Saturday, March 4, 2017

Acre (Akko), Israel

Another travel post - this one about the glorious city of Acre. It was a tremendous highlight of an already wonderful choral performance tour to Israel (Haifa, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Nazareth, and Caesarea). I had been asked to join the choral performance tour because I helped premiere the work Annelies (by James Whitbourn) in its first Prague appearance a year and a half ago. This tour was a brief trip in which we gave four concerts and sang with two other choirs in educational settings. On January 1st, 2017, my host family from the Efroni choir in Kadimah, Israel, took me to the Bronze Age city of Acre, also known as Akko. It's also written as Aak (Egyptian), Akka, and Adco (Canaanite: Interestingly, Acre is one of the places that did NOT drive out the Canaanites.) (Below: Ancient bread stamp with menorah, Below Left:Templar hallway, Right: Catapult balls)
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Much of what I learned was from old signs in the tourist areas and from my host family, the father of which was an engineer interested in Biblical history. Cleopatra liked Acre so much that she arranged for her daughter to be married there. St. Francis of Assisi passed through Acre on his way to the Holy Land. Herod the Great built a gymnasium here and Paul the Apostle with Luke were supposed to have stayed a day here before going on to Caesarea. This site gives interesting accounts of Biblical Acre. Here's a quick video about Acre (UNESCO link). Here is a link to an aerial map of Acre that I liked.
(Left: Outside the Al-Jazzer Mosque, Right: underground Templar complex). 
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Akko is fascinating! If you have the chance, definitely DO visit this gorgeous Mediterranean city and stay in the old village. It's a coastal beauty, on the bay of Haifa, boasting a natural harbor and has been continuously residential since the Bronze Age, between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. (BEFORE the iron age, wow!) Ancient Israel acted as a bridge between political centers in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been under excavation since the 1990's. There is history above AND below the current street level, mainly a Templar church, refectory, and fortress below. (Here is more about the Siege of Acre). While I was there, I heard and read the term Levantine archaeology. Very interesting. I can see where the term "land where the sun rises" comes into play in Akko. The seafront is stunning. Along it lies the earliest tell (archaeological mound) of the city which is the ruins of its old fortress.
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Tel Akko or Tell el-Fukhar in Arabic

The Crusaders conquered the city, followed by the Mamluks (Medieval Egyptian and Levantine). The city also had Greek (Ptolmey II from Egypt renamed Akko to Ptolemais, and it became a major Greek city), Roman, Persian, and Arabian conquests, along with others. It was a refuge for the Persians, Egyptians, and For this reason, it is one of THE most diverse places in Israel. It reminded me quite a bit of the ancient stone city of Uplistsikhe in Georgia  (not sure what blogspot did to my photos in that post, but I'll update soon) - mainly because both places consisted of such prime real estate that they seem to have been conquered by virtually everyone. (Left: Acre harbor, Right: Acre clock tower).
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In Akko, there are a ton of site to see: The Inn of the Columns (an Ottoman palatial inn), ALL of the city walls and the market, Turkish baths (still operating), the seafront Crusader fortress, the Crusader hall, church, and refectory, the Al-Jazzar Mosque, and Genovese Square where you can find St. George's church. The Order of the Knights Hospitaller, of St. John of Jerusalem, used this complex. (Below: Left - Crusader latrines Right - The Great Hall).
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You'll see a mix of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and the Baha'i faith in people and buildings. The people are friendly and used to tourists. If you somehow missed eating kanafe while in Israel or Palestine, try some here! This is a Syro-Palestinian dessert and one of the most delicious experiences. (Left: real Turkish delight, Right: kanafe).
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I LOVED every moment in Akko. It is captivating to look out at the sea and feel the impact of so many ages of conquests and life. The busyness of life in the touristy market area, showcases a mixed, vibrant, and complicated past that is full of the branches of history. Places like this hold multi-faceted gems that sparkle across ages of reflected lights. 
I wish I could have stayed more than one day! I suppose this means I shall have to return :-) Here is my Israel choir tour photo album. In it, you'll find some of these photos from Akko and can look forward and back to find the others.
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Ancient bull calf figurine, Canaanite period.

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