The Crusader Hospitaller Quarter and Fortress in Acre (Acco)
If you see nothing else in Acre, you should visit the Hospitaller Quarter. It has a number of other names such as the Citadel, Akko Fortress and Knights' Halls - but they are all the same place. Every bit of it will engage your interest through the visual displays projected on the walls. The Visitor Center is located at the entrance to the fortress in the Enchanted Garden and is a good place to begin your visit to Acre.
Directions and parking: Begin your visit at the Visitors Center in the Enchanted Garden. Enter into Waze “Knights Hall” and click on “Knights Hall, Old Akko.” There is free parking at Hafir (moat) Parking lot. Eucalyptus Parking lot is free Sunday to Thursday and has paid parking Friday and Saturday. Parking is 20 ILS for a full day at the Abirim Parking lot. There are also other parking areas in the city.
Admission:Hours for the Crusader Hospitaller Quarter and Fortress and also the Visitors Center are Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., and Friday and holiday eves 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Last entrance is 1 hour before closing. In winter, the site closes 1 hour earlier. Tickets for the sites can be purchased in advance, but this is not essential. If you are not with a guided tour, an audio guide is essential. There is an additional charge for this. They are available in a number of language
The central courtyard of the Hospitaller Quarter
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Visual display on the walls of the Hospitaller quarters
The refectory in the Crusader quarters
How come the Crusaders quarters and fortress were so magnificent?
When you follow the directions indicated and use the audio guide, it turns out that the bulk of the history you need to know comes at the end of your visit. However, it’s helpful to know this material right at the beginning.
The Crusaders captured Acre during the First Crusade in 1104 CE under the command of King Baldwin I. Acre provided them a foothold into the country and it rapidly became the main Crusader stronghold for the important Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, a Christian kingdom centered in Jerusalem. Other states formed by the Crusaders were the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the Country of Tripoli. Because of its harbor, Acre became a crucial maritime hub for supplies from Europe. By 1170 it had become the main port of the Eastern Mediterranean and was providing the Kingdom of Jerusalem with considerable wealth, particularly from the Asiatic spice trade. However, the good times would not last. In 1187 the Ayyubid sultan Saladin decisively defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hittin at Karnei Hittin. This was the end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem since most of the Crusader knights were either killed or captured. Acre capitulated without a fight.
However, Acre remained in Muslim hands for only 4 years. In 1191 it was captured after a 2-year siege by King Richard I of England and King Philip II of France during a Third Crusade. The Crusaders were unable to reestablish the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but they were able to establish a powerful Crusader state along the coast that extended from Tyre to Ashkelon. It lasted only 100 years.
The Crusaders were volunteers who served in the Crusader army for only a limited period of time. A Christian kingdom in this type of hostile territory could not be maintained by volunteers alone and a number of monastic military orders were established for its defense. Two of the most influential were the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. The Hospitallers cared for the sick and provided for the safety of pilgrims in the Holy Land. They also established fortresses throughout the kingdom to protect it.
The fortress and fortified quarters of the Knights Hospitaller were revealed fortuitously when digging under the Ottoman pavements. The magnificence of their center is very apparent. This was because it was a rich order in a thriving Crusader kingdom. The Hospitallers were especially active in the sugar trade from sugar cane.
The Hospitallers moved from their original quarters to the place you are now visiting - in the northwestern part of the city and adjacent to its then northern wall. Following the loss of Jerusalem and their main headquarters, the Hospitallers expanded this center in Acre to the street adjacent to the city wall. Their center consisted of two or three storied wings around a central courtyard. The upper stories no longer exist as they were destroyed by Muslim armies but the ground levels have been revealed. The Hospitallers also built a church south of the compound named after St. John. It was one of the most magnificent and largest churches in this second Crusader Kingdom.
The Hospitaller Quarter lasted exactly 100 years until the conquest of the city by the Muslim Mamlukes in 1291. As they did to other Crusader coastal cities, the Mamlukes left Acre desolate. In the main, Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land (who were still permitted) would now arrive through the port of Jaffa.