A tour of the Old City reveals to the visitor semi-legends and little tales interlacing like an oriental arabesque between the stones of a mosaic.
Al-Jazzar still in Akko
The Mufti of Acre at the end of the Ottoman Turkish period and the start of the British Mandate was one Sheikh Abdallah al-Jazzar. He established the present Islamic school (madrasah) at the al-Jazzar Mosque. This sheikh, however, was not a descendant of Ahmed al-Jazzar the former ruler of Acre.
Acre afloat on the water
In 1853, the line-of-battle ship HMS St. Jean d’Acre was launched by the British Royal Navy at the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth. She was 70 meters in length, weighed 3,200 tons, and displaced approximately 5,500 tons when fully loaded. Her complement of men was 930 sailors and officers. On its two decks it carried 101 guns. The ship served in the Crimean War on both the Baltic and Black Seas. However, most of her commissioned life she sailed the Mediterranean. In 1875, this ship was sold for scrap. (Information from the Royal Naval Museum)
Akko – Qatar – Ireland
Several years ago, at the age of 89, Abd al-Latif Yisroti paid a visit to his native Akko. In the 1920s he was a pupil in a school for boys in the structure that today houses Akkotel, a boutique hotel. For a period of time he was the educational advisor to a Qatari prince’s wife who was responsible for education in that emirate. At some point, Yisroti emigrated to Ireland where he worked as a surgeon. (From an article by Benny Halfon in the local weekly newspaper Tsafon 1, December 2008)
Wealth and Government
Report of the Austrian Consul, 1895:
“All the officialdom in Palestine is distinguished by an urge to rake in funds—including through extortion—and with a similar taste for corruption. Acre’s governor, Sideiq Pasha, brother of the Grand Vizier Kamil Pasha, was known to be a pauper when he arrived in Acre, whereas today half the area of the jurisdiction of Acre has become his property.”
Goats and Sheep
The halls that are today used by the “Treasures in the Wall” museum, served until approximately 1952 as a pen for goats and sheep.
“The Tiled” (el-Mubalatah)
Sometimes the concept of a “neighborhood” receives quite unusual characterizations and names. An excursion in the Old City will demonstrate this when, for example, sightseers walking southward will happen upon Sidney Smith Alley. A narrow, gaudily decorated lane opens up from the right. Entering it, we immediately see a large flooring tile (balata in Arabic). And what is extraordinary here? The name of this neighborhood, barely an alley: “The Tiled.”
Who are the “Covenant-breakers”?
`Abdu’l-Bahá, known as ‘Abbas Effendi, was the eldest son and successor to Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í faith. Mírzá Muhammad `Alí, Bahá’u’lláh’s second son, claimed that the succession should be his, which resulted in a split within the Bahá’í faith. The Bahai “Universal House of Justice” declared that the followers of Muhammad Ali are not Bahá’ís and were “Covenant Breakers” – heretics who are shunned by Bahá’ís and expelled from the Bahá’í faith.
The Steps up to the Sentry Boxes
Until the early 1950s The paved southern ramp rose towards the sentry boxes of the al-Jazzar wall was only a conventional stairway (vertical stairs) and not inclined stairs.
Sheik Atabe – the story and legend
On the grounds of the historic housing project, “Shikun Dalet” (i.e. No. 4) in northeast Akko, lies the grave of a sheik, its domed cover faded and damp. Long ago, just after the time of Salah ad-Din, a lone Arab would sit at the threshold of a house. For decades he sat there and collected the stories of those passing along the way. These stories he recounted to other passersby, until the day he went to his eternal rest. And since then he was known as Sheik Atabe (the Arabic word for “threshold”).
And what is the legend? There was a handsome incised column in Sheikh Ataba’s courtyard. This column was coveted by a soldier who served under Caffarelli, one of Napoleon’s generals. Upon the French retreat, the soldier made off with the column and took it with him onto a French ship. At this, the ground of the Sheikh’s courtyard shook in fury at the theft. The column felt this, rose up, and cast itself into the sea, from whence it returned to its owner’s courtyard. And since then the land has been quiet.
Cherry Tomatoes on al-Jazzar’s Wall
When goats and sheep grazed on the al-Jazzar walls they were the source of the cherry tomato seeds that rooted and grew there. During the years of the young State of Israel’s economic austerity (1949-1952), those who managed to obtain these tomatoes claimed they had a special flavor.
Austro-Hungarians in Acre?
Beirut, 15 October 1888
To the [Austrian] Embassy [in Palestine]:
“The Turkish authorities in Safed incarcerated several Austro-Hungarian Jews … and transported them to Acre despite the protests of the [Austrian] deputy consul. The vilayet [i.e. Turkish governmental authority] here [in Safed] acknowledges the facts; nevertheless, based on instructions he apparently received, he refuses to mandate their release without an order from Constantinople …”
The Sultan and the Illegal Construction
This is a tale of an affluent resident of the Old City who was fed up with the terrible overcrowding and filth there. He went and built himself a house outside the city walls. The officials of the Sultan prepared to raze this illegal building, for until the end of the 19th century no one was permitted to build a house outside the walls. In his plight, this man—an Italian subject—turned to the ambassador of his country, who then notified his superiors through diplomatic channels. Immediately, an Italian warship appeared off the Acre coast. The Sultan understood what he needed to understand, and the house remained in place. Since then, the house has been forgotten and any trace of it, lost. And for all that students of the city’s history have sought and researched where the house might have stood, its location has never been found.
Fresh Figs, Dried Figs
The eastern moat, which lies outside the al-Jazzar wall, was used in the early 1950’s as a firing range for the GaDNa (Hebrew abbreviation for “youth battalions,” a brief training course for high school pupils prior to their graduation and induction into the armed forces) in Akko. Also at that time, a humble tin shack stood nearby. In it lived an Arab man who picked figs from the trees that grew all along the walls. He dried the fruit and then sold the dried figs to pupils who came to the firing range.
The Roots of “the Palm Tree”
Abdul Fathi Saadi, Acre’s mayor in the years 1920–1929, was quite wealthy and owned a luxurious car. At first he lived in a house near the Khan al-Shawarda. So that he could drive directly from the Khan to his house, he broke through the Khan’s southern wall, making an opening which can still be seen on the back wall of Hamadeh’s boatyard. However, it wasn’t long before he built himself a new house at the site where “HaTomer” (the Palm Tree) elementary school stands today. His wife, Nusseibeh, was the daughter of Ahmad Shukeiri, first chairman of the PLO and Yasser Arafat’s predecessor.