. However, the overwhelming character of Acre is defined by two later periods, denoting the city’s time under the Crusaders and the Ottomans.
The Crusaders took Acre in 1104 and proceeded to build an impressive set of fortifications, much of which remain. This was a time of great development and prosperity, with the erection of many public buildings such as bathhouses, markets, shops and churches. However, from 1187, Acre fell to the Muslims and proceeded to change hands many more times including falling to the Crusaders yet again under Richard the Lion Heart in 1191.
From 1517, Acre – then in a poor state due to damage from several conflicts – came under Ottoman rule, although it was not until the 18th century that reconstruction began taking place. The Ottoman redevelopment of Acre was sympathetic to the Crusader buildings, with their remaining structures being used as a basis for new construction. At this time, Acre experienced yet another period of prosperity, with many new public buildings, including mosques and homes.
Acre is also famous for being the site of a failed siege by Napoleon in 1799 and being the location of a prison for political dissidents under the British Mandate.
Visitors to Acre can see its impressive fortifications, sites related to the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitallers, such as the Knights’ Halls, sites of the Bahá’í Faith, the old city walls and the many remaining public buildings, most of which originate from the Ottoman and Crusader periods. The Old City (Akko) takes a good day to explore (although an overnight stay is worth it if you’ve got the time) – look out for the excellent food on offer.
Getting to Acre
Acre is about 25km north of Haifa, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Buses 361 and 371 both run from Haifa to Acre. Trains also run between the two cities, taking about 30 minutes.
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