Pizani harbour walls and St. John's church in Acre, israel
Gal, from Eschar, Israel (wiki: Almog) Public domain
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Acre (also known as Akko, Acco, Akka, Tell el-Fukhar, Ake, Antiochenes, Ptolemais) is located in Northern Israel in the region of Western Galilee. The first mentioning of the city of Acre relates to 3500 BC which make this ancient settlement one of the oldest cities in the world. Few other cities, namely Damascus (Syria), Jericho (West Bank of the Palestinian territories), Byblos (Lebanon) and Sidon (Lebanon), can claim older times of continuous habitation. Not a surprise, Acre is very rich in history.
There are two popular explanation of the name of the city. According to the first, at the time of Enosh (who is according to the bible was the first sone of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve - Luke 3:38, Genesis 4:25) when during the flood waters approached the city, God said 'Ahd koh!' (meaning 'until here' in Hebrew) which later become Ahko/Akka. The second version related to the origins of the city's name links it to Greek legend about Hercules who found the herbs in the area of Akko necessary to take care of his wounds when he was injured. In Greek, word 'Aka' means 'healing' which was used to name the place where the event took place.
First a settlement and after a trade center and strategic military fortification, Ache played an important role in political developments of the whole region where it was one of the major centers. The Old Testament suggests that Acre was not part of Israel until it was conquered by David (the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel) which allegedly took place somewhere between 1003–990 BC. In 332 BC Acre was conquered by Alexander the Great as part of the kingdom of Judah and Persia. After the fall of Macedonian Empire, Acre was conquered and reconquered many times until it became subordinate to Roman Empire. When the latter was divided in 393 AD, the city was ruled by the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire. Beginning from 638 AD, Acre came under the rule of the Arab caliphate (after the city of Jerusalem capitulated to the Muslim army of Khalid ibn al-Walid in the Battle of Yarmouk).
The High and Late Middle Ages brought many wars to Akko. Crusaders (1104 - First Crusade, 1189–1191 - Third Crusade), Mamelukes (1291), Ottomans (1517) all fought over the strategically located city. Modern history has not been more merciful to Acre. In the mid-18th century, Daher el-Omar, an Arab-Bedouin local sheikh, took control of the city from Ottomans. In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte tried to conquer the Damascus governorate and sieged Acre in his attempts to weaken Turkish domination but failed and retreated. In early 19th century Acre was one of the focal points the Ottoman power struggles until the city was sieged and conquered by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt. Significant events in 20th related to Acre include the British Mandate for Palestine which formalized British rule in the southern part of Ottoman Syria from 1923–1948. When the British ended the Mandate on May 14, 1948 following the declaration of independence of Israel, a new phase of Arab - Israeli hostilities took place. As a result, Acre was captured by Israel on May 17, 1948.
Comfortable climate, strategic location and convenient harbor facilitating trade made the town flourish and play an important role in history. However, during different periods Acre had seen revivals and decays. Around 1170 it became the main port of the eastern Mediterranean, and the kingdom of Jerusalem was regarded as very wealthy because of Acre. It was a point of destination of merchants who travel from Europe to far east - Persia, Mongolia, India and China. In 1271, Marco Polo with his brothers Niccolo and Maffeo arrived to Acre with the goal to reach China.
Today, Acre is a picturesque and cosy town on the shores of Haifa Bay (Mediterranean), only 14 miles (23 km) from the city of Haifa. The population of Acre is around 56,000 people with a high proportion of Arabs (about one-third). There are large groups of Christians, Muslims, Druze and Baha'is. Practically, all tourist attractions are contained within the walls of the old Acre. The rest of the city is a modern town with not much for tourist to see - Acre itself became an industrial center.
Significant efforts have been under way to preserve the Old City and excavate its remains. The existing old city was built by the Ottomans in the mid-18th century. Interestingly, the earlier town including many structures built during the Crusader periods were not destroyed; Ottoman Turks were building on top of them preserving the earlier town. The archaeological work revealed the fortress of the Hospitaller knights and structures constructed by the knights of the rival Templar order. There are underwater digs in Acre's harbor and efforts to reinforce Acre's seawalls.
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What Makes It Special
As a tourist destination, Acre competes with better known places in the region, for example, the city of Jerusalem, fortress of Masada and others. Indeed, looking at numbers published by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, Acre looks like off-the-beaten-track place (2.5 million foreign tourists in Jerusalem vs. 444,000 of all visitors to Acre. However, the popularity and interest towards this ancient city is growing and everything points to the fact that Acre is about to become a major tourist destination.
There is nothing surprising about this with such history and one of the richest archaeological sites in Israel. In fact, excavations continue and the just rediscovered uniquely intact Crusader city is only the beginning. But what has been already found was enough to inscribe Acre in 2001 as Israel's first UNESCO World Heritage site. According to the inscription, "Acre is an exceptional historic port-town in that it preserves the substantial remains of its medieval Crusader buildings" where the remains of the town, "both above and below the present-day street level, provide an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem." Not less important is the Ottoman heritage of Acre representing "an important example of an Ottoman walled town, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans, and baths well preserved."
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Directions To Destination
Israel is a small country. For most travelers its entry point is the Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV), the largest international airport in Israel. It is located 2.5 miles (4 km) from the city of Lod and 9 miles (15 km) southeast of Tel Aviv. If you use train you can go to Acre directly from the Ben Gurion Airport - Ben Gurion Airport railway station located in the airport at Terminal 3. One way trip to Acre costs about $14 (NIS48 - Israeli New Sheqel (Shekel), the currency of the State of Israel, all prices are 2011) per person and takes 2 hours.
If visiting Tel Aviv is not in your plans, you can also rent a car or take a taxi in the airport to go to Acre. Car rental at the airport is available from Hertz, Avis, Budget, Sixt, and Eldan. A taxi from Tel Aviv to Acre one way might cost about $175 (NIS600). A taxi from Haifa to Akko costs about $29 (NIS100). Passengers travelling out of Ben Gurion Airport are charged an additional may be charged additional fees.
Tel Aviv is about 80 miles (128 km) from Acre. Apart from renting a car or taking a taxi, you can use bus or train to reach Acre. By train: from Tel Aviv - Savidor Central Railway Station to Akko the cost of one way trip is about $11 (NIS38) per person and takes about an hour and a half. The station is located in the eastern side of Tel Aviv, between Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan. Trains depart every half an hour during day, every hour during night. Keep in mind that trains do not operate on Sabbath (Friday afternoon to Saturday sunset). Acre Railway Station is a station on the main North-South coastal line of Israel Railways (Nahariya – Haifa – Tel Aviv – Ben-Gurion International Airport – Beersheba Inter-City Service). Acre Railway Station is located a short walking distance from Acre's central bus station. Sherut taxis (shared taxis - see below) stop on the street, just outside the station. For planing your travel in Israel using railways, visit Israel Railways Web site.
There is no direct bus from Tel Aviv to Acre - you will have to change the bus in Haifa to reach Acre. Bus service to the area is provided by a large public corporation called Egged. The trip from Tel Aviv New Central Bus Station serviced by Egged to Acre Old Town takes about 4 hours and a one way ticket costs about $19 (NIS65) per person. The buses do not operate on Sabbath (Haifa is the only city where some bus lines offer service on Sabbath).
We already mention the taxi as one of the options to travel in Israel. In fact, although it is rather expensive, it is probably the most convenient (from any point of view including trip planning and getting around) way of traveling to almost any city in Israel from the Ben Gurion airport. A compromise between using buses and taxi can be monit sherut (service taxi). These are minivans operating as shared taxi. They follow bus routes and can be hailed from anywhere you see them. They are cheaper and quicker than buses and in many cases the sherut runs all days including Sabbath. At the Ben Gurion airport sherut cars are available outside the airport terminal. There is a parking lot of shared taxis near Tel Aviv central bus station.
If you drive a car yourself, from Tel Aviv to Acre you need to cover distance of about 80 miles (128 km). There are two itineraries you may take. The first is to take Route 2 and 70 (the latter to avoid Haifa); the second is to use Route 6 (also using Route 70 and 4 approaching Acre). The first option may make some sense if you start your trip in Tel Aviv - Route 2 (called the Coastal Highway) is going along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is picturesque but very congested especially during rush hours. However, for practical purposes the second option (Route 6) is much more convenient. Anyway, the difference in traveling distance is not significant at all (route 6 being several miles more). Because of this, theoretical traveling time is also about the same; however, in reality, traveling on Route 6 is usually faster - allocate about 2 hours (either from Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport).
Otobusim - Israel Public Transportation Information Web site can be very useful in planing your trip in Israel using public transportation. Another useful site with tourist information is Israel Wonders.
Finally, we would like to discourage to try to travel by boat. Although there are several local cruise services, passenger lines are essentially nonexistent (even if Tel Aviv, and especially Haifa have ports and marinas).
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Best Time To Go
The spring and fall are the best - the weather is mild and pleasant at this time, though you can travel to Acre all year round. Acre is a coastal city located at the northern end of the Bay of Haifa. The northern coastal regions of Israel have Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool rainy winters. January and February are the coldest months around and July and August are the hottest ones ( average highs are about at 63 ºF (17 ºC) in January and February and 88 ºF (31 ºC) in July and August). From June through August it does not rain; however, humidity tends to be high all year round. December, January and February are the months with the highest precipitations (on average totalling 14 inches (355 mm) during these months).
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Where To Stay
You accomodations may depend on your specific plans on how ling you want to stay in Acre (or near it). If you are thinking about a day trip, you can stay in Tel Aviv; in such case we recommend the following hotels:
- Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel & Towers (115 Hayarkon Street, 63573 Tel Aviv), a five star hotel with rates from $300 to $600 per room/night with buffet breakfast included. The hotel is located on the beachfront and offers panoramic sea views and has 3 restaurants. There are 325 rooms in this hotel.
- West, All Suite Hotel (Herzel Rozenblum 12, Tel Aviv), a five star hotel with rates from $260 to $310 per room/night buffet breakfast included. The West is a boutique hotel on the sea in north Tel Aviv. There 62 rooms in the hotel.
If you want to stay in Acre, one logical choice is to stay in the only hotel located in the Old City of Acre, Akkotel-Boutique hotel (1 Salahuddin Street, 24112 ‘Akko) with rates starting from $180 per room/night with breakfast. The hotel is built into Acre's city walls and located at the sea front. There are 16 rooms in the hotel.
Since Acre is very close to Haifa (about 17 miles or 28 km north from Haifa), you should consider visiting both cities. As a tourist destination, Haifa is mostly known for the Shrine of the Báb where the remains of Báb, the founder of Bábism and messenger of Bahá'u'lláh in the Bahá'í Faith, have been laid to rest. Please visit our Shrine of the Báb page if you need recommendations on logging in Haifa.
Research and book hotels in or near Haifa, Israel
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Sightseeing. You can explore Acre (Akko) sites for about 6 hours at leisure.
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
The train station in Akko is close to the Old City but it is better not to walk there but take a taxi.
Buy a combo ticket for all sites and a map of the Old City. At the visitor center you can get information about the town and its history and get the literature and tickets. Sites opening hours: summer - 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM, winter - 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission fees: there are many types of combined and single tickets. Combined tickets might be less expensive. A combo ticket for an adult starts at NIS27. For more detailed information on visiting Old Acre, please visit the Web site of Old Acre Development Company, a government company subordinate to the Ministry of Tourism created to develop the Old City for international tourism. In particular, this 3D map published on the company's Web site can give you very good idea about the layout of the Old Acre and what you can see there.
What to see (the list below is an arbitrary order; all of them are very interesting):
- The Hospitaller Fortress (Citadel) - the most complete remains of a Crusader fortress in Israel. It was built by the Hospitaller Order of Knights in the early 1200s, and an Ottoman fortress was built on top in the late 1700s.
- Tunnel of the Templars, the only remaining structure of the Templars' fortress, the remains of which are now covered by the sea. The tunnel leads to the city port in the east; it is 1150 feet long (350 m). The tunnel was discovered in 1994 and was opened to the public in 1999.
- Halls of the Crusader Knights (at the Hospitaller fortress). They were used for living and ceremonies; their ceilings are covered with impressive arches. May parts of the complex are still being uncovered and researched today.
- Pasha’s Turkish Hammam (Hamam al Basha), a public bathhouse built at the end of 18th century with the design typical for oriental bathhouses in Turkish Empire. Marble floors, the domed roof inlaid with beautiful glass circles and the colorful Turkish tiles make it one of the most fascinating historic buildings in Acre.
- Khans (inns): there are four old khans in Acre built to accommodate merchants passing through the city. They include: Khan A-Shawarda (Merchants’ Inn) built by Dahar Al-Omer in the 18th century, Khan A-Shuna (Inn of Barns), the oldest inn of Acre, Khan Al-Umdan (Pillars Inn - the largest and best preserved khan in Israel) built by Ahmed El-Jazer in the 18th century and Khan Al-Faranj (Franks' Inn) built in 16th century by French merchants. All khans retain an authentic feeling which makes them very interesting.
- Walls of Acre: Old Acre is surrounded by walls in the shape of an irregular pentagon. The current wall system including moats, counter walls and towers was built in stages between 1750 and 1840. However, the original walls (dated back to around 300 BC) and numerous improvements in 11th and 13th centuries have never been completely destroyed and their traces can still be found in some places. There is the Treasures in the Walls, an ethnological museum built into the city wall (north-eastern corner).
- Crusader period streets: in Genoese quarter (center of the Old Acre), an exposed portion of a roofed street and in the Templar quarter (southwestern part of the city), an excavated portion of a main street leading to the harbor.
- The port of Acre: a place with a very rich character as old as the Acre itself.
- Ramchal Synagogue named after the rabbi Ramchal (Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, an Italian known for by his ethical guide Mesilat Yesharim.
- Or Torah (Tunisian Synagogue or Djerba Synagogue): every inch of the synagogue is covered with mosaic.
- El-Jazar Mosque (also known as Jama El Basha, Jezzar Pasha Mosque, Mosque of the Pasha, White Mosque): Jezzar Pasha ordered the mosque's construction in 1781 and had it completed within the year. The mosque was built over former Muslim and Christian prayer houses and other Crusader buildings. It dominates the Acre's skyline and is an excellent example of Ottoman architecture.
- Saint John’s Church - it is located next to the lighthouse of Acre and now is only church of the Latin Catholic community in Acre.
- Bahá'í holy places - there are many of them in and around Acre. The most known is the shrine and tomb of Bahaiulla (Bahá'u'lláh) - the holiest place for the Bahais.
- Museum of the Underground Prisoners (in Hospitaller Fortress) dedicated to the Jewish resistance during the British Mandate. The most well known political prisoners held there were Ze'ev Jabotinsky (Vladimir Jabotinsky - Zionist leader) and Bahaiulla (Bahá'u'lláh), the founder of the Bahai faith.
- There are three main markets in Acres: the White market (Shuq Al-Abiad), the Turkish Bazaar and the Acres Market (street); visiting these markets is an unforgettable authentic experience even if you do not plan to buy anything. If you want to treat yourself, try halva, humus and baklava - you will not regret.
Touring the fortress, be prepared to climb many stairs, you need comfortable shoes and some level of fitness.
To enjoy the view of Acre from the sea you can take a boat tour around the walls of the Old City.
If you get to Ha-Hagana street don't forget to visit one of the most famous restaurants in Acre and Israel - Uri-Bori, a sea food restaurant . There are a lot of restaurants along Acre beach with excellent views of the Mediterranean Sea and local cousin (though some places may be expensive).
There have been some occasional ethnic tension, as well as violence linked to poverty and the drug trade. But the streets feel safe, and residents are welcoming. Acre's residents seem to recognize that the past and history, is their city's primary resource.
If your traveling plans to Israel and Acre in addition include other countries, keep in mind that many Arab and Islamic countries deny entry to any person who has visited Israel. Boarder controls in such countries not only may carefully check your passport for any signs of your staying in Israel (like stamps and stickers) but they can also inspect your luggage for the same purpose. The only reliable way to avoid any complications related to this issue is to use two passports - one to enter Israel and the second to travel in Arab countries.
Keep in mind that very serious security measures (in the scale never practiced by most countries) are taken for flights to and from Israel. Arrive to the airport well in advance, as security checks can be time-consuming. Luggage inspections of any kind are routine as well as interviews about your time in Israel. Visitors traveling together can be questioned separately (with the goal to cross check your narrations). All these measures can be frustrating and not to your liking - the only recommendation here is to remain calm and cooperate as much as you can.
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