The Napoleon Route
On March 19, 1799 Napoleon – along with approximately 13,000 men – launched the siege of Acre, the former capital of the Land of Israel.
In practice, his aim was to complete the conquest of the Land of Israel, to annex it to the permanent French colony in Egypt and weaken the Turkish army's land forces which were sent to expel him. He had about two months at his disposal because after that, he had to hurry back in order to beat Turkey's naval descent on the shores of Alexandria.
The French furiously stormed the walls of Acre six times, but to no avail. Their cannons – which were placed across from the eastern wall, were not able to destroy the fortifications, which were erected by Daher el-Omar, the mid-century ruler of the city. The city's protectors sought the aid of British Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, who was instructed to invest every effort into preventing the fall of Acre.
Accordingly, the sailors of his ships participated in the defense battle and his senior engineer, French Colonel Phelippeaux, worked tirelessly to reconstruct the wall, add to its fortifications and instruct that counter tunnels be dug in order to demolish the French tunnels Napoleon used to undermine the northeastern tower, which he had deemed the principal aim for conquest and outbreak.
The main reason that the walls remained standing was that the siege artillery, which Napoleon fired from the stern of the ships, was entirely captured by Smith and raised to the walls. Not only did Napoleon lose his heavy cannons with his own two hands, they helped to drive him back.
Napoleon did not give up and even succeeded in surrounding the city with three concentric rows of trenches, the inner one of which reached the city's moat. In the Battle of Mount Tabor, he destroyed the army of the Pasha of Damascus who was trying to rescue the besieged.
It appeared as though the conditions were ripe for the city's conquest when the longed-for delivery of large caliber siege guns arrived from Egypt on May 6th. Napoleon decided to attack on the day following the arrival of a Turkish rescue fleet, which immediately began to supply fresh corps and various weapons.
This time, the cannons did the job and General Lannes penetrated the city through an opening shot in the middle of the eastern wall, however surprisingly enough, a second line of defenses secretly set up by Phelippeaux along the eastern section of the wall made going any further impossible. The French forces were unprepared for a further setback and they suffered heavy losses and retreated.
Haim Farhi, Jewish advisor to the Pasha and right hand man, played a key role in the city's defense and organized 8,000 to 9,000 of the city's inhabitants to battle against the siege.
Napoleon felt that he would not succeed in conquering Acre with his dwindling forces what with the impending Turkish landing. On May 20th, Napoleon began his journey back to Egypt and from there, to France. His dream of an empire in the East vanished. Nonetheless, the expedition was the starting point for all the contemporary developments in our region, including the formation of the Zionist movement.
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