Apr 18

Tourist sites in Israel – North Israel – Acre

One of the oldest cities in the world that has been inhabited continuously back to the time of the Pharaohs,  is Acre (also spelled Akko) and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the amount of impressive buildings with the walls and strongholds that show the marks of a number of occupiers over the centuries..

Acre (Akko)The city is located in Israel’s Western Galilee area on a headland on the North shore of Haifa Bay. The Old City’s beautiful, ancient sandstone walls are washed by the waves from the Mediterranean Sea that crash against them.

aquaduct in Acre (Akko) IsraelIn ancient times Acre was one of the most important cities of the region, captured by Richard the Lionheart in 1191 during the Crusades and then the Ottomans who inhabited it for many centuries.  At some stage Napoleon Bonaparte tried to conquer Acre but failed because of the strong fortifications of the walls. Eventually he retreated after approximately two months of repeated attempts.

Ottoman rule came to an end in 1918 when the British defeated the Turks and Acre became part of the British Mandate area. Britain made use of the fortress as a high security prison.  It was here that they kept captured members of the various Jewish underground groups while awaiting execution. On May 4 1947, the Irgun underground organization planned and executed a dramatic rescue attempt and although only a few of the prisoners were rescued it was still a serious blow for the British and a morale booster for the Jews.

In May 1948 Israeli troops took control of Acre and it was made part of the State of Israel after the War of Independence.

Ancient Turkish Bath in Acre (Akko) IsraelToday Acre is inhabited by Jews and Arabs living side by side and a visit to this fascinating city is part of the Israel experience. Visitors can visit the site of the Memorial Museum to the Underground Prisoners at the site of the Fort.  See the Death Cell and the Gallows with a noose still hanging over a trap door.

Wander through the alleys and underground passages to view a mosque and a Christian monastery, see the ancient Turkish Baths and the Knights Templar Halls with an amazing tunnel and fascinating archeological finds. There are many churches and interesting museums.   Afterwards enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the large variety of Restaurants at the Marina and visit the quaint fishing port.

All the sites in Acre fall under the patronage of the Visitors Center located at the Enchanted Garden where visitors can obtain all the necessary information they will need to tour around the old city. Guided tours of Acre are available for those who wish.

Apr 05

Northern Israel – Israeli Cities – Caesarea

The town of Caesarea in Israel with its select neighborhoods, lovely gardens and impressive golf course is situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Caesarea - Roman TheatreAdjacent to the modern town is the Ancient Roman Port City and amazing archeological park, with the remains  from many periods that were uncovered during archeological excavations that took place during the 1950’s and 1960”s. The excavations uncovered multifaceted remnants of the Roman and Crusader cities that existed there.

Aquaduct in Caesarea IsraelIn the first century BCE King Herod, who was without doubt an architect of exceptional ability, established a city on the site Straton’s Tower which had been a Phoenician outpost and named it Caesarea in honor of Augustus Caesar. He also built a harbor so outstanding that it became a wonder of the ancient world. His planning and building of the ancient walled city included a magnificent palace, and facing the sea he built an Amphitheatre that is used today for concerts and is popular with visiting artists, a Hippodrome where chariot racing took place and a Citadel. The streets were paved and huge statues were placed in various positions.

During the time of Herod, an aqueduct was constructed that supplied water to the city through a network of pipes. It started at the foot of the Carmel at springs about 9 km north of Caesarea and according to the growth of the city it was repaired and enlarged. The aqueduct is clearly visible to this day.

During the Byzantine period a Christian academy was established in the city and churches were built.  At that time Christians, Samaritans and Jews who built synagogues lived side by side. During excavations the remains of a synagogue from the 5th century were uncovered north of the harbor. Found in the ruins of the Synagogue were carved Candelabra (menorot) and parts of an inscription in Hebrew listing the priestly courses in the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as a column with “shalom” inscribed on it.

The Arabs conquered Caesarea and both the population and the importance of Caesarea declined. Remains of a 3 meter thick wall that surrounded the Arab town in the 10th century were uncovered during excavations.

Restaurant in Caesarea IsraelDuring Crusader times King Baldwin I with the Frankish army conquered Caesarea and Eastern Christians and Muslims came to settle. Then in 1187 it was captured by Saladin, but retaken in 1191 by the English King Richard the Lionheart who exiled all the Muslim inhabitants. Caesarea remained a Crusader city until 1265 when it was captured by the Mamluks and its fortifications razed to the ground.

Visitors to the ancient city of Caesarea with its enthralling history will need plenty of time to walk around the ancient sites. It is a good idea to start the visit at the Travel and Time display with an interesting 10 minute visual multimedia experience leading the visitor from Phoenician times right up to Zionistic period. Then take in the Time Tower that has huge screens that enables visitors to take a virtual tour of the city.

For those interested in snorkeling or Scuba diving a visit Caesarea’s underwater museum which is unique in the world is a must. Other centuries old ruins and the great harbor that Herod built can be viewed here as well as a Roman Shipwreck and a ruined lighthouse.

Jan 25

Places To Visit In Israel – Israeli Sightseeing – Zichron Yaakov

The picturesque town of Zichron Yaakov was founded in 1882 with the help of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. He was a Jewish philanthropist who had assisted in the establishment of many of the early communities, often helping with financial support.

Northern Israel - Zichron Yaakov

Photo: Ilana Shkonik אילנה שקולניק

Zichron Yaakov is situated about a half hour drive from Haifa and 15 minutes from Caesarea. It has a particularly attractive location at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Local visitors and tourists from abroad are drawn to the quaint pedestrian mall in the center of the town with its many lovely small stores, offering local art and souvenirs and an array of quaint restaurants and coffee shops all adding to the special and unique atmosphere.  There are art galleries and artists workshops to explore. There is a part of the street paved with cobblestones and lit by gaslight and on either side the visitor can see the buildings that have red shingles roofs dating back to the 19th century.

There are museums that are housed in two of the original buildings.  One is Beit Aharonson which is devoted to the Nili underground resistance organization. This spy ring was pro British and operated during the First World War in what was then Turkish controlled Palestine. This organization was under the leadership of Aaron Aharonson and his sister Sarah Aharonson who was acclaimed around the world as an agronomist. The Aharonson family was part of the early settlement of the area. Another museum is that dedicated to the First wave of immigration to Israel (First Aliyah).

Zichron Yaakov in Israel winemaking barrel ship in the 19th centuryThe early farmers of Zichron Yaakov cultivated vineyards and today wine has become one of the area’s biggest industries. The winery has a visitor’s center that offers visitors free guided tours

There are other interesting places to see around the Zichron Yaakov area. Visit the tombs of Baron de Rothschild and his wife which are situated in the beautifully maintained Ramat Hanadiv Gardens. Close to these gardens is a nature reserve with striking views of the coastline. An interesting place to visit in the same area especially for families is Kfar HaNokdim that features activities from the past like camel rides and Bedouin hospitality.