Old Acre is an ancient coastal city that offers many different attractions. It turned it to a popular destination among tourists. I visited Acre many times (see Akko tag), but each time I visited only several attractions. In this post, I am combining most of those places. And visiting (some of) them together will make a nice (half) day trip. Let’s begin!
Acre is a historic city in Northern Israel. It is located on the edge of Haifa Bay (on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea). Both land routes and sea paths (Acre has a natural harbor) made Acre a commercial standpoint. And it is one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited since the Middle Bronze Age (around 4,000 years ago).
Old Acre is the ancient part of the modern city of Acre. It is a small part, and most attractions can be reached within a 5-minute walk.
Map of the area:
Acre And Napoleon
Since I mentioned Napoleon, then I should elaborate on this matter.
After the siege and capture of Jaffa in 1799, Napoleon attacked Acre.
The Siege of Acre of 1799 was an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre and was the turning point of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Syria. It was Napoleon’s first strategic defeat as three years previously he had been tactically defeated at the Second Battle of Bassano.
UNESCO World Heritage List
The Old City of Acre was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List under the following criteria:
- Acre is an exceptional historic town in that it preserves the substantial remains of its medieval Crusader buildings beneath the existing Moslem fortified town dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.
- The remains of the Crusader town of Acre, 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.
- Present-day Acre is an important example of an Ottoman walled town, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans, and baths well preserved, partly built on top of the underlying Crusader structures.
Parking Near Old Acre
I always park outside of Old Acre, i.e., in the modern part of Acre. And I do not recommend entering the old city by car. The closer you get to the main attractions the less parking spots there will be (including paid parking). And since I do not mind a 5 min walk, this is not a problem for me. But if you want a closer parking lot, you can continue driving to the Land Gate, and just before the gate to the right, there is paid parking lot.
I usually park not far from the Tunisian Synagogue (Eliezer Kaplan street 20, Acre) and walk toward the Land Gate. Before entering the gate, you will see the sea to your left. If you continue in that direction for 20 meters that you will see Acre port and walls:
The White Market
The market’s walls and its sixty-four shops were whitewashed at the time they were built, hence the market’s name. The White Market is also filled with light and perhaps that is why the attribute is often used by Acre’s inhabitants to this very day.
Source: Official Site
Unfortunately today The White Market is not that attractive. There are some restaurants, shops and storage rooms. So, it entirely lost its original charm, and the only thing worth looking is the roof, which I showed above.
Our first stop was:
Hospitaller Fortress AKA THE KNIGHTS’ KINGDOM
I visited Hospitaller Fortress (also named the Citadel) about two years ago (you can find more info at this Akko post). And as in the previous trip, I bought a combined ticket to Hospitaller Fortress + Treasures in the Walls Museum + The Okashi Art Museum + The Templars Tunnel for 58 NIS.
The garden at the entrance to the Hospitaller Fortress:
Though the exterior has not changed, the interior has undergone renovations and rapid development. This exhibition is now called “THE KNIGHTS’ KINGDOM.” And if you have not been there for a couple of years, then it is worth visiting.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was founded in 1099 following the First Crusade and the conquest of the Land of Israel. Jerusalem became the capital of the Kingdom and Acre subsequently developed into the port city and the main gate to the Holy Land. Following the battle of Hattin in 1187 and the defeat of the Crusader army, Salah ad-Din, who headed the Muslim armies, conquered the Kingdom. He ruled in Jerusalem and Acre for about four years. In 1191, following a two-year siege, King Richard the Lionhearted – who headed the Christian armies – re-conquered Acre. During this journey, which became the Third Crusade, the Christians were unable to free Jerusalem and established their new kingdom along the shoreline between Tzur and Ashkelon. Acre, the second most important city in the Crusader Kingdom, became the capital of the second kingdom.The Hospitaller Order, which thrived in Jerusalem during the First Crusader Kingdom (1187-1099) transferred its headquarters to Acre during the Second Crusader Kingdom (1291-1191). The Hospitallers, who had a quarter there during the First Kingdom, returned to Acre, expanded their headquarters and rebuilt the site, which consisted of two to three floors around a central court as well as underground sections – water reservoirs and a sewage system. It was not the entire site that was excavated. To date, an area of about 5000 m2 was excavated, which encompasses the central court and the northern, eastern and southern wings. The western wing has yet to be excavated.
Source: Official site
You start with an entirely new hall (the organizers opened it as a part of THE KNIGHTS’ KINGDOM exhibition.
As you buy tickets, you can get an audio guide for free (included in ticket price). The unusual part is that these are electronic audio guides. How they know what track you should hear. As you go through the exhibition, you pass next to WiFi spots. As soon as you come close to one, it plays the right track.
Overall, this system works. But in many cases, you should not move too much while listening to a track. A couple of steps in the wrong direction and the audio guide automatically skip to another track. Also, there were two spots where you could not hear the explanations since audio guide kept jumping from one track to another. But overall, they did pretty good work.
They also added numbers to points of interest and arrows showing in which direction you should move. Most of them were clear, except this one:
The Beautiful Hall
One of the corridors:
The crypt of Saint John church:
Here is one of the new exposition telling about sugar industry. I had no idea that there was advanced sugar industry in Israel and it was exported to Europe:
Besides the excavations that you can see in the photo above, the pillars Hall also holds the artists market:
When we visited the artists market, only about half of the stores were opened. And in some of them, we saw artists at work. For example, a woman was making a sculpture.
Hospitaller Fortress – Summary
That is it for THE KNIGHTS’ KINGDOM. Overall, Hospitaller Fortress changed significantly from my last visit. Thus, if you have not visited it for several years, then I would recommend paying a visit. It was greatly improved.
Within several minutes walk from the Hospitaller Fortress you can find the Jezzar Pasha Mosque, AKA the White Mosque.But, it was closed for a prayer (you can see the sign that they put on the entrance). So, we will come back later.
The Templars Tunnel
The tunnel is 350 meters long, and it extends from the Templars fortress in the west to the city’s port in the east. It crosses Pisan quarter and in the past, served as a strategic underground passageway that connected the palace to the port. The lower part of the tunnel is carved in the natural stone, and its upper part made of hewn rocks covered with a semi-barreled dome. The shaft was discovered in 1994. The Acre Development Company, in collaboration with the Antiquities Authority, cleared away the dirt and made the tunnel available to visitors. The tunnel’s western section was opened to the public at large in August 1999.
Source: Official site
You can enter The Templars Tunnel either next to the sea or in the old city. We walked through the old town entrance and exited next to the sea (not far from the lighthouse).
Also, I should mention that while you inside, you can watch a short movie (around 10 minutes) telling about the tunnel and the history of the city.
Back To Ground Level
Saint John’s Church
Saint John’s Church, which currently stands next to Acre’s lighthouse, belongs to the Latin community (the Franciscans).
It is unclear as to when the church was built, although several years ago, the year 1737 was found engraved in the northern wall of the building. The church was renovated in 1947 and now serves as the only church of Acre’s Latin-Catholic community.
Source: official website
Prayer time finished, and we are inside the
Jezzar Pasha Mosque, AKA The White Mosque
Al-Jazzar Mosque, which is known in Arabic as Jama El-Basha (the Pasha’s Mosque), was also formerly known as Jama El-Anwar (the Mosque of Lights), according to the Vakfiye of Ahmed Al-Jazzar Pasha. This is Israel’s largest mosque outside of Jerusalem and the largest one among the mosques built in Israel during the Turkish period. The building dominates Acre’s skyline to this very day.
Source: Official site
Entrance to Jezzar Pasha Mosque costs 10 NIS, and you buy the ticket at the gate. It is not part of Old Acre Development Company. Thus it is not included in the combined ticket we purchased at the beginning of the day.
We walked up the wall since we wanted to visit last attraction from the combo ticket:
Treasures in the Walls Museum
The museum is located on the north-eastern walls of old Acre. The walls were initially built by the Ottoman ruler of the area Ahmed Al-Jazzar Pasha after Napoleon´s attempt to conquer the city in-1779. The commander´s tower “Burge-el-commander” is divided into arched halls which were used to hold the Ottomans garrison and now hold a beautiful and rare collection which gives an insight into the fabric of life in the Galilee during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.
Source: Official site
It was getting late, so we decided to make a short stroll in the alleys of Old Acre on our way back to the car.
We wanted to visit Khan al-Umdan:
Khan al-Umdan is the largest and best-preserved khan in Israel. But, unfortunately, it was closed. For years it stood abandoned. Maybe they closed it for restoration or for building a hotel inside it. If you want to take a look at the interior of Khan al-Umdan, then see my previous Akko post.
At the port, you can take a short sail along Old Acre walls. I was curious, and I made once a sail from the port. It costs 10 NIS, and the sail itself is concise one and lasts about 10 minutes. Recently, they opened a new sailing route. The Haifa – Acre route. There are several sails during the day in each direction, and it is suitable for somebody that stays in Haifa or Acre and want a day trip to the other city. I have not taken such a sail yet.
For more photos of the Acre’s port check this post.
And this is Haifa view from Old Acre port:
Napoleon Hill – Tel Akko
On another occasion, we visited Napoleon Hill AKA Tel Akko. Tel Akko is located on a hill in the eastern part of the city near road #85. The height of the Tel is thirty meters, and it is quite small, 600 meters on 350 meters at the widest part.
View from the hill towards the city center. On the left, you can see part of a soccer stadium with parking nearby (there are two trucks there). We parked our car there and used the stairs on the right to climb the hill.
I took that shot with a 70mm lens on a full frame body. And as it turns out, the Tel is not a good point for photographers.
Napoleon And Acre
This Tel is also called Napoleon Hill with a big statue was installed at the top. It perpetuates Napoleon’s quest in 1799. During that quest, he tried to conquer old Acre. And despite a long siege, the city has not fallen.
Near the statue, you can see an archeological site. That is a Tel. And you might think that the city of Acre was always in the same spot. But, it started at this location. The town was at the same site till the beginning of the Hellenistic period, when it moved to the west, closer to the sea.
There are several routes around and near the Tel. We took the round one along the circumference of the top. This route, with several stops, took us about an hour.
Overall, the routes at the Tel are nice and short, but I would not consider them as top attractions in Acre.
Bahai Gardens In Akko
Bahaullah, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahai faith, resided during the final years at a mansion in Akko. His remains were laid to rest at a shrine, and today there is a big garden surrounding the area.
The Bahai Gardens in Akko are open from 9:00 to 16:00, seven days a week, but they are closed on Bahai holy days and Yom Kippur. There is no charge for entry and no need for a reservation.
For the most complete experience, we suggest you visit on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday between 9:00 and 12:00 noon. During these times, you can enter the inner garden and visit the shrine.
Source: Official Site
Bahai gardens both in Haifa and Akko are stunning. But, from my experience, after visiting both, the ones in Haifa are more impressive (probably because they are located on the slope of Mount Carmel). Thus, if you can visit only one, I would recommend visiting the Bahai Gardens In Haifa.
Old Acre offers many attractions, and you can easily spend the whole day there. Keep in mind that I did not cover all touristic attractions. There is Okashi Art Museum (which I less liked), Hamam al-Basha and several others. Check out Akko’s official site for additional information.
If you are thinking about making Acre about your base, then you can easily spend several nights there. One day for exploring Acre, one day exploring Haifa (you can use the new sailing route I mentioned before) and one or several days exploring other attractions in this area. Here are two examples: Yehiam Fortress National Park and Rosh HaNikra grottoes.
What is your favorite place in Akko? Tell us in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!