Napoleon meet Rabbi Nachman… What? Now there’s a historic meeting that would have been fun to witness. Yup, Napoleon invaded Palestine, attempting to capture the stunning and strategic city of Akko. Having heard about this, and that Akko is a World Heritage Site and that it’s a Christian Arab, Muslim Arab and Jewish city built on a thumb of land that juts out into the sea and that everyone in history seemed to want to invade it – well seemed like a road trip was in order. Took the train- (traveling by train on cushy double decker trains in Israel is def. the way to go). Met the lovely Mark Yudell, my companion for the trip at the train station on one of the most beautiful days in the Universe and we were off to explore……..
So Akko is actually awesome. It’s walled port-city that has been continuously occupied since the Phoenician period. The remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact, both above and below today’s street level, including a wild maze of escape tunnels designed to let those in the walled city escape to the sea. More on that later….The present city is classic Ottoman from the 18th and 19th centuries. If you look at it on a map it becomes obvious why everyone wanted to own Akko. It’s a perfect port and a perfect strategic location from which to control the coast. There is a modern part of the city , outside of the ancient walls, but we’ll ignore that.
Akko is a magical, peaceful place inhabited by people of many faiths and what appears to be thousands of cats. The local feeling is that in a port city you have rats. if you have cats there are no rats. Makes sense to me. Winding ancient streets that double back on each other lead you around and around and eventually everything leads to the sea. The city is off the tourist trail and as a result feels special and somehow private. The coffee is superb. Enough chat. Here are some snaps- Coffee bar, Akko Style. Extraordinarily good coffee, served with side dishes of baklava and pickles. A taste combo I never need to repeat.
Most of the shops are decorated with historical and personal pictures, leading to some incredible combinations…..
Sign at a fish monger’s shop….Damn, I love this drawing….
The Old City has a beautiful little Mosque ( little is a relative term when it comes to Mosque size) It’s claim to fame is that the Mosque contains a hair from Muhammad’s beard. And I want to say to the French tourists who angrily refused to pay the 10 shekel entrance fee ( about $3.00) Really? And did you have to be so damn rude about it? Every Mosque should have a cat in a basket!
Kids riding ponies bareback thunder down the street, Orthodox Jews shopping in the market next to veiled and robed women. Stores with equipment that looks 100 years old making things out of copper and tin. Tis’ truly a marvelous city.
We descended into the Crusader tunnels – they wind underneath much of the city, clever escape routes for a besieged army. Some of the tunnels are about four feet high, arched tunnels perfected constructed. It’s a little mind bogging to think of how they were been built. The floor of one tunnel actually fills with sea water as you get closer to the sea. Akko is layer upon layer of history. We came upon these two gents who were actually bricking up a tunnel. Upon questioning we learned that an entire new part of the ancient city had been discovered but the funds to properly excavate it weren’t available, so they were closing it back up to preserve it. These guys had been working in the tunnels for 22 years…..Meanwhile, above ground. The seawalls, seafood restaurants cling to the side of the city, the sea lapping up against them.Sweets, fish nets, street posters, seafood, a wall of seashells, shops
It’s a dizzying array of color, scent and light. A strong breeze blows off the ocean. The sky is a shade of blue right out of a renaissance painting. A perfect respite from my normal uber urban Tel Aviv days, where taxi drivers vie with insane electric bike riders to see who will blink at that moment of contact……..I like Akko.