1. General background
Old Akko is one of the urban and cultural gems of the State of Israel and the Mediterranean. It includes rich layers of ancient cultures and can be seen as one of the peaks of the Crusader and Ottoman periods in Israel and even around the world.
Akko is home to thousands of residents and is one of the most important tourist attractions of the State of Israel.
The name “Akko” is first mentioned in the “Execration texts” (potsherds in which the curses of the kings of Egypt against their enemies are recorded). In such curse groups, probably from the end of the 19th century BC, the name Akko appears among 64 place names.
The city of Akko was established as far as is known about 5,000 years ago, in a place now known as “Tel Napoleon”, “Tel al-Fuhar” or “Tel HaHarasim”, and served throughout its years as an important port of departure for the Mediterranean. The city is mentioned in ancient Egyptian writings, and in the Hellenistic period Akko served, in addition to the port city, also a commercial center of great importance.
The city of Akko became important as a port and commercial city during the Hellenistic period, but it only grew in size during the Crusader period. The first crusade took over Jerusalem in 1099. Five years after the conquest of Jerusalem, in 1104, Baldwin I succeeded in conquering Akko, aided by an assault on the sea by the fleet of the city of Genoa. The merchants of this city as well as the merchants of Venice, Pisa and Amalfi, later developed their special districts in the city, and Akko became the most important port in the eastern Mediterranean and the main junction in the connection between Europe and the Holy Land.
The city reached its peak of glory and greatness during the Crusades – the various Crusader orders established its seat there, and for part of the period Akko served as the capital of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Holy Land.
Akko was then conquered by the Mamelukes, who held it for 300 years until they lost control of the country.
The Ottoman period led to the construction of several interesting and impressive architectural sites, which were erected on the ruins of the Crusader city. For example, the Al-Jazzar Mosque, the Khans – Khan al-Umdan, Khan a-Shuni, Khan a-Shwarda, Khan al-Franj- and the wall that surrounds the Old City that stands in its entirety to this day.
Old Akko, the pearl of the Western Galilee, is one of the main tourist attractions in Israel. Akko is, in the variety of options available in the city, a first-class attraction, both for domestic and foreign tourism.
Sir Lawrence Oliphant in his book “Haifa – Living in the Modern Land of Israel”, written at the end of the 19th century, refers to Akko and does not spare praise for the city and its special texture, and expresses his enthusiasm for the city and its tourist potential:
“In the whole of the East you will not find a more typical market than in Akko … Akko is a very interesting place to spend days, not to mention the beauty of its antiquities or its newer buildings, undoubtedly worthy of attention … “
A tour of Old Akko – with the increasing exposure of the Crusader city, which is mostly below the existing city – allows the visitor a glimpse into different building styles, which existed in the city during the Crusader period, and later in the Ottoman period. The many visitors to the city can also be impressed by the lifestyles that took place in the city during the various periods – the Crusader, the Ottoman and the period of Jewish life – with the various means of illustration that operate in it.
Old Akko is a one-of-a-kind open-air museum that allows its visitors to see a unique combination of lifestyles of a living, operating and functioning modern city in the 21st century, alongside and within an ancient city that has buildings a thousand years old and more.
Examples of tourist development similar to that offered in Akko exist in other places in the world, which offer a combination of a city of residence and a tourist center. Such combinations can be seen today in sites that are “super-focal points” in the field of tourism such as Dubrovnik or Split in Croatia, the city of Rhodes, the capital of the island of Rhodes in Greece, the city of Toledo in Spain and similar sites in other cities in Spain and Turkey. These sites, in their physical data and in the vicinity (of most of them) of the seashore, are very similar in their existing texture to the special texture that exists in Akko. The tourism development carried out in and near them has led to the optimal realization of their tourism potential. For example, in and around Dubrovnik there are now more hotel rooms, holiday facilities and holiday accommodations than in the entire State of Israel.
The Old City of Akko has been declared by the State of Israel as an architectural reserve and as an antiquities site. In 2001, the Old City was declared by UNESCO as a city for the preservation of the World Cultural Heritage and as one of the most special attractions in the world.
Akko is replete with impressive historical, archeological and architectural remains that reflect its rich past.
Examples of such sites include:
An underground Crusader City;
Mosques – including the Al-Jazzar Mosque, the important spiritual and religious center of the Sufis – the Zawiyat al-Shaziliyya (estimated to about 6 million people worldwide);
Jewish center and neighborhoods, and Jewish sites such as: Ramchal Synagogue, Beit Haim Farhi, Or Torah Synagogue, Mandatory Prison (Museum of Underground Prisoners) and more;
The center and sites dedicated to the Baha’i religion, including the site known as the “Baha’i Gardens”, and a number of other sites dedicated to this religion that are in the municipal area of the city (the heads of the Baha’i community intend to upgrade the sites in Akko, the Ridwan Gardens such as the gardens in Haifa).
The international recognition that Akko has gained with its declaration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is a recognition of the efforts made so far and an encouragement to continue extensive activities to rehabilitate and develop this unique city.
The Old Akko and Nazareth Development Company Ltd. has initiated a comprehensive plan for the development of the Old City of Acre and has been working on it over the years.
2. Objectives of the program:
2.1 To enable intensive and balanced development of the Old City complex as a rich and diverse tourist center, including quality and popular tourism, professional and interested tourism (e.g. conservation and restoration), holiday and festival tourism, day and night tourism, land and sea tourism.
2.2 To enable living conditions and quality living for the population of Old Akko.
2.3 To enable the preservation and restoration, rehabilitation and revitalization of the ancient cultural treasures of the Old City for its periods. To enable the proper development of the urban infrastructure that will ensure the fulfillment of the plan objectives.
2.4 Ensure a proper connection between Old Akko, the New City, the Western Galilee and Haifa Bay, while realizing its uniqueness and improving its image.
2.5 Ensure economic development in stages and execution portions that will encourage public and private initiatives.
3. The new city
The city which is outside the walls is divided into four main districts that are added to the Old City and they are: the Mandatory city, the northern neighborhoods, the eastern neighborhoods and the southern coast.
Each of the aforesaid parts has different urban characteristics and different development, with the connection among themselves and between them and the Old City being, to this day, limited. The development of tourism in Akko and the realization of the special tourist potential that exists in the city improves the connection between the various districts in the city and leads to an increase in the level of attractiveness of the city, both in terms of residents and visitors.
The tourism development in the city is carried out mainly, but not only, through one body, the Ministry of Tourism – through the Old Akko and Nazareth Development Company Ltd. – which plans the development in stages and in accordance with the tourist development, while emphasizing the design, organization and integration of the entire tourist system in the city under one roof.
4. Tourism development in Akko
The city of Akko is an ideal center for tourism development which in recent years has made it one of the main tourist centers in Israel.
Most of the attractions and tourist trade centers that are located in Akko, based on the accumulated experience that exists in the world, are located within the boundaries of the Old City and nearby – within the boundaries of the Mandatory city.
The accommodation centers are first developed in the Old City (in only a small part of them), and in the immediate vicinity that includes the Mandatory city and in the area along the coastal strip south of the Old City.
In order to realize the unique potential that exists in the city, it would be right to address the following issues and sites, among others:
4.1 Restoration and upgrade of the port of Akko – It is worth noting that the development of the Port/ Marina should be done while paying maximum attention to the view of the Old City and the antiquities sites located in or near it as well as the fishing port.
4.2 Realizing the potential that exists in the Baha’i sites, which are of religious importance in the Old City and other areas of the city (the Baha’i Garden north of the city, the Baha’i Center in the heart of the Old City and the Ridwan Gardens in the south).
4.3 The existing southern area between the Old City and the municipal border in the south should be developed in two phases. The first phase will be until the evacuation of the existing polluting industry south of the Na’aman River estuary, and the second phase – after a change in the designation of the area south of the Na’aman estuary, from tourism to tourism and recreation.
In the area that will be vacated south of the Naaman River, it is proposed to establish, in the distant future, the city’s main tourist center.
4.4 After cleaning and rehabilitating Na’aman River, it should be turned into a center for recreation and daily activities for both residents of the area and tourists visiting the city.
4.5 “Tel Napoleon” (Tel HaHarasim) should be turned into a National Park that will emphasize the importance of the tell in the urban structure throughout the generations.
4.6 The northern coastal strip, up to the edge of the municipal border in the north, should be integrated into the tourist complex of the city.
4.7 Work must continue to build the promenade of the southern part of the city through the Old City to the northern part of the city as a coastal promenade which will incorporate various tourist services, and develop beaches along with international standards – as is customary in parallel tourist centers elsewhere in the world.
5. The current situation in Akko
Akko and Old Akko currently have a number of large hotels, hostels, boutique hotels and many dozens of authentic and unique guest rooms.
A development that is gaining momentum in the Old City and in the high apartment towers at the entrance to the Old City is the transformation of ancient buildings into suites and guest apartments. As of 2020, the city has more than 100 units of this type. In some of the complexes there are several guest apartments and in others single rooms.
6. The existing tourist potential in Akko
In reviewing the existing tourism potential in Akko, it is worth mentioning a number of issues:
6.1 The development of the Akko-Haifa-Akko Maritime Ferry Line, which is both an attraction and an experience.
6.2 Expansion of the variety of events that take place in the city, such as: Akko Festival for Fringe Theater, concerts in the Knights’ Halls, a singing festival, an international harp contest and more.
6.3 Development of attractions and activities for the whole family during periods of school holidays, holidays, summer vacations, such as: a Knights ‘Tournament at the Hippodrome in the Citadel complex, a’ Camera in Time ‘project in the Knights’ Halls, ‘ Halls tell stories’ tours in collaboration with Akko Theater actors and more.
6.4 In addition, activities are carried out to develop evening events throughout the year, such as: the Opera ‘Lite’ performances in collaboration with the Israeli Opera during the winter and spring period ‘from Baroque to Bjork’. Performances in the Knights’ Halls include an evening tour of the Halls and a welcome cocktail in addition to the concert event.
7. The proposed ways to realize the vision
For the purpose of realizing the vision and for the purpose of realizing the tourism potential inherent in Akko and especially in the Old City, it is appropriate to act in the following ways:
7.1 Activities for the construction of approximately up to 350 rooms for tourist accommodation in the existing fabric in the Old City, most of which is based on restored and conserved buildings.
7.2 Activities for the development and integration of the Mandatory City in the planned tourist fabric in the Old City.
The activity through the tourist development and the restoration of the status of the municipal MAR (Main Business Center) to the Mandatory City, and becoming the center of commerce, recreation and entertainment of visitors and residents.
7.3 Continuation of planning and development of the southern coast near the Old City, which is the most comfortable and beautiful beach in the country. Improving the maintenance and cleanliness of the beach, improving the existing facilities on it and making it a tourist attraction. This center will lead to a mass of visitors, which will allow the establishment of additional accommodation facilities that will form another attractive dimension to the city, such as restaurants and entertainment facilities that will serve the residents of the city and region and the tourists who will visit the city.
7.4 Continuous improvement of the appearance of the Old City through high-level maintenance, uncompromising cleanliness, landscaping and vegetation and more.
7.5 Continuation of development of attractions and planning projects that will enrich the visitor experience. We are currently working to promote the launch of a unique international tourist attraction planned at the Hospitaller Fortress.
Implemented attractions in practice:
(A) The Hospitaller Crusader Fortress which includes a tour of the magnificent Knights Halls accompanied by audio guides in a variety of languages. 3D videos projected on the walls of the halls and exhibitions including background soundtracks are enhancing the experience. The halls run attractions for the whole family during periods of vacation, such as: ‘Time camera’, ‘Halls telling stories’, musical events.
(B) The tourist attraction in the Al Basha Hammam (Turkish bath) that tells the “Story of the last Bathhouse attendant” – the story of the bathhouse that operated there.
(C) A tourist attraction that began operating in December 2011 in the Templar Tunnel, a movie that consists of an animated projection on the walls including background soundtracks The entire complex reveals the life of Akko during that Crusader period.
(D) The ‘Treasures in the Walls’ Museum is located in the heart of the eastern wall of Akko, one of the thickest walls in the world. The museum displays rare collections and traditional handicrafts from the 19th century. The collections illustrate the Galilean folklore of the different religions and communities that were in the Galilee.
(E) The Old Akko Jewish Heritage Center is a new center established near the Ramchal Synagogue.
7.6 Various cultural events take place in the city, such as: ” Fringe Theater Festival” which has been operating in Akko for over thirty years, Opera Performances, Knights’ Tournaments, “Arabesque Festival” Arabic classic and Andalousies Music Festival, “Masrachid Festival” Arabic Theater Festival, International Harp Contest, “Singing Festival” and more.
Still in the city, galleries and boutique shops operate throughout the Old City and markets. Some run creative workshops for visitors.
The desired result of running the proposed program is to turn the Old City of Akko into a dynamic stage for a continuous theatrical tourism system throughout the year, a system in which the main “actors” will be tourism and visiting audiences from around the world in general and Europe in particular.
Some of the events may be sponsored by a specific country, province or city in Europe depending on the theme and nature of the event.
The proposed level of tourism combines quality and popular tourism, day and night tourism, holiday and festival tourism, land and sea tourism.
8. The essence of the vision
Global tourism that has developed in recent years and continues to expand in the field of recreation and tour or for business purposes is aimed at destinations where unique experiences can be experienced in special places. Thus the sought-after sites are the ones that carry within them the feeling that they exist there from the beginning of DNA and will continue to be there for many years, and the expectation for fantasies, experiences, adventures, uniqueness, the different, the other, is what dictates where the tourist wants to go. Akko has the potential to satisfy this craving and become an international tourist attraction.