Akko is Well Worth the Visit! 1/3/10

Today we returned to the Israel train system for another ride up north, this time past Haifa. Three stations north of Haifa is the modern city of Akko. Although there are many taxis, buses and sheiruts happy to transport people from the train station, Terri and I opted for the walk (turned out to be about a mile and a half) to the ancient walled city of Akko.

A short walk from the “Land Gate” through which we entered and we were in a small but lovely compound set up for visitors. We purchased a “combo pass” that would allow us to visit several of the area’s attractions. The most spectacular of these is an underground complex that was originally built by the Crusaders. Akko was the most successful of the Crusader locations and was controlled by Christians for about 200 years. Unfortunately for their reputation, they were known for having massacred the local Jewish and Muslim population, but the Mamelukes returned the favor and slaughtered most of them in the mid-thirteenth century.

There were two Crusader groups running most of the city–the Knights Hospitaler and the Knights Templar. The Hospitalers were responsible for housing Christian visitors to the Holy Land while the Templars were responsible for their defense. Much of the Citadel belongs to the Hospitalers, but just down the road you can find a 200 meter (more than 600 yards) tunnel that was created by the Templars. The tunnel presumably allowed the defenders to make their way quickly and secretly from the coastal beach to the interior of the city.

Another nice exhibit shows a typical Turkish bath of the 18th and 19th centuries. The accompanying commentary and film is on the hoaky side, but provides enough information to be worth a grimace or three.

We made a quick side trip to the synagogue of the Ramhal–a rabbi who was tossed and turned and even thrown out of Safed for being too mystical. Given Safed’s reputation for attracting wacky people, that must have taken quite a bit of effort! But the synagogue has real charm and the docent was pleased to demonstrate how the Ramhal wrote his own Torah scroll. Definitely worth the short walk to see.

After all this we were famished and Terri basically demanded that we sit at the first place that looked remotely acceptable. This was just outside the Citadel write next to a beautiful mosque. We ordered typical Arab/Israeli items (felafel, hummus with showarma, salads) but accompanied by diet Colas. Instead of a felafel sandwich, they provided a plate with about 15 felafel balls, each was a fine toasted brown on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. The hummus was rich and creamy and the showarma smokey and nicely spiced. The quality was absolutely top notch and the price turned out to be extremely reasonable==about $16 for both of us. I wish I had remembered to write down the name of the place, but alas, I didn’t.

After lunch, Terri was gung ho to see even more. Akko offers a site sacred to the Bahai which includes one of their marvelous gardens and there is also a famous mosque. But we had to be back in Tel Aviv to make an appointment with the telephone delivery person (again). The truth is that I was tired–we had already walked almost 8 miles. So we decided to leave the other sites of Akko for another trip and we headed for the train station for the 90 minute return to our Tel Aviv apartment.

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