The most impressive sight in Acre is without a doubt the Hospitaller Fortress, but in order to understand its significance one must first understand who the Crusaders were and what brought them to the Land of Israel.
The entrance to the fortress is through the visitors’ center. You can buy a combined ticket that includes other attractions in Akko like the Okashi Art Museum and the Templar Tunnel as well as sights outside Akko like Rosh Hanikra and the Ghetto Fighter’s House Museum in Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot. For opening hours and entrance prices, click here. Phone: 04-9913039
In the 10th century all of Europe was Christian and the Catholic Church announced Pax Dei – Peace and Truce of God, a movement that limited wars between Christians. The feudal inheritance laws allowed only one son to inherit the land so a situation arose in which there was an entire class of warriors that had neither land to cultivate nor wars to fight. Religious devotion also played a major role in the Crusades. Around the year 1000 people expected the second coming of Jesus, and there was hope that conquering the Land of Israel would help bring about salvation.
The initiator and the main figure behind the first Crusade was Pope Urban II, announcing the need to free Jerusalem from the Seljuks, which had established a Muslim dynasty. In 1099 the Crusaders took Jerusalem and then started conquering the port cities. Acre was important because the Crusaders’ rule was unstable and they depended on supply and reinforcement from Europe. The Crusaders attempted to impose a siege around Acre, but since Acre is surrounded by the sea from three directions it wasn’t effective as the city continued to get supplies from the sea.
The Crusaders had no choice but to ask for the help of the Republic of Genoa, which had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean. Its conditions were one-third of the city of Acre once it was conquered, self-government, and an exemption from paying taxes.
After Acre fell in 1104 its demands were fulfilled. When the Crusaders conquered Tyre (Lebanon) they were assisted by the Republic of Venice and it also demanded, and got, a part of Acre. Acre, like other Crusaders’ cities, was divided up between the different Italian communes (Amalfi, Venice, etc.) and the military orders. The relations among the communes themselves and between them and the military orders were weak and even deteriorated into inner wars. The names of the streets in Acre still preserve the connection to the Crusader period – Pizan Port, Amalfi Square,. Richard the Lionheart Street, just to name a few.
The impressive fortress that was restored in recent years belonged to the Hospitallers, also known as Order of the Knights of Saint John. The military orders – which, like this one, consisted of warrior monks – was a new concept that was created in the time of the Crusaders. The Hospitaller order was founded before the Crusades in order to help pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land, but because there was a need to protect the pilgrims it became a military order. This fortress was its headquarters in Acre. There are some impressive rooms in the fortress, and the most impressive is the refectory.
In the large storage rooms the Crusaders stored two things that they discovered in the Middle East – bananas and sugar. They gave bananas a very catchy name – apples of paradise. The production of sugar from sugar cane was one of Crusaders’ main sources of revenue. It is not clear how much of the Crusaders’ production method was based on existing local techniques and to what extent they introduced innovations, but they were the ones that turned local sugar production into a flourishing international industry. Not far from Acre, in the Manueth ruins, a sugar factory from the Crusaders’ period was found. The production process was very lengthy and labor intensive. First, the stems were crushed and mashed. The pulp was boiled in order to release its juices, and then it was filtered and poured into special clay pottery to cool, allowing it to crystallize.
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