Acre (or Akko) is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful Old Cities in Israel. The city was built on the edge of a natural harbor, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, south of Haifa. Its sea access and strategic location made it an important site for ancient civilizations that settled here. Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Its history dates back to the Early Bronze Age, but the city is best known for its Crusader and Ottoman-era structures. Today the picturesque port offers visitors outdoor cafes, fish restaurants, and boat excursions.
The History of Acre Port
The earliest mention of Acre Port was in Egyptian hieroglyphics, in 3,500BC. It appears again in historic documents in 527-525BC when the port was the base for a Persian attack on Egypt. The bustling port saw hundreds of ships come and go, bringing supplies, soldiers, and horses to the Levant. Julius Caesar famously visited Acre and Marco Polo stopped at Acre Port on his journey east.
During the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750AD), a large shipyard was built in the port of Acre. When the Egyptians conquered the city in 868-884BC, they fortified the port and coastline. In the Middle Ages, Acre saw many battles, and Mamelukes, Syrians, and Crusaders reached the port city. It was during the Crusader Period that Acre Port played an important role in establishing ties with the West. In 1104, the Crusader city became the main entry point for pilgrims and Crusaders arriving by sea. The Crusaders lost the city to the Ottomans in 1291.
In the 17th century, Daher El-Omar became the autonomous ruler of Galilee. As part of his efforts to separate Northern Palestine from the Ottomans, he restored the port and had massive defensive walls constructed. It was these walls that repelled Napoleon’s attempt to take Acre in 1799. Thanks to a Royal Navy flotilla, in the Acre Port the French were prevented from getting artillery supplies by sea. The harbor blockade forced Napoleon’s supplies and troops to make the long journey overland. British gunboats came in close to the shore and helped defend the Ottoman city from a sea attack, and Napoleon was turned away.
Acre Port in the 19th-20th-Century
The port remained in good working order through the 19th century. The Egyptian fleet of Muhammad Ali used Arce Port. Acre’s most famous ruler, Ottoman governor, Ibrahim Pasha or Al-Jazzar further developed the port. In 1840, the British and Austrian navies destroyed the port during a battle against Al-Jazzar. In the last few years of the Ottoman Empire. Acre faced increasing competition from the port in Haifa. Under British rule, the port of Acre was closed in favor of Haifa’s larger port just a few kilometers north. A new breakwater was built in 1965 and the port became a marina in 1982.
Visiting Acre Port
A typical visit to Acre includes walking along the main market street, which ends at Acre Port. The small wharf is sheltered by a breakwater, and you can see fishermen mending their nets, bringing in the day's catch, and preparing their small vessels for another day at sea. Visitors can enjoy the quaint port’s picturesque sea views, with pleasant eateries and cafes along the water’s edge. The newest attraction to Acre Port is a pleasure boat that sails from Acre to Haifa. At Acre Port, you can relax and enjoy the historic surroundings, and imagine Crusaders, pilgrims, and warriors who docked here thousands of years ago.
2,300-year-old port discovered in Acre
As if Acre wasn’t interesting enough, in addition to the ancient port that tourists have been visiting for decades a new port has now been discovered. At the base of the seawall on the south side of the existing port, archaeologists have uncovered a port that runs all the way to Horses Beach.
The port dates back to the 2nd and 3rd century BC, the Hellenistic period. Ongoing archeological digs are continuing to discover elements that have lead experts to believe that this 2,300-year-old port could accommodate warships in its dock which was constructed of dressed stones to secure the large vessels to the shore.
The port was first discovered during preservation work on the existing seawall in 2009 when paving stones (8 meters by 5 meters) were found beneath the sea. In addition to the quay there appear to be remains of large buildings and other artifacts like pottery fragments have been found which came from Greece.
Experts think that the remains prove that the port was deliberately destroyed so they are now trying to piece this together with historic events specifically the Hasmonean revolt in 167BC. Excavation will continue in the direction of the sea but parts of the ruins go under the Ottoman city walls and so will be difficult to reach.