The City of Akko (Acre)

The city of Akko (Acre) is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is one of the three ancient port cities in Israel (together with Jaffa and Caesarea), lying at the northern end of Haifa bay. Akko's Old City has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city's many archeological, historical and religious sites, its bazaar, and the spectacular view from the top of its walls of the Mediterranean and the city of Haifa across the bay, all make it an exceptionally interesting place and a top tourist attraction in Israel.

Akko was first mentioned by this name in ancient Egyptian clay execration texts from the 18th century BC. By the time it was mentioned in the ancient Egyptian letters from the archeological site of Amarna (letters from the 14th century BC sent to the Pharaoh Akhenaten; they serve as the primary source of information about the Canaanite period), the port was already an important trade-link to other Mediterranean ports. It is mentioned in the Bible only once (Judges 1:31) as one of the places from which the Israelites failed to drive out the Canaanites.

The city became one of the biggest cities of the Hellenistic world. The Ptolemaic Egyptian king Ptolemy II renamed it Ptolemais in the 2nd century BC. During the Roman period it was home to several important Talmudic sages. Following the Muslim conquest in the 7th century CE, the city's ancient name was restored. Under Arab domination Akko remained an important port.

Akko was the main port of the Christian kingdom under Crusader rule in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and their sea-link with the European countries from which they came. The Crusaders renamed the city St. Jean d'Acre, or Acre for short - the source of the confusion between Acre and Akko as the city's name today. Famous Jewish rabbis also landed there at that time, the best known of them being Maimonides (the Rambam), in whose memory there is a plaque on the wall facing the jetty. This depicts in mosaic stones the harbor of Akko and has the inscription: "In this harbor, on the third day of the month of Sivan 4926 [16 May 1165] landed the learned Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the eagle and stronghold of Judaism." One of the main attractions of Akko today is the subterranean Crusader citadel, containing the magnificent Knights' Halls, which the Hospitallers, the Order of the Knights of St. John, built more than 700 years ago.

In 1291, the Mamluks invaded and destroyed the city, killing every remaining Crusader and putting an end to the Latin Kingdom. Akko ceased to be a major city for almost 500 years, until the Bedouin sheikh Daher el-Omar carved a small fiefdom out of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-18th century, made Akko his capital and fortified it. It was further fortified by the Turkish governor Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzer ("The Butcher", 1720-1804). Pasha al-Jazzer's closest advisor was a Jew named Haim Farhi, who got one of his eyes plucked out and the tip of his nose chopped after he once infuriated his boss. The mosque al-Jazzer that Pasha al-Jazzer built is one of the most beautiful in Israel and the most distinctive building in the old city. As part of the city's fortifications, the Turks built a new citadel - the Citadel of Akko - on top of the old Hospitallers' citadel.

Napoleon landed in Palestine and put a siege on Akko in 1799 that lasted three months, but he was unable to take the city from the Turks who were aided by British forces. His Middle Eastern campaign to destroy the Ottoman Empire subsequently collapsed and he left the area back to Egypt.

The city became part of the British Mandate of Palestine In 1918 following the victory of the British over the Turks. The British used the Citadel of Akko as a high-security prison to hold members of the various Jewish underground groups. Twelve of them were executed there. On May 4, 1947, members of the Irgun staged a dramatic rescue operation (dramatized in the film Exodus). Today, the fortress is the site of the Underground Prisoners Memorial Museum.

On May 17, 1948, three days after Israel's Declaration of Independence, Israeli troops took control of Akko and most of the Arab inhabitants fled. Today Akko is a mixed Arab Jewish city, with a population of about 40,000, about two-thirds of it Jewish.

There are several Baha'i holy places in and around Akko. Baha'u'llah - the prophet of the Baha'i faith - was imprisoned in the Citadel during Ottoman Rule . The final years of Baha'u'llah's life were spent in a mansion just outside Akko, even though he was still formally a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. In 2008, these holy places, along with those in the nearby city of Haifa, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Among other interesting places in the city are the Turkish hammam and the Khan El Umdan. The Khan El Umdan is an 18th century structure used by camel caravans that once brought grain and produce from Galilee to the market. The name means "inn of the pillars", for the fine granite Herodian pillars brought from Caesarea to support the structure. All that remains of the port's eventful past, besides the fishermen's jetty from the Turkish era, are the ruins of a Crusader breakwater and lighthouse, and older ruins beneath the sea.

The stamp was issued in 2007 to mark Akko being an UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2001), design: Ronen Goldberg. The stamp displayed with the Hebrew version of this article (previous entry) was issued in 1967, one of 3 in a series featuring the ancient ports of Israel (Acre, Caesarea and Jaffa) and designed by O. Adler.