The Acre (Akko) Port – Travel Guide
Israel has many old cities, but the most charming one is Acre, also known as Akko. The city’s beauty lies in its natural harbor where it is situated. This is also the Mediterranean coast of Israel, on the Southside of Haifa. For ancient civilizations, this city was very important because of its proximity to the sea and its strategic geographical position. Acre is among the oldest cities of the world that have been continuously inhabited. This city’s roots go back a long time in history, up to the early Bronze Age. However, this port city’s best-known features are its old structures that date back to the Ottoman and Crusader eras. In today’s modern world, the visitors are greeted with beautiful, sunbathed ports; nearby situated open cafes, boat excursions, and fish restaurants.
Acre Port Through The History
The first mention of this port is found in the Egyptian hieroglyphics, going back to 3,500BC. After that, any mention of this port disappears from the history books and reappears again in 527-525BC, not for any good reason but as a war base when Persia attacked Egypt. This port was filled with hundreds of warships arriving with supplies and soldiers, horses and weapons in this region.
The legend says that Julius Caesar has also visited the port of Acre, and even Marco Polo spent here a few days while journeying to the east.
A huge shipyard took shape in the port of Acre in 661-750AD, when the Umayyad Dynasty ruled it. The port was even more strongly fortified after the Egyptian rule begun over this city in 868-884BC. In the middle ages, this port city saw a lot of bloodshed and mayhem when Crusaders, Mamelukes, and Syrians attacked and fought many battles to conquer this old city. For its ties with the Western world, Acre can give credit to the Crusader period, which helped establish relations between this ancient city and the West. By 1104, this city has become the portal of pilgrims and others arriving by the sea route. In 1291, Ottomans snatched this city from The Crusaders.
The Ottoman Period
By the 17th century, Daher El-Omar has started ruling Galilee. He was trying to separate the northern part of Palestine from the part of the Ottomans. In his efforts, he rebuilt the Acre port and fortified it with massive walls. These were the same walls that protected this port city from Napoleon’s attack in 1799. A Royal Navy flotilla stopped Napoleon’s army from getting the weapons and other artillery from the sea route. This forced the French army to take a long, winding overland route. By that time, the British battleships had arrived at the port and saved the city from the French army’s attack. Napoleon was forced to go back.
Acre Port in Modern Era
The Acre port was still functional until the 19th century. Ibrahim Pasha (or Al-Jazzar) was the Ottoman governor and its most well-known ruler. He paid special attention to developing this port. The Acre Port was so well developed that Muhammad Ali’s Egyptian ships also visited this port. In 1840, this port was destroyed when the Austrian and British naval ships attacked the port in a battle against Ibrahim Pasha. By this time, another port was being built at Haifa and was giving tough competition to the Acre port. When the British ruled this port city, they gave preference to the bigger port of Haifa, which was situated in the north, not far from this port. In 1965 the Acre port saw the construction of new breakwater, and in 1982, this port was converted into a marina.
Visit the Acre Port
One can visit the Acre port and also visit its history through its streets. Walk down the main market street and you will find yourself at the Acre Port. A breakwater protects its small wharf. Instead of battleships and soldiers, one will see fishermen busy hauling their catch, mending their boats and nets, and instead of the smell of gunpowder, the smell of fresh waves and fish permeates the atmosphere. No more bloodshed on the shores of this port. Now the eateries and cafes line its shores, with a beautiful sea surrounding these picturesque cafes and restaurants. A pleasure boat also sails for tourists from this port to Haifa.
One can sit and relax in any of these cafes, sipping their cup of coffee and imagining when thousands of years ago swords clanged and soldiers shouted at these same shores.
Another Ancient Port
Acre and its history were fascinating enough, but now another ancient port has been discovered nearby. Towards the south-facing area of Acre port, archaeologists were surprised to find another port near the base of Acre’s seawall. This new port goes up to the horses beach and it is as old as anything constructed in the 2nd-3rd century BC. That was the Hellenistic period. The archaeological excavation is this still going on in that place, but archaeologists believe that this port is 2,300 years old and was so huge that it could accommodate many warships at once.
The new (or older) port was accidentally discovered when preservation work was going on the seawall of Acre port in 2009. At that time, workers made a startling discovery of big paving stones under the sea. These stones were 8m X 5m in diameter. Apart from these pavement stones, remains of large buildings were also found in the nearby sea. There were also many artifacts and pottery pieces that originated from Greece.
Archaeologists believe that the port was not destroyed by the passage of time, but it was deliberately destroyed so that the city could not be attacked. Was it to save the city from the 167BC Hasmonean revolt? Or was it something bigger? Right now, we can only imagine. Archaeologists can dig under the sea, but a major part of this port city’s ruins lie under the city walls of the Ottoman empire. That will not be easy to reach and can keep its many secrets hidden from us.