Before I begin I want to mention a bonus of my journey to Israel. As you will see many of the cities we visited are along the shores of the Mediterranean, Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea. Those who know me well will instantly understand my delight – I have always had an affinity to oceans and seas and lakes and rivers – the flowing water fills my soul. I grew up within a short walk to Gravesend Bay and even now Little Neck Bay is only one block from my home and I spend many of my non-travel hours hiking along the bay, its inlets and marshes.
So imagine the smile on my face when this was my first view when arriving in Tel Aviv:
I’ll share more incredible water views in a later post. Now let’s get started on my next destination- the seaport city of Acre.
ACRE – Also called Akko, this city goes back at least 3500 years and is one of the world’s oldest seaports. It also has quite the list of conquerors and occupiers: Romans, Ottomans, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Byzantines, and British, and today it is home to a mixed population of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Not only are there remains of the Crusader town both above and below street level, there are also portions of the Ottoman walls as well as citadels, mosques and covered markets. And we were among the lucky ones to see them all.
We first visited the Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress which played a major role in the defense of Acre during Crusader times in the 11th century. In my younger days, the Knights Templar were simply backstories for a book series that I read voraciously – The Saint adventures by Leslie Charteris starring the dashing anti hero, Simon Templar. The real Templars were a catholic military order tied to the Crusades, and the Knights’ Halls of the Hospitallers Fortress was built in the 12th Century to protect the pilgrims who journeyed to the holy sites. Today, the renovated site still feels like armored knights with swords drawn are lurking in the many hallways and tunnels:
Even the latrines look like they were ready for the next group of overly imbibed knights:
Outside of the Halls, the town was decidedly more Middle Eastern in tone, with the city’s Ottoman walls and the many alleys of covered markets:
We could see the exterior of the El Jazaar Mosque (also known as the White Mosque) but we were not allowed to enter:
We then went further back in time – to the town of Magdala which lies along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Not only was this the hometown of Mary Magdalene, it is also the site of one of the most incredible Jewish archeological finds- which you will see in next week’s post – here is a teaser: