Old Acre is located on a small peninsula, projecting into the Mediterranean Sea. Many of its fortifications still exist. The fabric of the city as seen today, as well as its most prominent monuments, is mainly eighteenth and ninteenth century Ottoman overlaid on the ruins of the magnificent thirteenth century crusaders city. The history of Acre dates back five thousand years. In its earlier stages is was built in an area 1.5km north of today's city walls called Tel Akko (in Hebrew: The mount of Acre) or Tal al-Fawakhir (in Arabic "The mount of shards"). Impressive fortifications from around the twentieth century BC were found at this site. Already at around 2000 BC, the city's name had a similar pronunciation to its current name in Arabic and Hebrew (Akka and Akko); different legends apply different meaning or sources to this name. The city was one of the main Phoenician ports in the latter part of the second millennium BC.
During the Egyptian period the city changed its name to Ptolemais for many years. During the Roman period the city status declined as Caesarea grew more important. The town started to regain its centrality during the Umayyad period. In the beginning of the twelfth century the city was occupied by the crusaders who named it 'St. Jean d'Acre'. It became the main port connecting Europe to the Holy Land as well as other parts of Asia and in its golden age in the thirteenth century it became the capital of the crusaders' Kingdom of Jerusalem (1191-1291), the richest and most dominant city in the area enjoying international glamour. In 1291 Acre was conquered by the Mamluk army of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil. In order to deter the crusaders from recapturing the city, the Mamluks ruined the city, which was left neglected for five centuries.
The potential of the city was realized again during the Ottoman period in the hands of a local Bedouin ruler, Dhahir al-Umar (1745-1775), who made Acre into the capital of Galilee and a center for the export of cotton. The city became richer yet under his successor Ahmad Jazzar Pasha, the most influential ruler in determining the appearance of the old city of today. Al-Jazzar (in Arabic: "the butcher") was known for his extremely cruel and whimsical character, but also as a great builder, who, many believe to have been the architect and engineer of the buildings constructed under his supervision.
In 1799, the armies of Napoleon unsuccessfully tried to besiege Acre from al-Jazzar. In the middle of the nineteenth century an Egyptian force under the command of Ibrahim Pasha seized Acre. From this time on Acre never really recovered, different wars magnified its disintegration, while Haifa slowly gained more importance. Acre is recognized today as a cultural asset, one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the most important and beautiful cities in the country. After a sweeping restoration of the city, it has become a major tourist site. The city is also one of the holiest sites for the Bahai faith, whose prophet and founder, Bahu'ualla, was imprisoned in Acre in 1868.
Dichter, Bernhard. Akko-Sites from the Turkish Period. Haifa: University of Haifa, 2000.
Lurie, Yehoshua. Acre-The Walled City: Jews among the Arabs, Arabs among the Jews. Tel Aviv: Yaron Golan Publication, 2000.
Petersen, Andrew. A Gazetteer of Buildings in Muslim Palestine: Part 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Schur, Nathan. A History of Acre. Tel Aviv: Dvir Publishing House, 1990.
Khan al-Umdan, the grandest and best preserved khan in Acre, is located on the southwest corner of the old city abutting the sea and the port. It is one of the prominent projects constructed during the reign of Ahmad Jazzar Pasha. The pasha acquired the epithet of al-Jazzar (Arabic: the butcher) because of his whimsical cruelty to his subjects as well as to his family, close friends and advisors. He gained fame, however, as the person who managed to deter (with the assistance of the British Fleet) the armies of Napoleon from the sea shore of the Galilee. During his reign Acre grew significantly more prosperous and became known worldwide for the quality of its cotton and grain. Khan al-Umdan, refurbished to accommodate the growing needs brought by the expanding commerce, is one of al-Jazzar's principal construction projects in the city and the biggest khan in Israel. As all the other monumental projects of al-Jazzar, it is assumed that the design of the khan was done by the pasha himself.
The khan, which was estimated to have been built on the site of the Royal Customs house of the Crusader Kingdom, is a rectangular two-stories-high building enclosing a spacious internal courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard was built a pool made of Nazareth marble, and filled with water from the Kabri aqueduct. Flanking the courtyard on the ground floor from all four sides is an arcade of red and black granite columns. The arcade provides shelter from the harsh summer sun and enriches the courtyard with rhythms and interplays of light and shadow. Behind the arcade are storage spaces covered with barrel vaults. The second floor arcade is held by masonry piers and leads into small cross-vaulted guests' rooms. In 1906 a tall clock tower was built adjacent to the main entrance to the khan (on top of the north wing) to commemorate the silver jubilee of the rule of Ottoman sultan Abd al-Hamid the 2nd, along with many other clock towers around the Ottoman Empire.
The plethora of columns bestowed the khan the name "Khan al-Awamid" (Arabic: Hostel of Pillars). The columns were taken from Caesarea, Atlit and the ruins of Crusader monuments in Acre itself. The commercial activity in the khan seized as a result of the vast destruction brought to the city with the Egyptian conquest of 1832, even though the structure itself was not harmed by the attacks. The khan later gained importance to the Bahaii community as it was the site were Baha'ullah used to receive guest, and later the site for a Bahaii school.
Dichter, Bernhard. 2000. Akko-Sites from the Turkish Period. Haifa: University of Haifa, 72-79.
Lurie, Yehoshua. 2000. Acre-The Walled City: Jews among the Arabs, Arabs among the Jews. Tel Aviv: Yaron Golan Publication, 43.
Petersen, Andrew. 2001. A Gazetteer of Buildings in Muslim Palestine: Part 1.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 87-8.
Schur, Nathan. 1990. A History of Acre. Tel Aviv: Dvir Publishing House, 207-228.