Acre is one of the most ancient port cities in the world, and its history goes back as far as the Bronze Age. For centuries, the city was overtaken by one dominion and then another, as warriors found it a strategic point of entry from which to conquer the land of Israel. Acre reached the height of its development in the 13th century, when it served as the capital of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The most impressive remains found in the city date from this period, as well as from the Ottoman era, when Acre served as the major port city of the area. In the 19th century, the prominence of the city of Acre began a steady decline, as Haifa became the major port city in Israel.
Up until Israel’s war of Independence, in 1948, Acre was an Arab city within the Arab Territories. According to the UN Partition Plan of 1947, it was to remain so; however, as the Arab countries rejected the plan to divide the land into two separate –Arab and Jewish-states, the War of Independence broke out, and Acre was conquered by Israel. Following the war, a third of the Arab population remained in the city. After the founding of the State of Israel, thousands of Jewish immigrants settled in the new neighborhoods built outside of the Old Walled City. Nowadays, Acre is a city with a mixed population comprising approximately 46,000 inhabitants, where Jews and Arabs live together.
In 2001, UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site. The relatively small area of the Old City contains an impressive number of churches, mosques, synagogues, and historical structures from the various eras of the city, particularly from the Crusader and Ottoman periods. Within the Old City, you will find an abundance of restaurants, a vibrant market, and an active port. All of these make the ancient city of Acre a unique and attractive tourist site.
The walls of the Old City were built over a 90 year period during the Ottoman era, from 1750 until 1840. The walls as well as the guard towers along were built in a pentagonal shape surrounding the Ottoman city, with some following the coastline and the rest set inland. Defensive tunnels were dug along the walls, where cannons were placed. There are three guard towers in the wall, and four impressive gates provide entry into the city. Unlike the coastal fortification, the wall set inland was preserved almost entirely, along with the dugout trench that runs parallel to its outer rim.
The citadel was built during the period of the Turkish rule, in the northern part of the Old City, on top of the ruins of a Crusader fortress. The citadel colors encompasses two rectangular courtyards, which run 170 meters from East to West and measure 100 meters wide from North to South. Throughout the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, the structure served as a jail house; it is now the location of the Old Acre Visitor Center, and it is surrounded by a beautiful cultivated garden modeled after the Crusader garden that once existed here.
The underground Knights’ Halls was built under the Citadel of Acre. archeological excavations from 1992 revealed a large complex of halls, built by the Knights of Saint John, who were part of the Hospitaller Knights of Jerusalem. This complex was part of the Crusader fortress, and was attached to the city’s northern wall. The western side of this square shaped area faced the Citadel courtyard, and its northern part, which consists of six halls linked lengthwise, gives the complex its current name. The “Large Hall,” located at the southern end of the chain of halls, was discovered only recently and has yet to be completely excavated. Inside it are fifteen columns arranged in three rows, which support the ceiling. Next to this, there is a small hall, which served as a prison. The Crusader dining hall (the refectorium) is on the southern side of the courtyard and can only be reached from the courtyard. It features a double vaulted ceiling supported by three massive pillars. Underneath it there is a tunnel that connects between the dining hall and the southern end of the complex. The tunnel contains a crypt, and remnants of a gothic church, as well as those of a Turkish bathhouse, located on the Crusader level. A small hall, dubbed “The Beautiful Hall,” as well as part of the southern path are also part of the Crusader level of the city; however, excavations of this layer have not yet been completed.
The Templar Tunnel is an underground tunnel located beneath the streets of the Old City of Acre. At its western end was a Templar castle, which in 1291 was destroyed and sank into the sea, and at its eastern end was the port of Acre. Built towards the end of the 12th century, by members of the Templar order who had settled in Acre after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, it served as a strategic underground passageway. The Tunnel is 350 meters long and runs under most of the city’s historical Pisan Quarter. The floor of the Tunnel was dug in the natural rock, while its upper part consists of an elongated arch made of hewn stone.