Akko – History
Akko (Acre) is a living city, which has existed continuously for about 4,000 years. Its beginning was in Tel Akko, more commonly known as Napoleon Hill. From the Hellenistic period onwards the city expanded west to the area that later became the Crusader and Ottoman city. The following historical review refers to the area known today as Old Akko and is based entirely on the “History of Akko” by Nathan Shore, unless noted otherwise.
From the times of Alexander the Great (333-332 BCE) Akko enjoyed the same status as the Phoenician cities Tyre and Sidon, maintaining a direct connection with the Greek government. The use of coins was common in Akko and the local mint operated for about 700 years, until the fourth century CE. Akko has the longest and richest numismatic history in Israel.
From 310 BCE, under Ptolemaic rule, Akko apparently received the status of Polis and was called "Ptolemais". The beaches of Akko appear in Greek sources of that period as a source for sand used in glass production. Akko reflects well the Hellenistic influence in Syria and Israel; as the largest coastal city in Israel at the time, Akko kept expanding in the peninsula area ideal for trading and gained strong political and economic status.
During the Roman period Akko’s autonomous status as a Polis persisted. Many Jews settled in Akko in the beginning of this period and the city was connected to the history of the Jews in Israel throughout the Talmudic period. In the
early Christian period the Apostles Paul and Peter also stayed in Akko. During this period a long breakwater was built to create a safe harbor, which was Akko’s main source of economic prosperity for about 1,000 years.
Starting in the fourth century CE, the Byzantine period marks the strengthening of the Greek influence in Akko. The Tel settlement was abandoned and the economy continued to be based on sea trade. Following the great Jewish revolt of 614 Akko was the first coastal city to be captured. The Jewish community that flourished in Akko was apparently
destroyed and the city remained abandoned.
Early Arab period (638-1104)
The beginning of the Arab period was marked by re-changing of the city name to Aka - its original name in the Arabic form. The elite class in the city were mostly Christians. Yet a continuous process of conversion led to a reinforcement of the Islamic ruling class.
Following the rise of the Abbasid dynasty (750-1258) a cultural change took place which determined the dominance of Eastern values in
Islamic culture. The Mosqes replaced the church, the statues in town squares were removed, while other cultural symbols prevailed.
Between the years 630 – 692 the city suffered from instability and fights with the Byzantines. In 660 the first Muslim shipyard was built by professional craftsmen from Persia, Beck, Homs and Antioch, who were brought to settle in Akko for this purpose. In 692 the Byzantines destroyed Akko along with Caesarea and Ashkelon. The seventh century
was a period of destruction after which Akko was restored only around the Old City area.
From 878 Israel was ruled by Ahmed Ibn Toulon who rebuilt and developed the port of Akko as a military base to strengthen his rule in Syria. In 969 the Shiite Fatimid dynasty, a naval power established in Akko, took over. There is evidence ofJewish presence in Akko during the twelfth century and by the end of the century Akko became a Jewish center.
Twelfth century (1104-1191)
During the Crusader period Akko was at its greatest and became one of the world’s centers. Although its peak was a century later, in the twelfth century Akko was already the largest and richest city in the Crusader kingdom as well as its most important port.
The city was conquered in 1104 by King Baldwin with a large fleet from Genoa in Italy. Despite the instability and hostility between Muslims and Christians the city enjoyed prosperity, security and cooperation between Europeans and locals. The city was inhabited by wealthy aristocrats and merchants leading luxurious lives and pilgrims crowded its streets. The city was subject to the king and ruled by his governor. Special rights were given to the merchants from Genoa who had their own quarter, as well as to traders from Venice, Pisa Amalfyand Marseille. Akko had the largest Italian Colony of any of the port cities in Israel and Syria. The substantial presence of Italian and French traders, who actually kept the connection between Europe and the Crusader Kingdom, established Akko as a crucial elementof the East-West trade.
In 1187, following the Battle of Hattin, Akko was handed to Saladin without a fight. Most of
the Christian traders fled the city before the surrender. Apparently the city was severely damaged due to the resident's departure and the entry of the Muslim troops.
On the Third Crusade that came in response to the fall of Jerusalem and other cities, Akko found itself under the most famous siege in the history of the Crusades (1189 – 1191). The long siege, carried out by high ranking and religiously motivated participants, ended with the Muslims' withdrawal and the return of the Christians to Akko.
Thirteenth century (1191-1291)
The thirteenth century was the golden age of Akko as the capital of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The city’s population reached at least 40,000. Economically, socially and culturally Akko became one of the world's major cities. It was the most important trading center between Asia and Europe and the main Italian trade cities kept a permanent base in Akko. Most of the trade between the West and the Near and Far East passed through its port and markets. Akko was also a financial center of transactions and loans run by the Templars, and of real estate transactions in Europe led by the Hospitallers.
Crusader Akko was under constant threats from the Muslims and suffered from internal strife between its various quarters and communes. Any events taking place in the city had an effect beyond the country borders. In the eyes of the Christian West Akko symbolized the realization of the Crusader quest. There was a special cultural blending in Akko influenced by east and west. It was the home of the Kings of Jerusalem and other visiting rulers. It was the seat of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom which was the main