This is Acre. Five thousand year old ancient city. A triangle of land bursting into the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by strong walls and fortifications. The outburst of land created a little bay, and with it the great potential for a unique southern harbor. Today what’s left of it is a faint shadow of a remarkable past, an unseen glory and wealth.
Long before the Bible period, Acre was already inhabited by ancient nations such as Canaanites, Phoenicians, Egyptians and more. It underwent all world’s greatest epochs. Alexander the great’s army, the Hellenism, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine epoch, the Arab epoch until the third crusade in 1191. King Richard the lion heart captured Acre from the hands of the great Saladin. Then, a new age begun for Acre. It was a Christian megapolis, the heart of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with a spectacular port and thriving commerce for 100 years. Rich markets, astounding churches and monasteries, famous military orders like the Templars and Hospitallers that defended its walls. A true grander of a medieval capital. But all that wealth was plundered and destroyed by the Mamluks to the ground, leaving Acre to a silent existence of a ghostly city for 500 years. Only buildings, stones and ruins. No people, no ships, nothing but silence… It was silent until the arrival of the phenomenal Bedouin leader, Daher el-Omar. He reconstructed Acre back to its former glory. Then, al-Jazzar, the Butcher made Acre his home and sanctuary during the Ottoman Empire, continuing the vast reconstruction and development. He fought Napoleon and defeated him at the eastern walls of Acre. In Acre was the biggest and most guarded prison in Palestine during the British Empire. Acre is holy for Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Bahai religions. This is just a fraction of its incredible history.
Above ground there are the Ottoman Empire remains, about 300 years old. Buried underneath, there’s a whole medieval city of the Crusaders. Amazing halls and secret passages everywhere. The Ottoman Acre is a replica of that ancient crusader megapolis. You can close your eyes and imagine the magnitude of the medieval city.
Now the Israeli government preserves and maintains Acre’s antiquity. It is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Ancient Acre is alive. It inhabits people, it has a large market, its harbor is used for fishermen and small cruise ships. It offers hotels, exquisite restaurants and lots of activities for all visitors. Even today It’s impressive and absolutely breathtaking. But since medieval times, it could never developed into a large city, being overshadowed by its neighbor port city, Haifa. From being a mountain, Haifa turned into a huge port megapolis, having deeper waters for steam ships. Whereas Acre grew smaller, remaining somewhere between a small city and a big town.
This is where I grew up, since 1990. Acre has it all, but when it comes to books it has almost none to offer. In all this time, I can’t remember even one worthy secondhand bookstore ever to exist here. You would think that a city of such history and magnificence must have plenty of old books in it and people who sell them. None that I know of. There must be old books in private collections. I believe there should be ancient scriptures in mosques, churches and synagogues throughout the city. There has to be an ancient library in the convent of st. Francis. Important Jewish scriptures from medieval times were written here. In any case, it is hidden from the public eye. In addition there is our small college library and the tiny public library. And that’s it. I guess our local population isn’t very interested in the organic keeper of knowledge. In recent years to my great happiness, there have opened up two bookstores in Acre. Bookless or not, there’s no other city in the world quite like this. It’s one of a kind. It’s my city and my home. I’m very grateful for being here, there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.