Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Haifa & Akko (Acre), Israel

Haifa Bay from Mt. Carmel above the Baha'i Terraced Gardens 
Haifa and Akko (Acre)
We awoke on Monday, November 15th, 2011 about 75 miles north of Ashdod in the port of Haifa, Israel. We were now in the north part of Israel, close to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee – both inland and to the west of Haifa.
Northern Israel - Ashdod to Haifa

I chose to tour Haifa and the nearby city of Akko – where the ancient Crusader citadel of Acre is being excavated and restored. Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage City because of the buildings and fortifications.
Haifa is at the base of Mt. Carmel, the legendary birthplace, grotto home and possible tomb of the Prophet Elijah mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, the Christian Old and New Testaments of the Bible and in the Islamic Koran. 

Haifa and Mt. Carmel area 

We met in the theater in the bow of the Constellation, and walked out a very long series of back forth walkways that went from the middle of the ship to the bow of the ship where the gangway was …. and then once again back and forth several times to arrive at the end of the long embarkation building on the dock and then thru the length of the building to the bus parking area!  By the time we arrived at the bus area, we had walked at least a quarter to half a mile!     
Yes!  I later complained very loudly about the long walk they forced everyone to make just to get to the buses!
I saw Mickey, our tour guide from the previous day and said Hi!  Mickey was taking a group on a tour of the biblical sites around Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee that day.  My new guide was a very sweet lady named Revitale.
Revitale - our guide and "Yiddisher Mama"
Our bus wound its way around the city at the base of Mt. Carmel and then up the steep inclines to the Carmelite Monastery and church (elevated to a “minor basilica by a Pope) called Stella Maris or Star of the Sea in honor of the Virgin Mary.  The monastery is the center of the Carmelite Order for the world.  
See and learn more about the Stella Maris Monastery and Church
The church and monastery were used as a hospital for injured and ill soldiers by Napoleon in his 1799 campaign. The French soldiers were all put to death when the area was re-captured by the Mamaluk Egyptians.  There is a pyramid shaped monument at the entrance of the church in commemoration
Memorial to Napolean's troops at Stella Maris
Carmelite Crest above Stella Maris Church entry  
Stella Maris - Elijah on the entry door

Altar - Stella Maris Church on Mt. Carmel
Interior - Stella Maris Church, Mt. Carmel

Interior - Stella Maris Church, Mt. Carmel

Stained Glass - Stella Maris Church, Mt. Carmel

Dome Interior - Stella Maris Church, Mt. Carmel
Our next stop was at a view point high on Mt. Caramel that overlooks the beautiful. stepped terraces of the Baha’i Gardens (Bahh-HIGH).  The name of the Faith is derived from an Arabic word that means “Glory or Splendor.” Haifa is the world center for the Baha’i Faith.  The final resting place of its founder, the Ba’b (pronounced like the name “Bob”) or the Bahá'u'lláh is an exquisite white marble temple built in the center of the gardens. 
Upper Entry to the Baha'i Gardens

Baha'i Faith's Terraced Garden with Ba'b's Tomb

Baha'i Faith's Terraced Gardens from the top level.

The Baha’i Faith is a new, monotheistic religion started in Persia (Modern day Iran) in the 1840’s. 
Another View of the Terraced Gardens

An upper level garden with light

Tomb of the Ba'b - The founder of the Baha'i Faith

Our cruise ship - Celebrity Constellation from Mt. Carmel
We descended Mount Carmel to travel along the very busy, industrial seafront of the bay to go north to Akko (Ahhk-KOH).  We passed a place where Israel works on developing weapons that was right on the main road north. It was not a large facility, but the guide, Revitale, indicated that that is where work on "secret" weapons might be going on.
There was not a break in the crowded suburban setting when we arrived at our next stop in Akko – the usual stop at a souvenir shop!  The shop had high value, exquisite, copper, silver, gold and glass pieces on sale.  I wandered across the parking lot after a bathroom stop to buy a soda – Pepsi Cola - this time as I waited for others to finish their shopping. 
We then went around the corner of the shop into a garden and then into a museum building to enter the Crusader Citadel of Acre (AAHK-rey). 
There was a short video presentation in a small theater and then we entered the Citadel by a portion of the complex that was used as a prison by both the Ottoman Turks (prior to WWI) and the British (after WWI) until the British Mandate ended in 1948.  

During the British Mandate, Palestinians and Israelis were imprisoned in separate sections of prison. Many members of the Hagganah, the Irgun and other terrorist organizations (now called Freedom Fighters) were imprisoned at Acre.
Entering Acre Citadel - Toward the prison courtyard or the knights stable courtyard

The Prison Courtyard  

The Prison Courtyard - This was the stable courtyard area in Crusader times.
The Dungeon or Prison Hall next to the Knights Hall
The Knights Hall

The Knights Hall

The Knights Hall
The Refectory or Dining Hall

The Refectory or Dining Hall
Acre was captured during the First Crusade by King Baldwin of Jerusalem in 1104 and quickly became the main port used by the Crusaders during their years in the Holy Land. The port was busy and important because it provided more income to the Kingdom of Jerusalem than the entire realm of England did to the English kings. 
The port was so important that the Knights tunneled 350 meters to the port to have a completely enclosed route wide enough for wagons to use from the citadel to the sea.  The City of Los Angeles, California has replicated this idea by having a below ground-level, exclusive route for trucks and trains to get from the Port of Long Beach, California to the major train switching yards in Los Angeles to avoid pollution and traffic congestion.  We did not get to see this tunnel on our visit.
The city became the capital for the remainder of the Crusader Kingdom after Saladin’s re-conquest of Jerusalem in 1192
Acre was left in control of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John in 1229.  The Knights Hospitaller fortified the city. The Knights were a military religious order, providing armed escorts for convoys of Christian pilgrims to the various Christian holy sights as well as providing lodging, medical care, the manufacture and trading of merchandise – particularly sugar. 

The Order started in Jerusalem, retreated with the rest of the Crusaders to Acre. The Knights Hospitaller once again had to relocate to the Island of Rhodes when Acre was conquered by the Egyptian Mamaluks in 1292. 
I had already visited Rhodes as I followed the Knight’s path around the Mediterranean Ocean. I would visit the final destination of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John in three days when the Constellation made a stop at its home port of Malta.
The Egyptian Mamaluks and later the Ottomon Turks would carry out a program of destruction of much of the upper portions of the Citadel and the Crusader city of Acre. However, they let the rubble fall where it may and then built new buildings on top of the rubble, leaving the lower levels of the Crusader buildings intact under the new ground levels.
It is quite an experience to be able to walk in the majestic, forgotten halls where this ancient military order had carried on their daily activities. 

The citadel is still in the process of being restored.  However, it is being used as a tourist attraction and as large public spaces for putting on banquets, concerts and art exhibits.
Renovation work in the Hall of Pillars - Note the painting from an art exhibit on the back wall.

The Hall of Pillars now being renovated  
Painting from a recent art exhibit amid the renovation work in the Hall of Pillars
The group ended up taking the old escape tunnel from the main part of the Citadel to the burial crypt then up a few steps and out into the Arab quarter of the modern city.  The tunnel is tight with many zigs and zags here and there to get to the end. 
Inside the Knight's escape tunnel going towards the crypt and the outside world.

Knight's tombstones from 1290

Knight's Tombstones from 1290

Souvenir Alley just outside the Knight's Citadel

Inside a shop in Souvenir Alley

There were some souvenir shops on the route we were following once we out of the Citadel.  Some of the group stopped for more shopping.  While a few of us took photos in the area. Eventually, we ended up in a square alongside an entrance to a mosque.  There were more shops and a few little cafes for taking a break while some of the group did even more shopping.
Outside the Citadel
Feral cats - Akko, Israel
Courtyard by a mosque - Akko, Israel

Courtyard by a mosque, Akko, Israel

We ended up just around the corner from the souvenir shop and the garden entry to the Citadel.  I made the error in assuming that was where the bus would be still parked.  Revitale started another part of the tour to the Arab neighborhood’s souk or old market area.  I did not want to do anymore walking other than just back around the corner where I thought the bus was parked. 
I asked one of the tour members to let Revitale know that I was going to go back to the parking area by the souvenir shop where the tour of Akko had started.  I walked the short distance back around the corner to the souvenir shop and was jolted with surprise when I saw there were no tour buses parked there! 
Holy Toledo! What now?
I went into the souvenir shop to talk with one of the English speaking clerks to ask her what to do. 
She listened to my story and said “It happens everyday.  Just wait here and they will come back for you.”
I went back out front, bought another soft drink and sat out at the edge of the parking lot to wait for the bus to return.  As I was waiting, the local Arab or Palestinian high school dismissed.  There were lots of teens walking buy or running and horsing around as all teens do when they are free from school.  An older teen boy stopped and saw me sitting there and asked me to take his photo.  His friend (on the right in the photo) walked up and asked to be in the photo too.  I took a couple of photos of them. 
The thinner of the two (on the left in the photo) asked me to e-mail the photo to him.  I said I would and indicated that he should write down his e-mail address.  He had no paper.  I  had some of my business cards in my wallet, so I took out my wallet to search for one of the cards. 
Big mistake!  The boy reached for my wallet and managed to almost take out two $20 bills!  I told him no, put the bills back and then gave him the card and my pen to write down his e-mail address.  I was starting to get a bit nervous as they were both becoming jerks trying to outdo each other in being bold towards me. 
The same boy who tried to take the money started to pull at my camera as if to take it from me.  I said “No!” loudly and firmly.  Just then another of their friends walked by, they talked with him for a few minutes and then they all left together.  I admit I was getting very concerned for my safety at that point.
No matter the country or language – teenagers can be total jerks!

Teenage Jerks!

The tour bus pulled up shortly afterwards.  Revitale told us all how worried she was about loosing one of her group.  She said she is a “Yiddisher Mama” and always worries just like she does about her own children.
 We arrived back at the Constellation about 3:30 in the afternoon.  I did some shopping at the duty free shop in the embarkation building on the dockside and then repeated the long, long walk back and forth through the building, the covered outside walk, the gangway and back to my cabin.  I had a lite, late lunch at the buffet on Deck 9 and rested until dinnertime.
It rained again heavily during dinner and then again late at night.
Our next stop was the Island of Malta after spending two days at sea to get there.
Next – Malta and the quiet city of M’dina     
Please click the colored link to view my other blog about living in Hawaii "Life in the 50th State"
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