Acre Israel: Thousands of Years of History
Spending a weekend in Acre, the city that survived Napoleon, the Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire
By Maria Kurganova
Acre (or “Akko” in Arabic) is located in the North District of Israel, about twelve kilometers north from Haifa. Long known for its strategic location, the city has been invaded and resettled throughout its history (which officially started in 3500-3050 BC ), however a major part of the Old City stayed almost untouched.
Our trip to Acre began early Friday morning when we boarded the train from Tel-Aviv. The journey took us about 3 hours. As we got closer to the city, we could already see the towers of the Al-Jazzar Mosque – the pearl of Acre. In about 20 minutes we crossed from the modern part of the city and entered the Old City.
The contrast with the outside world was striking: we suddenly found ourselves in a typical Middle Eastern city of the 18th century.
The walls reinforced by Jazzar Pasha in 1799 on the foundation built by Crusaders even now looked impressive.
Like A Different Country
Having passed the main city square, we felt like we were not in the same country anymore.
We saw women in hijabs surrounded by three-five kids and always with a husband by their side; men were staring at my uncovered legs and arms, making me feel uncomfortable and out of my place.
The streets were smelly, noisy and chaotic. Following the map, we passed the entrance to the Mosque (I was not allowed inside with the clothing I was wearing) and slipped into one of the small streets.
Our guest house was in the port, so we had to go through the endless labyrinths of the Old City to get there. A few times we turned in wrong places and faced a dead-end or someone’s courtyard with drying clothes on the ropes, garbage bags on the ground and cats surrounding them. Not the best first impression, but we didn’t want to judge too fast.
Exploring the Old City
We had only two days for this trip so we rushed to get the museum pass (which saves some money) and started our exploration of the Old City. Luckily they don’t keep Shabbat here, and we could visit some places on Saturday as well. We saw all the major attractions but were especially impressed by the Crusaders citadel, and the Hamam.
The Crusader’s citadel was initially built by the Knights of Hospitaller and later reconstructed during the Ottomans rule.
It took us about an hour to go through the whole building with an audio guide. The Citadel was one of the most well-preserved historical sites I’d ever visited.
The video presentation, shown in the Hamam al-Basha, was even more picturesque. Several generations of bath attendants were telling stories about the local legend Jazzar Pasha, about Napoleon’s failure to conquer the city, and of course about their own family.
Climbing the Walls
Before the sunset, we climbed up the walls surrounding the Old City to have the best view of the sun setting into the sea and of the city. Now, in the silence and darkness, illuminated only by the street lights Acre looked charming. A romantic dinner in the famous seafood restaurant Uri Buri was the perfect final act.
This restaurant is so popular that we decided to book a table in advance, and we were right to do so as the place was packed. We were offered a trial option, which means telling the waiter what you like and dislike and getting suitable dishes one by one until you ask them to stop.
However, we skipped this offer as we already knew what we wanted. Our choice was St. Peter’s fish (the must-try), ceviche, sea bream, jackfish, and sorbet for dessert. Two hours later we could barely move so we went for a short walk along the port before going back to the guest house.
Unfortunately, the nightlife in Acre doesn’t have much to offer. As we were strolling the streets, we saw people eating right on the streets (cooked salted corn was in almost everyone’s hands), or smoking hookah. Our eyes caught sight of a long line: men, women and kids were waiting to get inside a motorboat to have a few rounds next to the shore.
We asked for the fastest one (what can be better after a heavy meal?). I must tell you it was the best fun we had that day!
Jumping on the waves, trying not to fall when the helmsman swayed the boat over and screaming out of fright and joy made me feel like a child. I’d have gone for another round if we didn’t have to stand in a line again.
We came back to the guest house. The owner was on the balcony, smoking hookah, drinking beer and watching TV. Tall, with long blond hair, and blue eyes. I was sure he was German, but he turned out to be an Arab. This house belonged to his family for many years.
Now, he was living there alone and renting out spare rooms to tourists trying to collect enough money to renovate this place.
The next morning, he took us to Baha’i gardens where the founder of Baha’i movement lived and where he was buried. Most of the park was closed for visitors, but we were able to enter the mansion.
It was nearly empty with some carpets on the walls and a small garden right in the middle of the house. It gave a peaceful feeling.
When we came back to the Old City, we went straight to the Turkish Bazaar to have lunch. We chose the place recommended by Tripadvisor with a Russian name “Kukushka” (the owners didn’t manage to explain me why they chose this name, they were not Russians).
The quality of food in this small café in the market surprised us: it was delicious and quite original. Falafel made of crab meat, fried shrimps, and grilled squids – those are worth trying.
Acre is a must-visit place in Israel. It has a long history worth knowing, amazing museums and fortress, as well as great food and a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Guest house: Nzar Khoury, Old City 11/83, Near Ha-Hagana St., Acre, Israel
Restaurant Uri Buri: Ha-Hagana St, Acre, Israel. Tel: +972-4-9552212
Bar Kukushka: Turkish Bazar, Old City, Acre, Israel
Maria Kurganova is a marketing specialist and blogger, originally from Moscow, Russia, but currently living in Tel-Aviv. She moved to Israel from Russia in 2014.