Imagine visiting one of the oldest port cities in the world and one of the oldest continuous settlements in the world (since 2000 BC)—a city that has been conquered and shaped by Romans, Ottomans, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Byzantines, and the British. This is the intriguing city known as Acre, or, as it’s known by locals, Akko.
Today, modern Acre, located in northern Israel, is home to a mixed population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Old City Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its largely intact and medieval Crusader architecture (1101–1201) located both above and below street level, and for its Ottoman urban design, complete with narrow alleyways and striking, gleaming architecture in the form of mosques, bathhouses, monuments, and still-inhabited dwellings with inner courtyards. More than just about any other city in the Middle East, this once-thriving port and Crusader capital symbolizes the interchange between Eastern and Western culture.
During the years of Greek and Roman rule, Acre became the most important port in all of Israel. It was during these years that Christianity began to flourish. Four must-visit historic churches contained within its walls are reflective of that era.
According to the Book of Acts (Acts 21:7)—which referred to Acre as Ptolemais—the Apostle Paul spent some time here preaching and teaching the gospel.
Acre, an ancient, fortified port city with formidable stone walls built to defend itself against its numerous attackers, was conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 BCE but remained “unconquered” by Napoleon in 1799 after his failed long siege of the city. (This event marked a decided downturn in his otherwise illustrious career.)
Acre was unique in that the city was much more than just an important port. It was the gateway to the much coveted, and often embattled, city of Jerusalem.
Of particular interest to modern-day Christian pilgrims visiting northern Israel is the fact that in the 11th century, Acre was stoutly defended by none other than the Knights Templar—an order of Crusader knights that represented the best of medieval Christianity: loyalty, bravery, purity and a dogged devotion to God.
These gallant guys with the gleaming helmets and chainmail, straight-toed shoes (pointy toed-shoes were considered too worldly for this lot), and bright red crosses (a symbol of Christian martyrdom), served as true defenders of the Christian faith.
Their military zeal for protecting European Christians who made their pilgrimages to Crusader-occupied Jerusalem rivaled any secular army of that day. (For a famous cinematic depiction of one of these knights, think of the noble 873-year-old Holy Grail-protecting Knight Templar in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
The Knights Templar also practically invented the concept of chivalry, ala Sir Galahad, which is something modern male traveling companions might want to remember when helping their ladies traverse the charming, albeit narrow, cobblestoned streets of the once Crusader capital of Acre.
However, it must also be noted that the entire Crusader period was a dark time in Jewish history. In the Crusaders’ passionate pursuit to rid the Holy Land of infidels, they committed unspeakable atrocities against the Jewish people living in the land, including burning them alive in their synagogues. Akko provides the perfect setting to reflect on both the good and the evil that was done over the centuries in the name of Christ.
For sheer carved architectural beauty, it’s hard to match the splendor of the renovated Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress. The fortress played a major role in the defense of Akko during Crusader times.
Nearby is the Templars’ Tunnel, an underground passage strategically connecting the main palace of the Templars to the port of Akko.
Secret tunnels, narrow winding streets, magnificent architecture, and colorful “multi-layered” ancient civilizations make the historic walled port city on the north end of Haifa Bay a place that modern-day pilgrims will want to spend a day—or two—when visiting northern Israel.
Experience the remnants of centuries-old cultures as you wander narrow streets, explore secret tunnels, and learn of valiant knights.