The Road to Akko

10 Oct

El Jazzar Mosque at Dusk

El Jazzar Mosque at Dusk

Knight's Halls

Knights' Halls built by Hospitaller Knights

Sea Grotto at Rosh Hanikra

Sea Grotto at Rosh Hanikra

B. had a nice long weekend this weekend: Yom Kippur on Saturday and Columbus Day on Monday. We thought we’d do an overnight stay somewhere but since everything –including roads — is closed in Israel on Yom Kippur, the long weekend stay was a bit truncated. We decided to do a one-night stay in Akko, leaving on Sunday morning and returning Monday afternoon. Located less than two hours north of us on the coast, Akko is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in Israel. It is mentioned extensively in the novel The Source as Michener chronicles the many civilizations that occupied the site: Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Turks. Today the population of Akko (also known as Acre) is about 70% Jewish and 30% Arab. Akko has a large, picturesque and exotic old town situated on a bay facing Haifa.

We stayed in Akkotel, a boutique hotel housed in an old Turkish police station that is built right into the city wall. We covered a lot of ground during our short stay in Akko, wandering in and out of the labyrinthine lanes and covered walkways of the old city. I felt the Turkish Bazaar was more colorful than Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market or Jaffa’s Flea Market, but it was also a bit more odoriferous. I could barely stomach the stench coming from the fish vendor stalls. We visited the vaults and halls of the Crusader Fortress and crouched through an underground tunnel built by the Templars to connect the Fortress with the Port. An incredibly corny audiovisual display accompanied our visit to the magnificent old Turkish Bathhouse, built in 1781 for Pasha el Jazzar. El Jazzar also built the large mosque that dominates the old city.

We happened to be standing atop the city wall when the muezzin made their evening call to prayer…a magical moment as dusk settled on the city and the minaret was lit up from within by a bright green light. We had dinner at the legendary Uri Buri restaurant and left feeling they had lived up to their reputation for serving excellent seafood. We did all this on Sunday.

The next day we visited the el Jazzar mosque. The courtyard surrounding the mosque was beautifully landscaped, quiet and tranquil. We took a peek at the interior of the mosque (a barrier prevented us from entering more than a few steps inside). We returned to the Turkish Bazaar so I could take some pictures and then walked to the very end of the fisherman’s wharf. We made a quick stop at the market near our hotel to purchase some delicious middle eastern sweets and were on the road again.

Rather than heading straight home we drove about 20 minutes further north along the coast to Rosh Hanikra, situated at the border of Israel and Lebanon. At Rosh Hanikra we rode a cable car down the side of a chalk cliff for a view of some stunningly beautiful grottos carved out of the chalk by the pounding waves of the Mediterranean.

By 2:30 we had begun our ride back home. As B. navigated the heavily trafficked highway outside of Haifa certain memories of Akko clung to me. For one, I could not shake the smell of those damned fish stalls. And then I kept singing the words Uri Buri to the tune of Wooly Bully. Thanks B. for putting that tune on endless loop in my head.

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