The Israeli port city of Akko (once known as Acre) dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. Under the Romans, it became a headquarters for the army and from here assaults were launched on Jewish strongholds in the Galilee. The Muslims conquered Acre in 636, but the city was re-taken by the Crusaders in 1104 and served as their capital for nearly two centuries.
Today the medieval city of Akko is mainly underground, but decades of excavation have revealed its grandeur. An enormous complex of halls with high vaulted ceilings and stone floors has been revealed. The rooms were used as a hospital, living quarters, dining halls, and for ceremonial purposes, and are connected with underground tunnels that gave access to the sea during times of siege.
The history of Akko is deeply intertwined with the story of both the Templars (an order of warrior monks who guarded pilgrims coming to the Holy Land) and the Hospitallers (a monastic military order established to treat sick pilgrims).
During their years here, the city became legendary for its wealth and attracted travelers that included Marco Polo, who most likely dined in these very halls. Today the dramatic underground complex has a vaguely Da Vinci Code air about it, hinting of secrets and intrigues around each shadowy corner.
The present-day city of Akko is home to 55,000 citizens and is famous for its winding, picturesque lanes. The second most important mosque in Israel is here, the eighteenth-century Mosque of El-Jazar. Akko is also sacred for those who follow the Baha’i faith because of its association with Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the religion.
In the old city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tourists can enter a tunnel that dates back to the time of the Crusaders. As visitors walk through the winding route, a multi-media presentation on the tunnel walls describes the history of Akko. At the end, visitors emerge at the spot from which the Crusaders departed after losing control of the Holy Land.
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.