The Old City of Akko bears millennia-old imprints of by-gone empires, internecine struggles and peaceful coexistence, such as in the period of the Second Kingdom of Jerusalem, which existed from 1192 to 1291, and which had Acre as its capital. In its divagations between archaeology, cuisine and design, this touring programme will take its participants through the narrow streets of Acre’s Old City, while showcasing architectural remnants of Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman presence in this region. The organizers of these events also emphasize the gastronomical uniqueness of this city and surrounding towns not only through occasional stops at market shops selling freshly caught seafood, piles of Oriental sweets and rare spices in copper jars, but also through the wine and lunch experience at the Uri Buri Restaurant.
From there, these tours continue toward academic lectures on a variety of Acre- and region-related topics, such as Crusader-period medical history, by Ephraim Lev, a professor at the University of Haifa. Through this upscale-tour program, Uri Jeremias, its founder, seeks to shine a spotlight on this Northern and somewhat outlying city, while using its millennia-old cultural heritage for cultural, culinary and experiential forays into less trodden paths.
A significant part of this initiative is the Efendi Hotel; a carefully restored, historically authentic building that literally stands on a layered foundation that successive historical periods have laid. Though this hotel can be perceived as part of a larger Israeli and international trend of posh boutique hotels popping up across global cities, its preservation of the structure of the 19th-century mansion carries over to its palatial interiors, such as the masterfully restored ceiling paintings in a mixed Italian-Middle Eastern style, marble floors and wooden furniture.
Through these guided tours, this lushly appointed hotel can serve as a starting point for informed walks that explore the Hospitaller Fortress, the Templar’s Tunnel and the Crusader Fortress as sites where multiple European and Middle Eastern cultures have met. Among the reasons for which the Old City of Acre has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO is that this historic port has been continuously settled from the period when Pharaohs ruled over ancient Egypt.
These tours therefore expose issues of medieval Arab and European medicine, commercial and international relations in Crusader’s Acre, and traditional Middle Eastern architecture, all combined with the sampling of Arab desserts, local wines and expertly prepared seafood. Acre provides an opportunity to get a first-hand impression of historical relics, their cultural meaning and their academic interpretation across a variety of topics, such as medieval herbal medicines or Baha’is’ connection to this city.
By Pablo Markin
In addition to his more academic involvements, Pablo Markin is a globe-trotting flâneur with a keen interest in cultural districts, international exhibitions, and contemporary art. His photo A Living Room at Efendi Hotel, graphic impressions, blog articles and exhibition reviews can be followed on social media: @pbmarkin.