Acre or Akko, an ancient city in the far north of Israel, is one of the oldest cities in the world with more than 5,000 years of existence and imprints of the greatest empires in history. Romans, Islamists, Moors, Crusaders, Ottomans, you name it: they were all here. And so were the great explorers like Marco Polo and rulers like Napolean. The city has survived it all and exists today as an exciting mix of archeology, culture and diversity from myriad beliefs and perspectives. Akko, as it is called in Arabic, has been attacked and relocated throughout its history (which officially began between 3500 and 3050 BC). The city saw some of the bloodiest religious wars on its banks. Much of the old town, however, remained untouched and is still as elusive as it was thousands of years ago, but it does not fail to bring travelers back to the days of the Knights and Templars through its narrow streets.Its existence is in a period as a typical Middle Eastern city caught in the 18th century.
The historic city wall consists of two quarters, the Crusader City and the Ottoman City. The two quarters are separated by a history that goes back thousands of years. The crusader town dates back to the 12th and late 13th centuries and has been preserved both above and below today’s street level. The city paints an extraordinary picture of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, today’s city is more of a mirror image of the Ottoman city, which peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries and is survived by a citadel, mosques, khans and hammams (baths).
The crusader city
Prepare to return to the days of the wars of religion between Christians and Muslims and walk through the Halls of Knights. This part of the city was not created until 1990 when the archaeological department excavated the Crusader city. The city came into being after the Crusaders invaded the Holy Land to conquer Jerusalem from the ‘Saracens’ or Muslim rulers. Soon after, they established the city of Akko, which became an important port and trading center. The city remained a thriving center of arts, trade and commerce that rivaled a fortress and thriving markets for several centuries until the Saracens – led by Sallah a Din – attacked it and sent the Crusader army back to Europe.
Today, with an audio guide and map, one can explore these ancient streets and the tunnel used by Crusaders to escape the Holy War in Akko. The romance and chivalry of this time, enclosed in the deep walls and tunnels, come to life in this unique multimedia experience. The fabulous complex, which consists of six huge halls, a dungeon, a huge hall supported by eighteen massive columns, and a smaller hall, is fascinating architecture. The old dining room (Hall of Columns) is the most impressive part of the complex. Another distinguishable piece of history in Akko is the Hospitaller Order, a military-monastic order that treated the sick in the Holy Land. After the Christian conquest of Jerusalem in the 11th century during the First Crusade, the hospitalists arrived in Akko. Together with the Templars, the hospitalists became a formidable force during the Holy Wars. After the fall of Akko in the 13thth In the 19th century, the hospitalier moved to Cyprus and acquired Rhodes. The island became the last Christian post in the east.
The Ottoman city
The signs of Ottoman influence become apparent as you approach the city. From afar you can see the towers of the Al Jazzar Mosque – the pearl of Acre. The city walls, built by Crusaders and later reinforced on the foundations by Jazzar Pasha in 1799, add to the charm. The Al-Jazzar Mosque is the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem. The mosque was built on the ruins of a church, which in turn was built on the ruins of another mosque from the early Muslim era.
Akko is famous as a walled city and its walls provide the first glimpse into the Ottoman line. The original walls were built in 950 by Ibn Tolon and have since been renovated several times by various rulers. The walls extend from the east, the main defense section, to the west, which opens towards the harbor and is called the levees. Not only do they offer great views, they also offer countless vantage points and perspectives.
Within the northeastern walls of Old Acre is the Treasures in the Walls des Acre, with hundreds of artifacts from the Ottoman era to introduce travelers to Acre, which existed as a potpourri of art and religion. The mystical mix of the ancient walls and ancient stories captured in hundreds of objects is a tell-tale account of the ancient world.
Experience the Turkish Hammams
And when you find yourself in an old Ottoman neighborhood, you should always have some time to pamper yourself in the traditional Turkish bath. The local hammams were a popular concept until the 1950s, when households had neither running water nor bathtubs. Visit the Ghattas Bath, the largest working hammam in Akko that has been meticulously renovated and returned to its original state for a luxurious and authentic taste of Turkish hospitality.
The cobbled streets and the vibrancy of the bazaars
The streets lead you to the old and new of Akko. When you exit the Templar Tunnel, follow the streets towards the city wall. You will pass some of Akko’s contemporary architecture, the Ramhal Synagogue (on a small side street), Khan al-Franj, the Merchants Inn and then the tower gate. You are near the Turkish Bazaar, a local initiative to restore and renovate the old 18th century bazaarth Century and give it the feeling of a new kind of arts and crafts place. In addition to souvenir shops, it houses the spice markets, cute little restaurants and cozy cafes.
Your search for the best foodie experience can end here
Food in itself could be a reason to visit Israel, and Akko is probably your best choice with the obvious amalgamation of Arabic, Turkish and Israeli tastes. And the beginning of this foodie journey has to be at Uri Buri restaurant, known for its seafood selection. Don’t be surprised if you hear praise for Chef Uri from a seafood lover. Some like me will say that Uri Buri is not a restaurant but a culture. All of the stories you hear or read about the restaurant are true, and the restaurant could be reason enough to keep Akko on your itinerary. So have your pick list ready with salmon sashimi, refreshed with wasabi sorbet, prawns and artichokes, swirled with buttery noodles with black rice, fresh fish or sea bass cooked in coconut milk and apple. If you want more security, the restaurant was featured in the documentary “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” available on Netflix.
And Uri Buri isn’t the only one – to look for the best food in Akko you have to ask yourself simple questions, such as where to get the best hummus (trip to Israel is incomplete without it). The answer to that could potentially spark a debate. An easy choice to avoid debate might be Humus Said, given the fresh, homemade ingredients and the unparalleled hospitality. Located in the Old City’s vibrant Arabian market, Humus has served possibly the best hummus in Israel for generations. The smooth, creamy texture of their hummus never lets your soul nourish.
And if you are looking for something to eat with a fantastic view, visit the Donianna, which towers over the Mediterranean with a view of the old city walls. The great collection of seafood and fresh catches as well as a skilfully prepared vegan cuisine, coupled with a wonderful view of the sunset over the old city walls and the harbor, should be reason enough to go here.
The Akko food scene would be incomplete without the mention of El-Masra. The location at the port of Akko overlooking the sea is in a converted house from the 13th century. A steel decor for ancient artifacts gives El-Masra a special atmosphere. And then the food, from a variety of fresh catches to prawns to fillets made with local catches, enviable choices on the meat menu to a variety of interesting desserts, makes El-Masra an experience to include on your itinerary . The list in Akko can get long, but as a wise traveler, never go to this city with your top tips and checkboxes to tick them off. Akko is a place where you can immerse yourself in the centuries-old history of wars, politics, beliefs and spirituality. Walk the old streets past tiny and unpretentious joints in the Middle East and the locals keep greeting you with big smiles and even bigger heaps of creamy hummus, hot and filling falafel, endless salads and the great variety of spices from the Middle East The bazaars, centuries-old art practices and unforgettable experiences are served in every restaurant, hot, spicy and always fresh on your plates. And when you’ve inhaled every appeal from Akko, wonder what part of your trip would be the freshest in your memory – history, cuisine, hospitality, art, or belief, and I’m sure it would be just as difficult for you To find an answer as it was for me.
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