Friday, 18 December 2015

The Templars' Akko - underground secrets and shenanigans

History has seen Akko become the playground of Canaanites, Israelis, Arabs, Romans, Byzantine, Ottomans and the Brits. The most fascinating era would, however, have to be that of the Crusades and Templars.

King Baldwin I (no known relation to Alec & co) of Jerusalem conquered Akko during the First Crusade in 1104, after a 4-year-siege.

In 1187 Saladin, sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty managed to get his hands on Jerusalem and along with it, Akko. It wasn't until four years later that The Third Crusade, led by Richard I of England and Filip II of France managed to win back The Holy Land. After that Akko effectively became the capital of what was left of the kingdom. 

The Sixth Crusade placed Akko under the rule of King's Hospitallers, a monastic military order tasked with caring for the sick in The Holy Land. This very fortress was their headquarters and one of the most impressive sites you can visit in Akko.

Oh, and in case the thought of life as a knight sets your heart racing and soul sigh with longing, long no more. Devout Christian? Pillar of the community? Prepared to support your fellow knights in any way you can? You too can become one. 

Yes, in 2015. Like, for real. Don't believe me? Just check out this one.

The Crusader city, located under the current one has been preserved practically perfectly and these days functions as a multimedia museum complex. The visitor is walked through the bewildering history of Akko with the help of paintings, photos, videos, light installations... and a very Disney-like remake of a Medieval artisan village.

In addition to the Citadel, the area is home to staggering number of other historic sites: churches, synagogues, mosques, art galleries, museums and ancient Turkish bath houses, the exploration of which easily takes a whole day. Audio tours are available in at least 10 languages. For more information, see here.

There's a host of different tickets available, based on how many sites you wish to visit. The basic one (38 NIS = €8) covers the Citadel and the Templars' Tunnel.

Despite the occasional Disney-touches it is difficult not to get giddy when surrounded by all this - that's how good a job the movie industry has done selling me the romantic ideas of fighting for the Holy Land and Templars with their secrets.

Templars, by the way, were monks, who'd taken the usual vows of celibacy and poverty, but the order swiftly rose from very humble beginnings to one of the most influential organizations of the time in Europe. To degree, in fact, that Pope himself declared them to be above any secular laws.

Bit of jihadists of their time and religion, Templars' mission was to stop Islam's expansion by conquering the Holy Land and Jerusalem (the holiest of the holiest), protecting the pilgrims and defending their faith by any means necessary. Their methods included pillaging, too, which is not surprising, their original members were underprivileged individuals who'd turned to petty crimes. 

The order got their name from their original headquarters, which were said to be located in the ruins of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Whether that's true or not, we'll never know - much like we'll never know the truth behind the wild claims they were in the possession of The Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail, the cross of Jesus and Moses' 10 commandments.

These days, of course, everybody knows their actual whereabouts - they're at a US Government's secret warehouse after being rescued from the Nazis by Indiana Jones. Daa. 

Whether any of this is true or not, some of the mystery that shrouds the organization still lingers here today, especially at the Templars' Tunnel. The 350-metre passage leading from the fortress to the port wasn't discovered until 1994 and in its entirety it's been open to the public since 2007.

The size of the halls of the Citadel are impressive, to say the least. Those pillars for instance measure a good 10 metres in circumference. The venue offers spectacular setting for events and routinely hosts concerts and festivals. I managed to get here for one of the wildest: international harp contest...

So, what do you fancy now? Shall we take a little break? Or would you like a glass (or two or 13?) of wine? There's another winery visit still to come!




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