Akko's (Acre) rich maritime history and importance goes back millennia, continuing to make it a top destination while traveling in Israel.
A trip to Akko allows visitors to go back in time and relish the chronicles of its sea-faring legacy. The Egyptians, Ottomans, the Crusaders — and even Napoleon — have all set foot and left their imprint there.
The old cliché of "good things come in small packages" holds true for Akko. If walls could talk, they would tell the many tales of this city's long history. Its romantic atmosphere on the coast, narrow alleys and stone buildings, which haven't changed all that much since they were built centuries ago, take Akko to the top of any to-do list in Israel.
Look at the following sights, among others, when visiting this incredible fortified city.
· Walking Tour of Old Akko's City Wall. Since the region is so compact and easy to get around, visitors have a chance to begin a tour of Akko by first strolling along the ramparts of this city that jets out into the blue waters of the Mediterranean. For great sea and coastal views, start on the western side on Hahaganah Street and walk along the wall toward the old lighthouse.
On a clear day, Mount Carmel, in Haifa, can also be seen in the distance. (Closer still to view, in Akko, are two stunning historical synagogues: the Ramchal temple and Ohr Torah, with its Tunisian markings.)
Continuing along the wall, then down the steps at Doniana Restaurant, Sala Ve Bazri Street leads to Khan al-Umdan (the Hostelry of Columns) and its famous clock tower. A former inn used by caravans, its rooms at the courtyard level were for the animals, while the upper floors accommodated merchants.
Traversing the little alleyways leads to Venice Square and the port that opens up to the sea. Fancy a harbor cruise? The double-decker Akko Queen, which is at the far end of the port, offers a half-hour tour around the tip of Akko.
The Land Wall Promenade, which was constructed after Napoleon's attempt to take the city, is an impressive fortification that can be reached at the steps at the Land Gate.
· Al-Jezzar Mosque: Named after Ahmed al-Jezzar Pasha, the man who brought the city back to life during Ottoman rule in the 18th century, this mosque is not the city's oldest, but it is just as grand.
Easily recognizable by its green domes, towering minaret and Turkish flair, Al-Jezzar is also the final resting place of Al-Jezzar himself, along with his successor, Suleimann and adopted sons. Their sarcophagi can be seen in the small building crowned with the two domes to the right of the mosque.
Facing the garden setting of the inner courtyard, compact rooms behind the marble and limestone Roman columns of the vaulted colonnade once housed madrassa students who, long ago, came here to learn the teachings of Islam and to study Arabic.
· Templar's Tunnel: The tunnel, whose history dates back centuries to the time when the Templar's quarter was taking shape, was discovered by chance in 1994. Its function was to connect a Templar palace with Akko's port. Underground water continues to trickle by while visitors walk the narrow passageway under the carved stone.
· Turkish Baths: After an experience at a Turkish hammam (bathhouse), it can be said that the Turks know how to pamper themselves. Built during the days of Al-Jezzar, Hammam al-Pasha is tucked away in the heart of Akko. A 30-minute show, "The Story of the Last Bath Attendant," also gives visitors a chance to take a look at how Akko's inhabitants used to congregate here to relax, socialize, and enjoy the warm waters and steam rooms amid stunning architecture.
· Eating: Akko, among other cities in Israel, is also noted for its hummus. Family recipes have been passed down from one generation to another, each having its own touch. For a tasty bowl of hummus with meat or fava beans (known as ful), head to Hummus Issa, located on busy Saladin Street, which runs along the arches of the White Market. Keep an eye open for the poster of a father and his young son stirring bowls of the creamy substance.
For more information, see: www.goisrael.com.