Acre (, Akko or Acco; , ʻAkkā) is a city in the Western Galilee region of northern Israel at the northern extremity of Haifa Bay. Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the country.
Historically, it was a strategic coastal link to the Levant. Acre is the holiest city of the Bahá'í Faith. In 2011, the population was 46,464. Acre is a mixed city, 72 percent Jewish and 28 percent Arab. The mayor is Shimon Lankri, who was re-elected in 2011.
Acre is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the region. The name Aak, which appears on the tribute-lists of Thutmose III (c. 16th century BC), may be a reference to Acre. The Amarna letters also mention a place named Akka, as well as the Execration texts, that pre-date them. In the Hebrew Bible, (Judges 1:31), Akko is one of the places from which the Israelites did not drive out the Canaanites. It is later described in the territory of the tribe of Asher and according to Josephus, was ruled by one of Solomon's provincial governors. Throughout Israelite rule, it was politically and culturally affiliated with Phoenicia. Around 725 BC, Akko joined Sidon and Tyre in a revolt against Shalmaneser V.
Greek, Judean and Roman periods
Greek historians refer to the city as Ake, meaning "cure." According to the Greek myth, Heracles found curative herbs here to heal his wounds. Josephus calls it Akre. The name was changed to Antiochia Ptolemais shortly after Alexander the Great's conquest, and then to Ptolemais, probably by Ptolemy Soter, after the partition of the kingdom of Alexander the Great.
Strabo refers to the city as once a rendezvous for the Persians in their expeditions against Egypt. About 165 BC Judas Maccabeus defeated the Seleucids in several battles in Galilee, and drove them into Ptolemais. About 153 BC Alexander Balas, son of Antiochus Epiphanes, contesting the Seleucid crown with Demetrius, seized the city, which opened its gates to him. Demetrius offered many bribes to the Maccabees to obtain Jewish support against his rival, including the revenues of Ptolemais for the benefit of the Temple in Jerusalem, but in vain. Jonathan Maccabaeus threw in his lot with Alexander, and in 150 BC he was received by him with great honour in Ptolemais. Some years later, however, Tryphon, an officer of the Seleucids, who had grown suspicious of the Maccabees, enticed Jonathan into Ptolemais and there treacherously took him prisoner.
The city was captured by Alexander Jannaeus, Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Tigranes II of Armenia. Here Herod built a gymnasium, and here the Jews met Petronius, sent to set up statues of the emperor in the Temple, and persuaded him to turn back. St Paul spent a day in Ptolemais (Acts 21:7). A Roman colonia was established at the city, Colonia Claudii Cæsaris.After the permanent division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, Akko was administered by the Eastern (later Byzantine) Empire.
Arab and Crusader periods
Following the defeat of the Byzantine army of Heraclius by the Muslim army of Khalid ibn al-Walid in the Battle of Yarmouk, and the capitulation of the Christian city of Jerusalem to the Caliph Umar, Acre came under the rule of the Rashidun Caliphate beginning in 638. The Arab conquest brought a revival to the town of Acre, and it served as the main port of Palestine through the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates that followed, and through Crusader rule into the 13th century.
During the 10th-century, the city was a part of Jund al-Urdunn ("Military District of Jordan"). Local Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi visited Acre during the Abbasid era in 985, describing it as a fortified coastal city with a large mosque. Fortifications had been built just previously by Ibn Tulun of Egypt, who annexed the city in the 870s, and provided relative safety for merchant ships arriving at the city's port. When Persian traveller Nasir Khusraw visited Acre in 1047, he noted that the large Friday mosque was built of marble, located in the centre of the city and just south of it lay the "tomb of the Prophet Salih."
It was captured by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1104 in the First Crusade and the Crusaders also made the town their chief port in Palestine. By the 1130s it had a population of around 25,000 and was only matched for size in the Crusader kingdom by the city of Jerusalem. Around 1170 it became the main port of the eastern Mediterranean, and the kingdom of Jerusalem was regarded in the west as enormously wealthy above all because of Acre. According to an English contemporary, it provided more for the Crusader crown than the total revenues of the king of England.
Acre, along with Beirut and Sidon capitulated without a fight to Saladin in 1187, after his great victory at Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem. It remained in Arab hands until it was unexpectedly besieged by Guy of Lusignan, reinforced by Pisan naval and ground forces, in August 1189. However, it was not captured until July 1191 by Richard I of England, Philip II of France, Leopold V, Duke of Austria, the spearhead Swabian and German armies and the rest of the crusader's army. It then became the capital of the remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1192. In 1229 it was placed under the control of the Knights Hospitaller. The Crusaders called the city "Acre" or "Saint-Jean d'Acre" since they mistakenly identified it with the Philistine city of Ekron, in northern Philistia, now southern Israel.
It was the final stronghold of the Crusader state, and fell to the Mameluks of Egypt led by al-Ashraf Khalil in a bloody siege in 1291. In 1321 Ayyubid geographer Abu'l Fida wrote that Acre was "a beautiful city" but still in ruins following its capture by the Mameluks. Nonetheless, the "spacious" port was still in use and the city was full of artisans.
The Ottomans under Sultan Selim I captured the city in 1517, after which it fell into almost total decay. English academic Henry Maundrell in 1697 found it a ruin, save for a khan (caravanserai) occupied by some French merchants, a mosque and a few poor cottages.
Towards the end of the 18th century it revived under the rule of Dhaher al-Omar, the local sheikh. His successor, Jezzar Pasha, governor of Damascus, improved and fortified it, but by heavy imposts secured for himself all the benefits derived from his improvements. About 1780 Jezzar peremptorily banished the French trading colony, in spite of protests from the French government, and refused to receive a consul.
In 1799 Napoleon, in pursuance of his scheme for raising a Syrian rebellion against Turkish domination, appeared before Acre, but after a siege of two months (March–May) was repulsed by the Turks, aided by Sir Sidney Smith and a force of British sailors. Having lost his siege cannons to Smith, Napoleon attempted to lay siege to the walled city defended by Ottoman troops on 20 March 1799, using only his infantry and small-calibre cannons, a strategy which failed, leading to his retreat two months later on 21 May.
Jezzar was succeeded on his death by his son Suleiman Pasha, under whose milder rule the town advanced in prosperity till his death in 1819. After his death, Haim Farhi, who was his adviser, paid a huge sum in bribes to assure that Abdullah Pasha (son of Ali Pasha, the deputy of Suleiman Pasha), whom he had known from youth, will be appointed as ruler. Abdullah Pasha ruled Acre until 1831, when Ibrahim Pasha besieged and reduced the town and destroyed its buildings. During the Oriental Crisis of 1840 it was bombarded on 4 November 1840 by the allied British, Austrian and French squadrons, and in the following year restored to Turkish rule. It regained some of former prosperity after linking with Hejaz Railway by a branch line from Haifa in 1913. It was a sanjak centre (Sanjak of Acre) in Beyrut Eyalet until English occupation in 23 September 1918 during World War I.
At the beginning of the Mandate period, in 1922, Acre had about 6,500 residents: 4,883 of whom Muslim, 1,344 Christian, 115 Baha'i, and 78 Jewish. The British Mandate government reconstructed Acre and its economic situation improved. The 1931 Mandate census counted 7,897 people in Acre. In 1946 Acre's population numbered around 13,000.
During the pogrom of 1929, Arabs, led by As'ad Shukeiri, demolished the ancient synagogue in Acre's old city. During the Arab revolt in 1936–1939, Acre's Arab residents were very active against the British and the Jewish settlements in Western Galilee. This caused the Jews to leave Acre.
Acre's fort was converted into a jail, where members of the Jewish underground were held during their struggle against the British, among them Zeev Jabotinski, Shlomo ben Yossef, and Dov Grunner. Grunner and ben Yossef were executed there. Other Jewish inmates were freed by members of the Irgun, who broke into the jail on 4 May 1947 and succeeded in releasing Jewish underground movement activists. Over 200 Arab inmates also escaped.
In the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Acre was designated part of a future Arab state. Before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War broke out, Acre's Arabs attacked neighbouring Jewish settlements and Jewish transportation. On 18 March 1948, Arabs from Acre killed Jewish employees of the electricity company who were repairing the damaged lines near the city.
During the 1948 War, Acre was besieged by Israeli forces. A typhoid fever outbreak occurred in Acre at this time. Egypt claimed that the Haganah used typhus as a biological weapon against the inhabitants, though no evidence was forwarded in favour of the claim. Brigadier Beveridge, chief of the British medical services, proclaimed at the time that "Nothing like that ever happened in Palestine". According to Ilan Pappé, investigation by Beveridge, Colonel Bonnet of the British army and delegates of the Red Cross concluded that the infection was caused by water-borne sources. Israel denies it has ever used biological weapons.
State of Israel
Acre was captured by Israel on 17 May 1948, displacing about three-quarters of the Arab population of the city (13,510 of 17,395). Throughout the 1950s many Jewish neighbourhoods were established at the northern and eastern parts of the city, as it became a development town, designated to absorb numerous Jewish immigrants, largely Jews from Morocco. The old city of Akko remained largely Arab Muslim (including several Bedouin families), with Arab Christian neighbourhood in close proximity. The city also attracted Bahá'í worshippers, some of whom became permanent residents in the city, where the Bahá'í Mansion of Bahjí is located.
In the 1990s the city absorbed thousands of Jews, who immigrated from the Soviet Union and later from Russia and Ukraine. Within several years, however, the population balance between Jews and Arabs shifted backwards, as northern neighbourhoods were abandoned by many of its Jewish residents in favour of new housing projects in nearby Nahariya, while many Muslim Arabs moved in (largely coming from nearby Arab villages). Nevertheless, the city still has a clear Jewish majority.
Ethnic tensions erupted in the city on 8 October 2008 after an Arab citizen drove through a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood during Yom Kippur, leading to five days of violence between Arabs and Jews.
In 2009, the population of Acre reached 46,300. The current mayor Shimon Lankri was re-elected in 2011.