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Old city of Acre

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Old city of Acre

Acre.JPG

Basic Information

Location 32°55′40″N 35°04′54″E
Country Israel
City Acre

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Website http://www.akko.org.il/English/main/default.asp
Geographical Coordinates 32.92777,35.08166


General

Acre (Hebrew: עַכּוֹ‎‎, Akko; Arabic: عكّا‎, ʻAkkā), is a city in the Western Galilee region of northern Israel at the northern extremity of Haifa Bay. Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the country.

Historically, it was a strategic coastal link to the Levant. Acre is the holiest city of the Bahá'í Faith. In 2009, the population was 46,300. Acre is a mixed city, with 72 percent Jewish and 28 percent Arab. The mayor is Shimon Lankri, who was re-elected in 2011.

Etymology

The source of the name Akko is unknown. The Egyptians used it as long ago as the second millennium BC, but as it appears in the hieroglyphics as merely two consonants, its pronunciation is unknown.

In the Amarna letters, written in Akkadian, the letter "H" is used to signify the guttural Hebrew letters alef-heh-chet-ayin, and therefore it was possible to write the name of the city as if it were "Haca" or "Aca". Had the name not been preserved, we would not have been able to identify it with certainty with the name that appears in hieroglyphics. In Assyrian the name has been preserved with the spelling "AKK".

An ancient Hebrew legend tells that the sea flooded the world and when it reached the shore of Acre it stopped short, as is written in the Book of Job (38:11) “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” In the legend, the Hebrew words “Ad po” [Hitherto] become “Ad ko,” and, hence, Akko [Acre].

The city was renamed Ptolemais during the Hellenistic and later Roman-Byzantine period, but was restored to "Akka" following the Muslim conquest.

History and time period

Antiquity

Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the region. The name Aak, which appears on the tribute-lists of Thutmose III (c. 16th century BC), may be a reference to Acre. The Amarna letters also mention a place named Akka, as well as the Execration texts, that pre-date them. In the Hebrew Bible, (Judges 1:31), Akko is one of the places from which the Israelite's did not drive out the Canaanites. It is later described in the territory of the tribe of Asher and according to Josephus, was ruled by one of Solomon's provincial governors. Throughout Israelite rule, it was politically and culturally affiliated with Phoenicia. Around 725 BC, Akko joined Sidon and Tyre in a revolt against Shalmaneser V.

Greek, Judean and Roman periods

Greek historians refer to the city as Ake, meaning "cure." According to the Greek myth, Heracles found curative herbs here to heal his wounds. Josephus calls it Akre. The name was changed to Antiochia Ptolemais shortly after Alexander the Great's conquest, and then to Ptolemais, probably by Ptolemy Soter, after the partition of the kingdom of Alexander the Great. Strabo refers to the city as once a rendezvous for the Persians in their expeditions against Egypt. About 165 BC Judas Maccabeus defeated the Seleucids in several battles in Galilee, and drove them into Ptolemais. About 153 BC Alexander Balas, son of Antiochus Epiphanes, contesting the Seleucid crown with Demetrius, seized the city, which opened its gates to him. Demetrius offered many bribes to the Maccabees to obtain Jewish support against his rival, including the revenues of Ptolemais for the benefit of the Temple in Jerusalem, but it was in vain. Jonathan Maccabaeus threw in his lot with Alexander, and in 150 BC he was received by him with great honor in Ptolemais. Some years later, however, Tryphon, an officer of the Seleucids, who had grown suspicious of the Maccabees, enticed Jonathan into Ptolemais and there took him prisoner. The city was captured by Alexander Jannaeus, Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Tigranes II of Armenia. Here Herod built a gymnasium, and here the Jews met Petronius, sent to set up statues of the emperor in the Temple, and persuaded him to turn back. St Paul spent a day in Ptolemais (Acts 21:7). A Roman colonia was established at the city, Colonia Claudii Cæsaris. After the permanent division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, Akko was administered by the Eastern (later Byzantine) Empire.

Arab and Crusader periods

Following the defeat of the Byzantine army of Heraclius by the Muslim army of Khalid ibn al-Walid in the Battle of Yarmouk, and the capitulation of the Christian city of Jerusalem to the Caliph Umar, Acre came under the rule of the Rashidun Caliphate beginning in 638. The Arab conquest brought a revival to the town of Acre, and it served as the main port of Palestine through the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates that followed, and through Crusader rule into the 13th century.

During the 10th-century, the city was a part of Jund al-Urdunn ("Military District of Jordan"). Local Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi visited Acre during the Abbasid era in 985, describing it as a fortified coastal city with a large mosque. Fortifications had been built just previously by Ibn Tulun of Egypt, who annexed the city in the 870s, and provided relative safety for merchant ships arriving at the city's port. When Persian traveler Nasir Khusraw visited Acre in 1047, he noted that the large Friday mosque was built of marble, located in the center of the city and just south of it lay the "tomb of the Prophet Salih."

It was captured by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1104 in the First Crusade and the Crusaders also made the town their chief port in Palestine. Around 1170 it became the main port of the eastern Mediterranean, and the kingdom of Jerusalem was regarded in the west as enormously wealthy above all because of Acre. According to an English contemporary, it provided more for the Crusader crown than the total revenues of the king of England. It was taken once again 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 captured until July 1191 by Richard I of England, Philip II of France, Leopold V, Duke of Austria, the spearhead Swabian and German armies and the rest of the crusader's army. It then became the capital of the remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1192. In 1229 it was placed under the control of the Knights Hospitaller. The Crusaders called the city "Acre" or "Saint-Jean d'Acre" since they mistakenly identified it with the Philistine city of Ekron, in northern Philistia, now southern Israel.

It was the final stronghold of the Crusader state, and fell to the Mameluks of Egypt led by al-Ashraf Khalil in a bloody siege in 1291. In 1321 Ayyubid geographer Abu'l Fida wrote that Acre was "a beautiful city" but still in ruins following its capture by the Mameluks. Nonetheless, the "spacious" port was still in use and the city was full of artisans.

Ottoman period

The Ottomans under Sultan Selim I captured the city in 1517, after which it fell into almost total decay. English academic Henry Maundrell in 1697 found it a ruin, save for a khan (caravanserai) occupied by some French merchants, a mosque and a few poor cottages.

Towards the end of the 18th century it revived under the rule of Dhaher al-Omar, the local sheikh. His successor, Jezzar Pasha, governor of Damascus, improved and fortified it, but by heavy imposts secured for himself all the benefits derived from his improvements. About 1780 Jezzar peremptorily banished the French trading colony, in spite of protests from the French government, and refused to receive a consul.

In 1799 Napoleon, in pursuance of his scheme for raising a Syrian rebellion against Turkish domination, appeared before Acre, but after a siege of two months (March–May) was repulsed by the Turks, aided by Sir Sidney Smith and a force of British sailors. Having lost his siege cannons to Smith, Napoleon attempted to lay siege to the walled city defended by Ottoman troops on March 20, 1799, using only his infantry and small-caliber cannons, a strategy which failed, leading to his retreat two months later on May 21.

Jezzar was succeeded on his death by his son Suleiman Pasha, under whose milder rule the town advanced in prosperity till his death in 1819. After his death, Haim Farhi, who was his adviser, paid a huge sum in bribes to assure that Abdullah Pasha (son of Ali Pasha, the deputy of Suleiman Pasha), whom he had known from youth, will be appointed as ruler. Abdullah Pasha ruled Acre until 1831, when Ibrahim Pasha besieged and reduced the town and destroyed its buildings. During the Oriental Crisis of 1840 it was bombarded on November 4, 1840 by the allied British, Austrian and French squadrons, and in the following year restored to Turkish rule. It regained some of former prosperity after linking with Hejaz Railway by a branch line from Haifa in 1913. It was a sanjak centre (Sanjak of Acre) in Beyrut Eyalet until English occupation in 23 September 1918 during World War I.

British Mandate

At the beginning of the Mandate period, in 1922, Acre had about 6,500 residents: 4,883 of whom were Muslim, 1,344 Christian, 115 Baha’i, and 78 Jewish. The British Mandate government reconstructed Acre and its economic situation improved. The 1931 Mandate census counted 7,897 people in Acre. In 1946 Acre’s population numbered around 13,000.

During the pogrom of 1929, Arabs, led by As'ad Shukeiri, demolished the ancient synagogue in Acre’s old city. During the Arab revolt in 1936–1939, Acre’s Arab residents were very active against the British and the Jewish settlements in Western Galilee. This caused the Jews to leave Acre.

Acre’s fort was converted into a jail, where members of the Jewish underground were held during their struggle against the British, among them Zeev Jabotinski, Shlomo ben Yossef, and Dov Grunner. Grunner and ben Yossef were executed there. Other Jewish inmates were freed by members of the Irgun, who broke into the jail on May 4, 1947 and succeeded in releasing Jewish underground movement activists. Over 200 Arab inmates also escaped.

In the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Acre was designated part of a future Arab state. Before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War broke out, Acre’s Arabs attacked neighboring Jewish settlements and Jewish transportation. On March 18, 1948, Arabs from Acre killed Jewish employees of the electricity company who were repairing the damaged lines near the city.

During the 1948 War, Acre was besieged by Israeli forces. A typhoid fever outbreak occurred in Acre at this time. Egypt claimed that the Haganah used typhus as a biological weapon against the inhabitants, though no evidence was forwarded in favor of the claim. Brigadier Beveridge, chief of the British medical services, proclaimed at the time that "Nothing like that ever happened in Palestine". According to Ilan Pappe, investigation by Beveridge, Colonel Bonnet of the British army and delegates of the Red Cross concluded that the infection was caused by water-borne sources. Israel denies it has ever used biological weapons.

State of Israel

Acre was captured by Israel on May 17, 1948, displacing about three-quarters of the Arab population of the city (13,510 of 17,395). Throughout the 1950's many Jewish neighborhoods were established at the northern and eastern parts of the city, as it became a development town, designated to absorb numerous Jewish immigrants, largely Jews from Morocco. The old city of Akko remained largely Arab Muslim (including several Bedouin families), with Arab Christian neighborhood in close proximity. The city also attracted many Bahá'í worshipers, some of whom became permanent residents in the city, where the Bahá'í Mansion of Bahjí is located.

In the 1990's the city absorbed thousands of Jews, who immigrated from the Soviet Union and later from Russia and Ukraine. Within several years, however, the population balance between Jews and Arabs shifted backwards, as northern neighborhoods were abandoned by many of its Jewish residents in favor of new housing projects in nearby Nahariya, while many Muslim Arabs moved in (largely coming from nearby Arab villages). Nevertheless, the city still has a clear Jewish majority (72 percent).

Ethnic tensions erupted in the city on October 8, 2008 after an Arab citizen drove through a predominantly Jewish neighborhood during Yom Kippur, leading to five days of violence.

In 2009, the population of Acre reached 46,300. The current mayor Shimon Lankri was re-elected in 2011.

Special discoveries

Acre's Old City has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Since the 1990's, large-scale archaeological excavations have been undertaken and efforts are being made to preserve ancient sites. In 2009, renovations were planned for Khan al-Omadan, the Inn of the Columns", the largest of several Ottoman inns still standing in Acre. It was built near the port at the end of the 18th century by Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar. Merchants who arrived at the port would unload their wares on the first floor and sleep in lodgings on the second floor. In 1906, a clock-tower was added over the main entrance marking the 25th anniversary of the reign of the Turkish sultan, Abdul Hamid II.


City walls

In 1750, Daher El-Omar, the ruler of Acre, utilized the remnants of the Crusader walls as a foundation for his walls. Two gates were set in the wall, the "land gate" in the eastern wall, and the "sea gate" in the southern wall. The walls were reinforced between 1775 and 1799 by Jezzar Pasha and survived Napoleon's siege. The wall was thin: its height was 10 to 13 meters (33 to 43 feet) and its thickness only one meter (3 ft). A heavy land defense wall was built north and east to the city in 1800–1814 by Jezzar Pasha and his Jewish adviser Haim Farhi. It consists of a modern counter artillery fortification which includes a thick defensive wall, a dry moat, cannon outposts and three burges (large defensive towers). Since then, no major modifications have taken place. The sea wall, which remains mostly complete, is the original El-Omar's wall that was reinforced by Jezzar Pasha. In 1910 two additional gates were set in the walls, one in the northern wall and one in the north-western corner of the city. In 1912 the Acre lighthouse was built on the south-western corner of the walls.

Jezzar Pasha Mosque

The Mosque of Jezzar Pasha was built in 1781. Jezzar Pasha and his successor Suleiman Pasha, are both buried in a small graveyard adjacent to the mosque. In a shrine on the second level of the mosque, a single hair from the prophet Mohammed's beard is kept and shown on special ceremonial occasions.

Citadel of Acre

The current building which constitutes the citadel of Acre is an Ottoman fortification, built on the foundation of the Hospitallerian citadel. The citadel was part of the city's defensive formation, reinforcing the northern wall. During the 20th century the citadel was used mainly as a prison and as the site for a gallows. During the British mandate period, activists of Jewish Zionist resistance movements were held prisoner there, and some executed.

Hamam al-Basha

Built in 1795 by Jezzar Pasha, Acre's hammam has a series of hot rooms and a hexagonal steam room with a marble fountain. It was used by the Irgun as a bridge to break into the citadel's prison. The bathhouse kept functioning until 1950.

Knights' Halls

Under the citadel and prison of Acre, archaeological excavations revealed a complex of halls, which was built and used by the Hospitallers Knights. This complex was a part of the Hospitallers' citadel, which was combined in the northern wall of Acre. The complex includes six semi-joined halls, one recently excavated large hall, a dungeon, a dining room and remains of an ancient Gothic church. Medieval European remains include the Church of Saint George and adjacent houses at the Genovese Square (called Kikar ha-Genovezim or Kikar Genoa in Hebrew). There were also residential quarters and marketplaces run by merchants from Pisa and Amalfi in Crusader and medieval Acre.

Bahá'í holy places

Bahai shrine in Acre, Bahji mansion There are many Bahá'í holy places in and around Acre. They originate from Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in the Citadel during Ottoman Rule. The final years of Bahá'u'lláh's life were spent in the Mansion of Bahjí, just outside Acre, even though he was still formally a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. Bahá'u'lláh died on May 29, 1892 in Bahjí, and his shrine is the most holy place for Bahá'ís — their Qiblih, the location they face when saying their daily prayers. It contains the remains of Bahá'u'lláh and is near the spot where he died in the Mansion of Bahjí. Other Bahá'í sites in Acre are the House of `Abbúd (where Bahá'u'lláh and his family resided) as well as the House of `Abdu'lláh Páshá (where later 'Abdu'l-Bahá resided with his family), and the Garden of Ridván where he spent the end of his life. In 2008, the Bahai holy places in Acre and Haifa were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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