If you're one of those Unesco World Heritage Site collectors, Israel is a treat. The country is small and accessible - everything is said to be within 2-hour-drive. But it is home to staggering 10 World Heritage Sites. One of them is the Old City of Akko, located a mere 2-hour train ride from Tel Aviv.
Akko is one of the most ancient cities in the world and one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the region. The first settlers arrived here over 5000 years ago!
The city of Akka is mentioned already in texts from ancient Egypt (15th century BC in case you want to show off) and in Old Testament, where it's listed as one of the places where Israelites did not kick out the Cananites.
Its northern location, nestling on the Mediterranean shore made it a strategic port for the Levantine trade. It is a popular destination for Israelis, too, and the holiest city for Baha'i religion.
During the British mandate the population consisted of Muslims, Christians, followers of Baha'i and - seeing how we're up North - the Druze.
In UN's partition plan in 1947 Akko was designated as part of the future Arab state. In 1948 war Israel invaded the city, displacing almost 75% of the Arab population.
The Old city of Akko remained largely Arab. The rest of Akko became home to Jewish immigrants, mostly from North Africa. Along with the massive wave of immigration that followed the fall of the Soviet back in 1990's, close to a million Jews (some of them legitimate, some of them not so much) made their way to Israel, many of them settling in Akko as well.
The Old City of Akko is an idyllic little gem. The best way to start a day is by hitting the markets that spread out on her narrow streets.
The fish mongers wheeling in fresh haul from the port, telling off their young helpers as they navigate the crowded streets...
The thick aroma of coffee and spices fills the air and sweeps one into their exotic embrace...
The father of the family whose restaurant I went to the night before who greets me warmly like a long-lost friend...
The mothers, whose hands quickly spot the best eggplants to be stuffed later on for lunch...
Fresh spices are definitely something you should take back home. Wonderfully aromatic rose petals are being used in Arab cuisine (just try this Tunisian lamb recipe of mine!) and the earthiness of za'atar is guaranteed to charm one at the first bite.
Another thing you should keep an eye on at Arab markets are these wooden moulds which give maamouls, cookies stuffed with either dates or nuts, their traditional, elaborate look. Hand crafted and yours for a mere €2!
Many Arab cities in Israel have their own colours, that keep popping up everywhere. In the worn-out shutters in the windows, ancient doors of the shops of the market streets, their wrought iron ornaments...
Akko's colour is definitely turquoise.
I do hope you've enjoyed the scenes from Israel so far? Ever travelled there yourself? I hope you're not claustrophobic as next we'll go underground and continue exploring the intriguing history of this amazing city...!
ANYONE FOR SECONDS?