To walk the streets of Akko’s old city is to walk back in time.
Like in any ancient city, the streets are narrow–the widest can barely fit a car, and the narrowest are no more than stone-encased footpaths. Alleyways are almost indistinguishable (at least to the foreign eye) from the paths that lead to people’s homes.
Although the new city is about 25% Arab, the old city is 95% Arab. So not only did it feel like another time, it almost felt like another country. Street signs were non-existent or written in Arabic; the only way to get around was to follow the tourist signs with arrows directing us to different sights.
Because Akko has water on three sides, it’s a convenient port and defensible fortress. Historically, it was the gateway from the Mediterranean to the Levant, no matter who happened to rule at the time. It’s the reason Haifa was never more than a hamlet until the 20th century. Now Haifa has a modern industrial port, while the center of activity has passed Akko by.
Akko’s founding has been obscured by the mists of history. It became the main port of the Greeks, Muslims, and Crusaders in turn. It was a center of Jewish life in Palestine in the 12th and 13th centuries. Its history as a coastal fortification ended with the final defeat of the Crusaders in 1291, and although the port continued to be used, its days as an important center were over. The British made use of the citadels to imprison underground fighters who were working toward the establishment of the Jewish state.
Jeff, Rafi, and I visited to Akko on the day after Shavuot, which is apparently a day off in this country. We didn’t get to see too much–we had a bit of a late start because the bus was running late, and in addition, before we even entered the walls of the old city, we took our time. We admired the Haifa skyline and picked out landmarks like the Dan Panorama Hotel, Haifa University, and even our neighborhood (very indistinctly).
We met an Arab family who offered to share their hummus. I felt it would be rude to say no, so we sat down and ate with them. They were eating Hummus Said, which is the best hummus in the city. It turns out that the family has a connection to Jeff’s professor, Hossam Haick. I forget exactly what the connection was, but they are both from the same hometown of Nazereth. We are invited to their house sometime.
So by the time we actually entered the walls of the old city, the sun was high. Akko provides a lot of protection in the form of covered alleys and arcades, but I still got exhausted from the sun and the heat. (Rafi, as usual, was an absolute champ.) We only got to visit the Templar tunnel and the port, but we were able to soak up the atmosphere. It’s a multilayered city, and we plan to go back and visit again.