Akko




 


Topography

Country Israel

Locality Akko

Findspot 15 km north of Haifa

Coordinates (UTM; Longitude 35º04’ Latitude 32º55’




 


Harbour Situation

Coastal situation: Akko is found in a natural bay, 15 km north of Haifa
River situation: 1.5 km to the south of the bay of Akko is the Na’aman River.




Sea Harbour


Traffic routes

Roads (on land); the northern coastal highway.




 


Research History

The structures of Akko port above sea level (Tower of the Flies, the southern breakwater) have been mentioned in documents, were depicted in painting and on maps since the Middle Ages. In mid-19th century Mansel made a bathymetric survey of the harbor’s bottom, for the British Royal Navy. He marked the submerged rampart between the Tower of the Flies and the northern shore.

In the summer of 1964, the Israel Underwater Exploration Society (IUES), under the direction of Dr. E. Linder, made the first archaeological underwater survey of the port. In 1965, during the construction of the new breakwater, trial soundings were carried out by the divers in preparation of a detailed mapping of the submerged structure remains. Explorations of the harbor continued in 1966 with special attention on examining the foundations of the Tower of the Flies. From 1976 to 1978, several seasons of underwater excavations were conducted by the Center for Maritime Studies, University of Haifa and IUES. The foundations of the structure beneath the Tower of the Flies were partially exposed. Trial trenches were dug in the rampart beneath the Tower and the north shore. A trench was dug across the tip of the southern breakwater. During this period also remains of a shipwreck from the time of Napoleon’s siege on Akko were revealed at the entrance of the harbor.




 


When the harbor basin was deepened in 1983, for the new yachts port, remains of two vessels cargos of were revealed, one from the 5th-4th century BCE and the second from the 1st century CE.




Basin


Historical Development

Persian and Phoenician Periods

The Sidonians who launched out into the Mediterranean trades were called by the Greeks as Phoenicians. Akko was their most southern city. The physical feature of the Bay of Akko with its southwest rocky promontory was the kind of site that the Phoenicians always chose as a harbor for their coastal trade. With the Persian conquest in the middle of the 6th century BCE, Akko appears under its Phoenician name Aké (Ace), as the base of the Persian operations against Egypt. The Persian period was a critical one in the history of the city. The town moved closer to the bay with its transformation into an administrative and commercial center, mainly at the time of Cambyses (6th century BCE). Akko became an important naval center both to Egypt and Persia. Greek objects appeared in the new city of Akko through the sea trade. By the end of the Persian period, in the middle of the 4th century BCE, there was a colony of Greek merchants at Akko.

The buildings within the bay were constructed by the Phoenician method (header built) combined with altering sections of ashlar and fieldstones. The archaeological investigations revealed that in Phoenician and the Greek cultures existed side by side in Akko. In the Hellenistic period the center of the Akko (later Ptolemais) completely moved to the bay, although the inland Tel (Mound), retained buildings with administrative functions.

 

Hellenistic Period

Phoenicia fell to Alexander the Great in 333 BCE, when the Persians were defeated. During this period coins were minted at Akko for the first time. Alexander set up a mint, which issued gold and silver staters and silver tetradrachmas of Greek type. This mint also issued silver coins of Tyrian type, probably for circulation in Phoenicia itself. From 261 BCE onwards there is a dated series of coins bearing the new name of Ptolemais along with the Phoenician name, which was indicated either by its first two Phoenician letters or written in Greek – AK.

Roman and Byzantine Periods

During the Roman period, Ptolemais (Akko) was specially favored by Julius Caesar, who visited the town in 48 BCE. Ptolemais became a regular landing-place and base of operations for the Roman forces and their allies. When king Herod built his unique artificial harbor at Caesarea Maritima (21-9 BCE), Akko suffered from this rivalry. Between 52 and 54 CE, the emperor Claudius settled a colony of veterans at Ptolemais and henceforward the city received the title Colonia Claudia Felix Ptolemais. It was the first city in Palestine to receive this distinction, probably because its port was used for military purposes. In the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE), Ptolemais was hostile to the Jew. In the later years of the war, Akko became Vespasian’s headquarter in his operations against Galilee.

During the Christian period Saint Paul visited Ptolemais in his third missionary journey. In the Byzantine period, Akko was the seat of bishop and archdeacon of Tyre.

Arabic Period

Although Ptolemais had been the official name for very long periods, the Semitic name Accho (Akko) was still in general use among the population. After the Arab conquest in 636 CE, the old name had a slight modified form Akka, which became the official name. The caliphs ruled it for the next four centuries (1036 CE). Mu’awiya, the founder of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus and the first of the Arab rulers who developed a sea power, made Akka one of his bases to conquest overseas. He strengthened both cities of Akko and Tyre by settling them with the Persian population he had brought from Syria. At Akko he established a shipbuilding industry, which made it a naval base only second to Alexandria. The naval importance of Akko returned during the 9th century, as the threat of the Byzantine re-conquest was renewed.

The harbor was much improved and strengthened by the Turk Ahmad ibn Tulun (a semi-independent governor of Egypt; 868-884), when he annexed Palestine and Syria to his province.

In 1073, the ruler of Egypt and Fatimid domain could not prevent the Turkish conquest. In 1089, he succeeded in recovering Akko and other leading ports south of Tripoli (Syria).

Crusader Period

Marching down from Syria the army of the First Crusade arrived on the plains of Akko in 1099. They did not capture the city but only passed through on the way to capture Jerusalem. In 1104, the Crusader king Balwin I besieged Akko only after he had occupied the ports of Jaffa, Arsuf (Apollonia) and Caesarea. At once Akko became he chief port of the Latin Kingdom of Baldwn I, who had settled in Palestine and southern Lebanon.




Function commercial


Later Periods

Later Periods

After the Crusaders were expelled from Akko in 1291 and the Mameluks destroyed the city, the port fell into disuse. Lannoy, a traveler from Flanders who visited Palestine in the 15th century, described the ruins of Akko as uninhabited, aside from two or three clerks who were responsible for reporting all shipping movement to the Mameluk government, and a Venetian trader who looked after the cotton belonging to Italian merchants and stored in some buildings in the port. Lannoy referred to the remains of the Crusader port, which according to his report could still accommodate small ships. A map made at the beginning of the Ottoman rule (1525-26), shows that the port was still in use.

Reports from 1650, noted that the port of Akko was so clogged with sand that it was necessary to anchor out at the sea and load all the cargo on small boat to bring them to the city. Towards the end of the 17th century, despite Akko’s growing trade (particularly in the cotton trade by the French merchants) the port’s condition deteriorated. The English traveler Pococke, who visited Akko in 1738, wrote that the port being congested with debris and remnants of the ancient harbor permitted only small ships to anchor and load during the summer. After Dahir al-Umar took control of Akko in the mid-18th century and made his capital in the city, he built safe warehouses and made plans to repair the port. However, he found that the conditions of the harbor are not reparable, and considering the hazardous winds, decided instead to built the port in Haifa.

Al-JazzarPasha, Dahir al-Umar’s successor, built a mole to the port’s entrance and installed special safety measures to guaranty safe entrance to the port in the winter. In 1807-1808, Sulayman Pasha renovated the mole, which reached the Tower of the Flies and built a wooden bridge to connect the gate of the port to the anchorage, to enable passengers disembark. Passengers also were able to walk from the port’s gate to the boats and cargoes were loaded from the gate. Akko ceased to serve as a port during the end of the Turkish rule, in the 19th century. Ships were not able to anchor at Akko and preferred the port of Haifa.




Function commercial


Warehouse

During the Crusades, the participants who helped on capturing Akko, received parts of the city where they set their own quarters, street or piazza with its own courthouse, parish church, as well as warehouses (Genovese, Pisan, Venetian, Templar, Hospitallier, etc.). Each quarter was administrated by its own representative and their head exercised like a consular power. The customs taken by the city of Akko on the trade that passed through formed the principal revenue of the city.




Warehouse


Chronology

In 1187, Akko fell to the sultan Saladin, but Richard the Lionheart retook it in 1191. From 1191 to 1291 Akko was the capital of the diminished Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and was under the king’s direct rule. In April 1291, the Mameluk ruler Malik el-Ashraf laid siege to Akko. He could not conquer the city from the sea, but had complete control on the main land. The capture of Akko by the Mameluks was followed by the destruction of the town and its fortification. One of their leader Muhqmmad an-Nasir ibn Qalawun (later sultan of Egypt) had taken a Gothic doorway of one of the churches in Akko and transported to Egypt to adorn his tomb in Cairo, where it may still be seen. This piece is a solitary remain of the architecture of the numerous churches during the Crusader Akko.




 


Chronology of the Harbour

Persian and Hellenistic Periods

Remains of the earlier maritime constructions were found on the sea floor, in the area between the southwest shore and the southern breakwater. At a depth of 0.8 m, a double course of ashlar header (0.6 x 0.5 x 1.2 m) was exposed.




 


Related Artefacts

The pottery recovered included a fragment of a Phoenician bowl with a fragmentary inscription, dating to the second half of the 6th or the beginning of the 5th century BCE.




 


Pier / Southern Breakwater

The first building phase of the southern breakwater, which originally was more than 330 m long and 12 m wide probably was constructed at the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 5th century BCE. The breakwater was constructed against the southeastern end of the kurkar ridge, with a shallow eastern curve. The breakwater protected an area of 25 acres of water within its north face and the northern shore . It was built at a depth of 3 m, on a pebble base laid on the sea floor. The courses of ashlar headers were laid on the pebble cushion without any bonding material. Each course was 0.55 – 0.6 m high. The size of the stones and their method of construction are nearly identical to those in the ports of Atlit, Tyre and Sidon, predating the Hellenistic period.

Both faces of the breakwater were vertical. On the seaward face, the wall was made of header blocks, 2 m long each and 0.6 m wide. The wall facing the northern shore was made of header blocks of 1.5 m long each and 1.2 m wide.




Breakwater


Pier

The breakwater could be used as a pier for loading and unloading cargo. It was observed that openings were made at the stem of the breakwater. The water flowed through them, thus creating a current along the shore of the bay in the direction opposite to that of the silting sands, thus flushing the harbor’s floor and preventing silting.




Pier


Platform

About 70 m east of the tip of the southern breakwater stands a structure known as the Tower of the Flies. The tower is laid on an artificial island, atop a platform of 60 m long and 17-18 m wide, that extends on a northeast and southwest axis. The northeastern part of the island is preserved almost up to the present sea level. The surviving upper course is built of ashlar header blocks similar to those in the outer face of the southern breakwater. Such building stones also may be seen in the foundation of the structure exposed on the southern edge, at a depth of 6 m bellow the sea level. During the underwater investigations of this artificial island, was observed a combined construction of headers and stretchers of irregular heights and widths.

Parallel and Date of the Tower of the Flies: The construction resembles the ancient quay of the port at Sidon, which is dated to the Hellenistic period (5th-4th century BCE). The earliest potsherds recovered from the excavations at Akko near the bottom of the island were dated to the Hellenistic period. The structure beneath the Tower of the Flies probably served as a pier.




Platform


Pier

Roman Period

It seems that during the Roman period the sea level was probably higher than the previous period, making it necessary to raise the pier on the southern breakwater.




Pier


Jetty

Traces of this additional structure may be seen by the huge ashlars laid astride the breakwater; 12 m long and in cross-section, a width of 1.5 x 1.5 m. The stones were set at intervals of one meter, forming a series of openings at sea level. These openings that were bridged by a pier above, allowed the waves to circulate through the openings and create a water surplus within the harbor basin. As the water circulated back to the open sea, it flushed the accumulated silt on the harbor’s floor.

No building remains have been found so far in the port of Akko that may be attributed to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods.




Jetty


Related artefacts

A very large quantity of pottery sherds from the 1st century CE retrieved during the deepening of the harbor basin in 1983, attests to intensive marine activities in the port during this period.




 


Breakwater

Port of Ibn Tulun

From the archaeological investigations, two of the deposits of debris in the port of Akko are attributed to the 9th century CE. At the end of this century Ahmad Ibn Tulun, the ruler of Egypt, enlarged the port. The eastern breakwater built from the Tower of the Flies joint the line of the eastern city wall. This breakwater and another rampart that extended northward from the eastern end of the southern breakwater for a length of 100 m, both were built during the 9th century. Each structure, more than 30 m wide, was made of small ashlar and rubble, and fragments of columns in secondary use. The columns are preserved to a height of 3 m above the sea floor.




Breakwater


Basin

The additional construction of the breakwaters created a port with two anchorages, the inner (western) harbor and the outer harbor that comprised the northeastern basin. The new port of Akko resembled the plan of the Tyre port.




Basin


Defences

Crusader Port

During the Crusader period no important work was carried out on the breakwaters or the sea walls. During the Turkish government the stones from the masonry at Atlit were shipped away to be used for building the sea walls at Akko, still surrounding the harbor.




Defences


Pier

The arrangement of the port remained as it had been at the end of the 9th century CE. It seems that through this period a thin wall was built along the entire stretch of the southern breakwater, blocking the openings between the large blocks from the Roman period. Remains of this wall were exposed at different points along the breakwater. The small ashlars of the wall were jointed by iron clamps that also secured them to the edges of the Roman period sections of the breakwater. At the tip of the southern breakwater was built a pier at right angle, extending northward for a length of 125 m.




Pier


Basin

The southern breakwater was 250 m long and the eastern pier (on a southwest-northeast axis) was 325 m long. These breakwaters and the western pier divided the harbor in two anchorages: the inner harbor or Darsane and the outer harbor or Portus.




Basin


Mooring

Theodorich wrote about the distinct functions of these anchorages in the port of Akko:

"… In the inner harbor are moored the ships of the city and in the center those of the foreigners."




Mooring equipment


Warehouse

A massive wall found on the sea floor connected the breakwater with a round tower at the southern corner of Khan el-Umdan, interpretable as a warehouse.




Warehouse


Blockage / Chain

Another tower was built at the northern tip of the western jetty, connecting to the southern breakwater. In the writings of the Persian traveler Nasr Kursau (1047), is mentioned that a chain as a blockage was closing the entrance of the inner harbor during the night and against enemy attacks.




Defences


Sources

"The town of Akko is situated on an elevation, partly sloping partly level. Most of the towns on the (Syrian) coast have a harbor which is the name given to a constructed safe anchorage for ships. It resembles a large pen whose rear, closed ends abuts the town, with two side walls projecting into the sea. In the side facing the sea is the entrance, some 50 cubits wide, with a chain stretching from the end of the wall to the end of the other. To admit a ship, the chain is lowered into the sea to a depth that allows the ship to pass over it. Then the chain is again raised so as to prevent stranger vessels from attacking the ships within."




Selected Written Sources


Function

During all periods, the harbour was used for commercial purposes. Only during the Roman period, under the Emperor Vespasian, the harbour had also a military function. Today it os only a port for fishing boats and yachts




Function Commercial / Military


Sources

The Execration texts of 12th Dynasty in Egypt (1991- 1784 BCE) to pilgrims writings in the 18th century CE




Selected Written Sources


Bibliography

Benvenisti M., 1970: The Crusaders in the Holy Land; Israel University Press, Jerusalem

Carmel A. and Baumwoll Z. (eds.), 2000: Dichter Bernhard: Akko, Sites from the Turkish Period; Gothlieb-Schumacher Institute for Research of the Christian Activities in the 19th Century Palestine, University of Haifa

Kestern A., 1993: The Old City of Acre: Re-Examination report 1993; The Old Acre Development Company

Makhouly N., 1941: Guide to Acre; Government of Palestine, Department of Antiquities, Jerusalem

Raban A., 1993: Maritime Acco; in Stern E. (ed.): The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land; The Israel Exploration Society & Carta, Jerusalem .




Bibliography


Author

Zaraza Friedman




 


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