The historical “Old City” of Akka (or Acre or Akko) has a great mix of the things that make Israel so much fun to travel. It’s only about 30km north of Haifa, so we could have included it in posts that we are going to write about this area and the North of Israel in general. But the beauty of Akka is that it just has so much to offer, so it deserves a post all of its own. The site has been inhabited continuously for nearly 4000 years, so is steeped in history. However, the beauty of the place is that it is still a functioning city, filled with Arab inhabitants going about their daily lives.
One of the branches of history of Akka relates to the Baha’i religion also. North of the old city is the gardens at Bahjí, where the mansion that Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, resided during the final years of his life and the shrine, where his remains were laid to rest, is. Like the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, the Bahji gardens are absolutely immaculate, and are a place of sheer beauty that is almost a contradiction to the chaotic daily life that goes on in the old city. There are also a number of other sacred Baha’i sites around Akka, so it is a place of pilgrimage.
After paying our respects at Bahji we headed down to the old city and Janice lead our way to go see the markets. After we had come up against a couple of dead ends we ended up pretty much back where we had started. “They must have changed it”, Janice said. Quite a funny statement given that the old streets have probably been much the same way for 100s of years. In saying that, it is mighty easy to get lost, as the maze of streets have no order to the way they are set out and pretty much weave through people’s front yards as you go from one site to the next.
Once we found the market it was a colourful cacophony of sounds and smells, similar I am sure to any Arab market the world over. As it is still a functioning town there are plenty of daily wares on offer (not just tourist stuff), so as you walk through you are looking at a fish stall one second and then a shoe shop the next. As always it was food that took our eye, with plenty of fresh and dried items on offer, plus some locals making pita and other bread right out in the open for all to see, and smell. Mmmm. We also had a couple of excellent Arab/Israeli lunches here, with plenty of pita, Hummus and fresh salad on offer.
One of the highlights of Akka was taking a little boat trip out to see the sea walls from the sea. The boat was filled with Arab women on a girls day out and was blaring Arab music at full volume. Before we had even left the dock the ladies were up and dancing. It didn’t take Janice long to join in herself, and even Tess got up for a quick boogie, Arab style. As the only man on the boat (apart from the driver) Jared was more than happy just to sit at the back and observe. Don’t want to get those Arab ladies any more excited than they already were.
In the old city we checked out a lot more of the architectural feats of the countless civilisations that had lived there had made, and (on occasions) demolished. The city boasts a solid outer wall, most of which is still intact, and at one time was a big part of the reason that the people of Akka were able to hold off an attack from Napoleon, who boasted superior military hardware and prowess. Another remarkable part of the city is actually underneath the current buildings. There are tunnels built by the Knights of the Templar, along with massive halls and other buildings that were part of the Crusader era, when the town became a Christian stronghold.
Being a major port city most religions have had their time in Akka, but it is currently the Muslims that have the current majority and Mosques with typically large minarets are the biggest religious monuments. But that is not to say that Christian churches and Jewish Synagogues don’t also feature within the old city walls. It is just another charm of Akka that although it has seen so much war and destruction over its long history, it still stands out as an all-encompassing place where anybody, local or foreign, Jewish or Muslim, could find something of interest and something to enjoy.