Acco or the point where civilizations meet
There is a saying: strong essences are kept in small bottles. A visit to Acco will reinforce the truth of it. Acco is a small town placed in the North of Israel, in the Galilean region, but what it has to reveal to those who put their foot in it is big. One of the oldest towns in this part of the world, Acco holds graved in its walls the history and traces of several civilizations: Persian, Greek, Roman, Arabic, West European, Ottoman. For these reasons, the town is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Napoleon himself struggled to conquer the Acco city, submitting it to a tough siege for two months, with no success. He said that if Acco had failed, the world would have been his. And even these words only may seem intriguing enough to want to see what is behind this city’s name that made it so wanted.
At least this was our case. That’s why, during my second staying in Israel, we decided to have a closer look. Acco (you may come across it referred as Acre, Ptolemais, Akko ) is very easily accessible by train: a no more than 3 hours trip from Tel Aviv. Traveling by train will give you the chance to admire also other towns on the way , the most important being Haifa. In the North of the country, as we were told, are many military bases so the train might be quite full of soldiers.
After 2 hours and a half we stepped out of the train and decided to walk to the spot where all touristic attractions are: the old city. You might as well take a cab, but the old city is not far, no more than 30 minutes of walking. If you decide to walk, as we did, don’t expect landscapes and greatness on the way: Acco is a regular city, even one looking poor and maybe a little dirty and not very attractive. Neighborhoods with building looking badly, probably deteriorated by high humidity, clothes hanging at the windows and balconies. However, it seemed a quiet town with no urgent sense of danger. Although the population is in majority Jewish, the town has the air of an Arabic one. It’s easily detectable that the place flourished during Ottoman rule.
As you approach the Old town, tourists can be seen and the landscape starts to change. The walls of the citadel are indeed the highlight of the city.
The best thing is to go directly to the Info Tourist Center in the Citadel and take a brochure, see what is of interest for you and then pay a ticket according to what you want to visit. We did not do this from the start and began by wondering a little on the streets of the old town. And it was not bad at all because:
We have took a walk on the walls from the North Gate
Then we stepped down in the maze of the old town, admired the architecture of the Akko hotel, spotted some best places to eat cheaply and tastefully, walked into the traditional market which is not very big and tangled as most Arabic markets are. What surprised me in the Acco’s market was the mix of products. If in Morrocco’s bazar the food area was separated from the footwear let’s say, here you will see fish next to clothes, spices, fruits. Put together and the fish smell on top will challenge those sensitive to smells, especially on hot days.
The town is dominated by a few big symbols:
1.Al-Jazaar Mosque with a vivid green roof.
2. The old Citadel and the Enchanted Garden. The Garden is small and pleasant and this is where the journey through the history of the old Acco starts. Here you can buy a ticket (price range from 30 to 60 shekels). We bought the one allowing access to the Knights Wall, Templar Tunel, Turkish Bath, Okashi Art Museum for 45 sheckels. We received also audio-guides which are very generous in information and I think you could spend a few hours just wondering through the Citadel and Knights Wall. From here you reach the Turkish Bazaar (it was in renovation when we were there and looked promising) and the Turkish Bathouse. Visiting the latter is a very relaxing experience, you get to see a movie presenting the history of the place and they made a great job in recreating the atmosphere of what the place used to be ages ago. In one of the rooms there are even steam effects and an interesting decoration with towels hanging on wires.
3. The old Harbor and the Crusaders area.
As distances are small and easy to walk by foot, from the Citadel you can easily get to the old harbor. It’s not that I’m in love with the sea in general, but this harbor is to my mind how harbors looked like traditionally: small, simple, quite, with boats and fishermen all around, a lighthouse and to complete its beauty, St John Church on a rock, white and charming. The perfect sea harbor atmosphere. Although visited by many tourists, it’s a very quiet and pleasant area. For a few tens of shekels you can cruise the golf on a boat or simply stick to a promenade along the walls from where you can admire the sea on one side and the town on the other. There are also a few restaurants with a lovely view on the harbor, offering seafood and fish dishes. Needless to say that the harbor was what I loved more from Acco.
And since we got to the food, after a few hours of walking up and down the streets of old Acco, we had a good meal not in the harbor, but in the old town, to a traditional Arabic place. What I tasted there and in Israel in general changed my vision on oriental food (which is traded in Europe as unhealthy and often a poor surrogate of a good meal). Warm soft bread filled with chicken meat, seasoned with a salad prepared by ourselves. And at the end, on the way back to the train station we had a little of the Arabic pastries.
An indulgence after inhaling the salted breeze air of the Mediterranean Sea.