Acre (Akko): The city is one of the oldest and most important coastal cities in the Holy Land, with over 4000 years of history.
The Amarna letters (c, 1,350 BCE) mention a place named Akka. In the Bible, (Judges 1:31 – P-373), Akko is one of the places from which the Israelites did not drive out the Canaanites. It was in the territory of the tribe of Asher. Throughout the period of Israelite rule, it was politically affiliated with Phoenicia rather than the Philistines.
During the Greek and Roman occupation, Josephus called it Akre. The name was changed to Antiochia Ptolemais shortly after Alexander the Great’s conquest, and then to Ptolemais after the partition of the kingdom of Alexander the Great. (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 12:8 P-394)
In 638 the Holy Land was conquered by the Muslims and Acre remained under Islamic control until it was captured by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1104 in the First Crusade. The Crusaders made the town their chief port in Palestine. It was retaken by Saladin in 1187 and unexpectedly besieged by Guy of Lusignan reinforced by Pisan naval and ground forces at first, in August 1189. But it was not recaptured until July 1191 by Richard I of England, Philip of France in the 3rd Crusade.
When the Crusaders invaded the Holy Land for the second time in the 3rd Crusade, they made Acre their capital of the Kingdome of Jerusalem in 1192 I/O Jerusalem for they were unable to reconquer Jerusalem from the Saracens. Finally, after about 200 years of Crusader occupation of the Holy Land, they were defeated, the city was destroyed. For nearly 500 years Acre lay in ruins. Only in the late 18th century Acre was rebuilt and became a center of an Ottoman province.
The Ottomans under Sultan Selim I captured the city in 1517 and left it for almost total decay.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the city was revived under the rule of Dhaher al-Omar, a local sheikh. His successor, Jazzar Pasha, governor of Damascus, improved and fortified it.
Around 1780 Jazzar banished the French trading colony, in spite of the protests from the French government, and refused to receive a consul.
The massive walls and moats, built by El-Jazzar at the advice of his Jewish chancellor Farchi, still surround the old city with its cannons, which are two centuries old.
The Ottoman governor of Acre, nicknamed, El-Jazzar (the butcher), is credited with fortifying the city in 1799 and preventing its takeover by Napoleon’s army.
In 1799 Napoleon, following his scheme for raising a Syrian rebellion against Turkish domination, succeeded to conquer vast areas of the Holy Land finally facing Acre. After a siege of two months (March–May), he was repulsed by the Turks, aided by Sir Sidney Smith and a force of British sailors who destroyed his siege cannons.
During the British occupation, the citadel of Acre was used by the British as a prison and as a location for a gallows. Many political prisoners, mainly Jewish underground movement activists were jailed in the citadel-prison of Acre.
On May 4, 1947, the Irgun broke into the Acre citadel-prison in order to release Jewish activists.
Today the most impressive sites in the old city of Acre are the Hospitaller Knights’ Halls: The Crusader quarters, Hospital, Open Court, Refectory, Dungeon, Tunnels and the crypts of a Gothic Church that were abandoned when the Crusaders abandoned the city, later to be destroyed and covered by dirt. The excavations of the (now underground) Crusader city began in the 1950s and is continuing till date. The area open to visitors today are the vaulted halls where the Crusaders actually lived, and a section of the escape tunnels which led outside of the city. The complex also includes Turkish baths from El-Jazzar’s time, not far from the entrance to the mosque of El-Jazzar, built on the remains of a Crusader monastery and huge cistern.
Another important site in Acre is the Baha’i gardens just outside the Old City. The Holy Land is the world’s center of Baha’i faith, since the founder of the religion, Bahaullah, was sent to Acre by the Ottoman authorities, died in Acre in 1892 and was buried there.
The Bahaullah was imprisoned in the citadel of Acre. The Baha’i shrine is surrounded by beautiful gardens.