We arrived at the western front of the Acre fortress.
We were faced with a fleet of small boats in dry dock or at anchor, and beyond these, the smooth Mediterranean Sea, beaten only by the wind that eased the summer oven which, in those days, the Middle East had become.
We walk for a while in search of the boat we were supposed to board until someone picks up a loudspeaker and starts hawking in Arabic.
It is not that we understood the message, but we immediately identified that the sea routes to walled Acre departed from there. Which some visitors preferred to do than ride on gaudy seagulls.
Before the capacity ran out, we became passengers.
Installed on the stern but in constant movement, we understood that there was in that wooden boat an extension of the political discrepancy that existed within the fortress and in the territory in front: the owner and captain of the boat was an Arab.
His aide and most of the passengers were Arabs.
Still, a white and blue flag with the Star of David made it clear who ruled those lands and seas.
The same flags flew on all the boats and also on prominent points of the fortress such as the Turkish clock tower.
As we move away, we have an ever-widening view of the old city, laid out on a narrow tongue of land that made it difficult to conquer.
It was once protected by an additional wall that rose from the bottom of the sea.
There remains, of her, a fragment in ruins.
The main fortress itself remains preserved and genuine as few historians have thought possible given its troubled existence.
São João de Acre and the Long Shuttle of Arabs and Crusaders
In 636 AD, Acre was taken by the Arabs from the Byzantine empire. The new occupants enjoyed the city without major problems until the arrival of the Christian armies. Pope Urban appealed to the Crusades in the year 1095.
Five years later, Acre was under attack and under siege.
This siege lasted until 1104, when it was defeated by the forces of Baldwin I of Jerusalem. The Crusaders made it their starting point for taking the prime target, Jerusalem.
They turned it into a trading post that allowed them to prosper with the intense trade in the Levant, especially in Asian spices.
In 1170, nine years before Pope Alexander III recognized Portugal's independence, Acre was the most important port in the eastern Mediterranean and the wealth of the kingdom of Jerusalem that impressed the western kingdoms was due to it.
Acre and Jerusalem were quick to capitulate to the forces of the powerful Sultan Saladin.
In the Third Crusade, the inexorable onslaught of Ricardo Coeur de Leão and King Philip of Spain allowed them to retake the Holy Land.
In Acre, in particular, Ricardo Coração de Leão punished Saladin for not having fulfilled what he had promised when he surrendered. It remains for history that Richard and the English army massacred nearly three thousand Saracens.
As early as 1291, another infidel conquest took place. The Mamluks (a powerful caste and sultanate originating in slaves and soldiers long employed by the Arabs) emerged with an army ten times greater than that of the Christians.
After a ten-month siege during which most of Acre's inhabitants fled to Cyprus, the city capitulated and was significantly damaged.
Under the rule of the Mamluks, Acre entered a period of relative marginalization, until 1517.
The Fortress that Withstood Time and Successive Conquests
Something that surprises any visitor is that the image of the fortress of Masada and, unlike other places in Israel, like the mystic Tsfat ou Jaffa, walled Acre has changed little since these times of the Crusades.
The houses are occupied by local families and not by artists.
His souq belongs to fishermen and not street vendors or artisans.
For this and for the attribution of the status of UNESCO World Heritage the much more recent fact that, after the capture of the city by Zionist forces in 1948, the Jews chose to leave Old Acre between walls to the Arabs and developed their own new city to the east.
Visitors who, like us, wander uncompromised with time and direction through its alleys, alleys and markets, immediately appreciate its architectural and historical purity
A wealth inherited from the times when it hosted ships from Amalfi, Pisa, Venice and the entire Levant.
The Sephardic Oded and the Current Predominance of the Arabs in the Old City of Acre
Oded, the almost septuagenarian Jew who guides us is, of course, not from that era, but his family was expelled from Egypt even before the Israeli War of Independence, where they took refuge.
Oded, was involved in the Israeli-Arab conflicts that followed, the Six Day War and Yom Kippur, as well as other skirmishes. Not for that did he develop a blind or extreme Zionist attitude.
“Well, maybe we were having lunch in the meantime, no? What do you think?” asks us “I know a family here that, for me, has the best humus in Israel. Come on?" We agreed, grateful for the pause and the suggestion.
Shortly afterwards, we are seated at the table sharing gastronomic specialties from the region, followed by an improvised dessert of traditional nougat.
The conversation flows.
We are greatly intrigued by the Jewish concession of old Acre to the Arabs. Oded is not shy about giving his opinion. “It wasn't the only place this happened. It should be noted that the fortress was theirs since the XNUMXth century.
Soon after we defeated them, in 1948-49, they fled, but after the fighting had died down, many Palestinian refugees arrived from other parts and settled.
Demobilizing them would only create more problems. In housing terms, those houses aren't exactly pleasant.
Anyway, in the entire municipality of Acre, they make up about 30%"
The Jewish Stampede from Acre that Continues
As far as we can understand, the provision of housing in the walled city was part of a status quo between Arabs and Jews that, on both sides, not everyone agrees. For example, mosques are not supposed to be built in Jewish neighborhoods.
No synagogues in Arab neighborhoods.
In any case, several Jews complain that Arab minorities are trying to take over the city: “Before, there were only mosques in Old Akko” complains a more radical Jewish resident “now they are on top of us.
Jews are increasingly selling houses and leaving. We go to the synagogue on Saturday and the Arabs have barbecues right in front of us. Over the past 10 years, more than 20 Jews have abandoned Akko.
The Arabs from the nearest villages replace them. If this keeps up, it won't be long before Akko will have a Most Arabic!".
As we continued to learn up alley, down alley, in the recent past some disputes have proven less verbal but have not taken on nearly the scale or violence of the medieval Christian-Muslim conflict.
After the conquest of the Mamluks, Acre lost much of its importance.
But in the XNUMXth century, a Bosnian Ottoman mercenary named Al-Jazzar restored the port's dignity and regional influence.
The Historic Legacy Complex of São João de Acre
In 1799, Napoleon felt enticed. Al-Jazzar had to request the help of the English navy to repel the French emperor when he felt enticed and tried to capture him.
Of the mosques that we detect within the walls, the one that stands out the most by far is the one built in 1781, in honor of the Ottoman. It was built over an old Crusader cathedral.
In fact, over the centuries, several Christian structures would be covered by Muslims.
We soon took refuge from the oppressive afternoon heat.
To verify that the same had happened, for example with the Halls of Knights.
These structures rise eight meters below street level.
They were once used as headquarters by the Knights-Hospitals or the Order of St. John who fought and provided assistance to sick, poor or wounded pilgrims – side by side with the Knights Templar and the Teutonic.
But when the Mamluks conquered Acre, covered those vaulted rooms with rubble.
Also a tunnel used by the Templars to secretly move between the Palace and the port was found a few years ago by a plumber after a resident complained about a clogged pipeline.
Back to the surface, we wandered through the souq frantic and we appreciate the diversity of products – with an emphasis on spices – which once delighted merchants from all over – identified in Arabic, Jewish and English.
We see no sign of excursions or large groups of foreigners.
Acre also appears to have withstood the worst of tourism and preserves its secular integrity.