Acre, or Acco has really a crazy history and one of the many reasons for that is because Acre is so very old, continuously inhabited since the early Bronze Age (c. 2000-1550 BCE) some 4000 years ago. In Egyptian records, it is mentioned in the Execration Texts, the First Campaign of Thutmose III and the Amarna Letters (ca. 1800 BCE), and today what Acre means is a coastal city with a small harbor and loads of tourism and an absolute crazy history with too many conquers and defeats to count.
In the start of its existence as city, Greek mysteries were at work here. The Greeks referred to the city as Ake, meaning “cure”. According to the Greek myth, Heracles found curative herbs here to heal his wounds. Josephus calls it Akre.
Acre was given to the Tribe of Asher, but ‘poor’ Asher failed to take it(Judges 1:31). Then it was given to Hiram by Solomon (I Kings 9:11-13). If that was not enough, Assyrian monarch Sennecherib took Acre, and another Assyrian monarch Ashurbanipal took it from Sennecherib.
In 333 B.C., it fell to Alexander the Great, but the city fell under Egyptian sovereignty in 261 B.C., and was renamed Ptolemais after Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who was the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 to 246 BCE. In 219 B.C., the city fell under Syrian sovereignty. The violent history of the port city took a break until 65 B.C.
The city was captured by Alexander Jannaeus, Cleopatra and Tigranes the Great. Alexander Jannaeus was the King of Judaea from 103 to 76 BC., who married the wife of his dead brother, was cruel and expanded the kingdom with a bloody civil war. Cleopatra was the last active pharaoh of Egypt, after her death Egypt became a province of the recently established Roman Empire. Tigranes the Great was King of Armenia under whom the country became, for a short time, the strongest state east of the Roman Republic. And who said that history is boring, huh?
In that year the port city was part of the Roman empire under Pompey, when it became a Roman colony where army veterans were settled and built a Roman naval base. Here Herod the Great and Octavian (Jewish Historian for the Romans) met together and made their peace.
After some time of rest for the poor city, it became suddenly the focus point because of the first Jewish revolt. In fact, Acre is the city, where the actual first Jewish revolt started. In A.D. 66, it was sacked by the Jews in reprisal for the slaughter of the Jews in Caesarea.
The Roman reaction on the Jewish sacking of the port city didn’t sit well by the Roman empire, and the Romans made their headquarters here for the war in the First Jewish Revolt.
By the year 190, it had its own bishop. In the Byzantine Period, it became largely Samaritan and was named Samaritiki. In the year 614, the city was taken by the Persian Conquest. In the year 636, it became part of the Arab Conquest.
In 1104, the Crusaders took it under Baldwin I who renamed it Saint Jean d’Acre after Joan of Arc and the city often was called Acre – The Crusaders also turned it into a naval base. But it took the Crusaders 4 years of siege of the city to do that. The city provided the Crusaders with a foothold in the region and access to vibrant trade that made them prosperous, especially giving them access to the Asiatic spice trade.
After the Crusader stronghold of Jerusalem fell to the Arabs, it became the Crusader capital and main port for the Mediterranean and various orders set up their centers. The centers were The Knights Templars, The Teutonic Order, Order of Saint Lazarus and the Order of the Knights of Saint John – Hospitallers. The good thing out all of it was that they allowed the Jews to live there too (which was different then normal those times).
The Crusader centers were filled with proud men, who would die for their order they belonged to. In the beginning, the Crusaders seemed to be unstoppable and ‘waltzed’ through any defense. Because of politics and betrayal, the Crusader centers were serious weakened.
Saladin came and conquered in the most unusable and unconventional ways possible in ancient and modern warfare. In 1187 Acre was taken by Saladin. In 1191 the Crusaders came back and took the city back under Richard the Lionhearted of England and Philip Augustus of France. In 1192, it became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom because they couldn’t take Jerusalem.
In the times of the Crusaders and Saladin, unusable strategies were applied in the battles about Acre. The city was occupied by Arabs, who were surrounded by Crusaders, who laid siege surrounding the city. Saladin came and surrounded the Crusaders, who surrounded the city. This continued for many years, until the Arabs within Acre fell and the Crusaders managed to penetrate the city and could stop Saladin of attacking the city.
In 1291, the mother of all battles occurred and the Crusaders were defending their last stronghold against Sultan Khalil el Ashraf (Mameluke). In Acre, there were more then 12,000 knights and they swore to fight till the last man against the ‘Arab hordes’.
And that’s exactly what they did. Even when many Crusaders were wounded, they would normally be spared by the Arab armies if they surrendered, but they choose to continue to fight until their last breathe. Many Crusaders were praying while they were fighting. Many of them were in a trance, trying to kill one attacker after the other while singing psalms. It scared the Arab armies to their core because of the eerie and sinister sound the Crusaders made.
After the terrible battle was finally over, Acre and the surroundings were covered by thick layers of the dead and a deadly quiet ruled the city and surroundings; only seven Crusaders survived. Many Arab soldiers who also survived this massive battle spread the stories of the terrible deeds of the Crusaders, who managed to kill more then 29,000 Arab soldiers in this battle. It seemed for the Arab soldiers and populations there there was a curse on the land and city. Their victory tasted more then bitter.
For hundreds of years everyone avoided to visit the city and the lands surrounding it and everything laid in ruins and stayed like that. Many locals were telling that they could hear the eerie quiet voices still singing the psalms of those who were killed in that terrible battle.
And after 458 years, Bedouin Sheikh Dehar el-Omar happened. Dehar el-Omar was the administrative head of northern Palestine in the mid-18th century, while the area was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire. He managed to bring the cities Tiberias, Arraba, Nazareth, Deir Hanna together under his rule and finally added Acre to his list.
He built fortifications, but not really rebuilt to city. For this, he invited the Jews to join him, which they did by mass. Bedouin Sheikh Dehar el-Omar hoped that the Jews would rebuild the city to its full splendor, but they didn’t. It looked like the Crusaders curse was still there. The city became a center of the cotton trade instead between Palestine and Europe. Acre had that time a functioning harbor and fortifications surrounding the city with makeshift houses between the ruins of hundreds of years of age. In the mid-1760s, Sheikh Dehar el-Omar refocused on something else and he reestablished the port town of Haifa nearby.
In 1775, Ahmed Pasha the Albanian (El Jazzar) rebuilt the city with its splendor. He also built the Turkish Aqueduct that brought water from the Kabri Stream to Acco. The Crusader’s curse seemed to be broken by El Jazzar, according the locals those times.
In 1799, the French armies arrived under Napoleon, but they manage to withstand the Napoleonic siege. El Jazzar managed that tremendous feat.
The biggest power for the Napoleon’s armies was their artillery, or with other words their heavy cannons. Their strategy was actually first the bombardments, then charge with infantry. They used cavalry as well, but that was useless during sieges. El Jazzar was for sure aware of that, and took care that his men were as protected as possible under the French bombardments; the city walls were thick and strong. The French failure was actually quite simple to explain: the ran out of cannonballs. At the end it would be too costly to attack the city with only infantry and they gave up.
In 1814 Suleiman Pasha became the ruler of Acco and totally rebuilt the aqueduct and it is the aqueduct that is still visible today.
During the British Mandate Period, the Citadel was used as the British prison where many of the Jewish freedom fighters such as Jabotinsky were imprisoned and others were hung. In 1947, Jewish commandos breached the walls of the fortress freeing both Jewish and Arab prisoners. In 1948, it was one of the three strategic cities of Galilee which fell to Jewish forces – Captured in May 1948.
From all that history, what’s left to look at?
First, we have the aqueducts in Acre (Helenistic, El-Jazzar and Suleiman Pasha). Those aqueducts gathered its water from Ein Shefa, Ein Giah, Ein Shayara and Ein Zuph.
Secondly, we have the El Jazzar Mosque, the El Jazzar Fortress (Used by the British as a prison and place of execution for Jewish underground fighters), Saint John’s Crypt, Khan El-Umdan, Tel el-Fukhkhar (Toron), Crusader Subterranean City, Harbor, walls (built by El-Jazzar).
What is interesting is Tel el-Fukhkhar or the Old Testament Tel is this is the oldest part of Acre and since the Crusaders, still important. The Crusaders called it Toron, from here Richard the Lionhearted set out to conquer the city, the French called this the Napoleon’s Hill, because they tried to conquer the city but failed and finally Israeli forces launched their attack on the city in 1948 and succeeded. I guess there was no El Jazzar anymore.
And you, my dear reader, think that’s it? You’re wrong. The current times is nothing else then history for those who study history in the next 50 or 100 years. We are simply part of it.