The Knights Fortifications Of Acre, Israel
On the Mediterranean coast in Israel is the city of Acre and within the city is a quarter square mile site known as Old Akka. Beginning in the 12th century, Akka became the stronghold of Christian Crusaders in the Holy Land. In building their fortress the knights dug tunnels, erected defensive walls, citadels, a harbor and churches. There were a number of military orders in the Crusades but The Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller were the two dominant religious military orders established early in the First Crusade. Akka was their city and for two centuries they fought to keep the Holy Land open to Christian pilgrims. Because of support from the kingdoms of Europe, their large numbers and their commitment to the cause, they accumulated substantial wealth and power.
The Hospitallers were a military, monastic order devoted to caring for the sick in the Holy Land and to maintaining the personal safety of the pilgrims who flocked to the holy sites of Jerusalem. They patrolled the roads going to Jerusalem, managed hospitals in both Jerusalem and Akko. In the first years of the Crusaders’ settlement in Akko, the Hospitallers were given property in the city and they built a fortress in the northwestern section of the city, adjacent to the northern wall of 12th century Akko. In 1169, a pilgrim by the name of Theodoric visited Akko. He recorded his impressions of his journey to the Holy Land, describing the Hospitaller center as a most impressive, fortified structure, second only to the Templar Fortress to the north.
In 1187 in the Battle of Hattin, Akko fell to the Moslem army led by Salahadin and its Christian inhabitants fled. The Crusaders returned to Akko four years later in 1191 led by Richard the Lionhearted, the King of England who headed the Third Crusade along with King of France Philippe Auguste.
The Hospitaller fortress behind defensive walls consisted of three floors around a central court as well as vast underground sections with water reservoirs and a sewage system. The site is not yet completely excavated; to date, an area of about 55,000 square feet has been excavated, which includes the central court and the northern, eastern and southern wings. The western wing has yet to be excavated. Visiting the site you will only see the remains of the first floor of the Hospitaller headquarters and some excavated lower levels.
The larger Templar fortress has mostly been lost but the primary Templar tunnel was discovered in 1994. The western edge of the tunnel begins where the main fortress of the Templar order once stood. The Templar Fortress was during the Crusades, the strongest one in the city and, for the most part, it connected to the sea line. Described in a journal by a Templar who lived in Akko during the siege of 1291 it was the largest and best protected fortress in the city, its entrance was protected by two powerful towers with 28-foot thick walls. Two smaller towers were built on either side of the towers and each tower was topped by a “gilded lion”. The opened tunnel is 500 feet long and extends from the Templars fortress location in the west to the city’s port in the east. It crosses the Pisan quarter and, in the past, served as a strategic underground passageway connecting the stronghold to the port.