When to go
STOP PRESS: The Mamluk sultan of Egypt and Syria, Baybars Bunduqdari, has agreed a truce with the Christian forces in Outremer.
Act now and take advantage of our incredible peacetime offers. The Christians may have lost Jerusalem back in 1244, but Acre has become the crusaders’ hip and happening capital.
Acre boasts a safe harbour and markets galore, and it’s a veritable melting pot of races and religions. You never know who you might meet around the next corner: assassin or merchant, Knight Templar or slave trader.
The truce has been agreed for ten years and ten months, but who knows what will happen when it ends, so don’t delay – book today!
What to take
A decent pair of shoes are essential if you take the overland route across Christendom, then down through Anatolia and Cilicia – though frankly that’s so First Crusade. Besides, all the cities worth looting, such as Constantinople, have already been pillaged by your forefathers, so we highly recommend a sea crossing in this day and age.
Don’t forget: during the siege of Acre in the 12th century, many besiegers had to live on horse entrails and bark
It’s peacetime so you shouldn’t need a weapon, but you might find a broadsword comforting if you can afford one – the threat of internecine war is never far away in this multicultural port.
Costs and money
Another good reason to book now is that your stay will be more economically viable in peacetime. Trade is thriving, with the Italian maritime republics selling arms and timber for siege engines to the Mamluks in Egypt – and the markets are overflowing with produce, meaning a lower risk of profiteering.
Don’t forget: during the siege of Acre by the crusaders at the end of the 12th century the price of a sack of grain rose to 100 gold pieces and many besiegers had to live on horse entrails and bark. This might be fine if you’re French, but since our delicate British stomachs can’t even cope with raw fruit, you’d be strongly advised to give this siege cuisine a wide berth.
Sights and activities
Take a stroll down the vaulted streets and covered marketplaces in the Pisan and Venetian quarters and marvel at the wares: indigo from Iraq, glass from Egypt, perfume from Syria, or sugar from Acre’s own factory. Smell the aromas of a thousand spices, eye the poisons on display, hear the many languages being shouted by traders.
If shopping isn’t your thing then head outside the walls and wander through the gardens and orchards, or take a day trip to the Springs of the Oxen, where Adam is said to have found the beasts with which to plough the earth. Why not do as the Arabs do and take a picnic?
Dangers and annoyances
There is always the possibility of a new crusade or jihad being sparked by an unexpected attack from one side or the other. But never fear – it took the Christian forces two years to wrest Acre from the Muslims, so you should be safe enough within the walls, at least long enough to organise your escape.
Sleeping and accommodation
Opulent palace splendour awaits the 5-star traveller – those lucky enough to travel in the retinues of kings and nobles. Those who are in the military orders – Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonics – will be able to stay in their own preceptories. Taverns are available in many of the quarters and you might find households willing to take in lodgers.
Do remember though that overcrowding has been a problem in Acre since the 12th century, so you could find it tricky on a tight budget.
Horse entrails aside there are many delights to sample in the crusader capital, such as gingerbread and figs, dates and pomegranates. Or why not try bananas – known locally as apples of paradise.
Drinking and entertainment
Celebrate the truce by trying Sultan Baybars’s favourite drink, the fermented mare’s milk, kumiz. Entertainment-wise, the nobility will enjoy the usual tournaments and feasts, but those wanting something a little more exotic might be pleased to hear that 14,000 women of the night are reputed to be working in the city. (Just don’t tell the pope).
At the harbour you’ll find boats aplenty. Maybe you’ll even find a captain to take you along the coast to one of the few cities left in Christian hands.
Robyn Young’s fiction trilogy, Brethren, followed the exploits of the Knights Templar. Her new novel, Insurrection, was published by Hodder in October.
The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem may have only kept its capital of Acre for a further 19 years after 1272, but any time-travelling knight making a nostalgic return to modern-day Akko, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, will find much of the city they knew still standing. Its ramparts still stand strikingly as a reminder of its strategic importance, and the bustling alleyways of the old city retain a medieval flavour. Elsewhere, much has changed: Ottoman minarets pierce the sky and outside the old city the prosperous Akko is unmistakably modern Israel.
The highlight of your visit – apart from Akko’s excellent seafood restaurants – will almost certainly be exploring the Knight’s Halls, the extraordinary complex of subterranean rooms that made up the bulk of the crusader fortress within the city walls. A particularly thrilling experience is going through the narrow Templar Tunnel running from the port to a crusader palace.
Akko is a favourite part of many visits to the Holy Land, offering a well-preserved remnant of crusader and Ottoman eras. In fact, it is fair to say that the modern-day incarnation of the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem still feels like the promised land.
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Anyone on the trail of the adventuring of medieval knights might also wish to stop off in Rhodes – occupied by the Knights Hospitaller for over 100 years – and Tartus in Syria, which also retains a walled old city.
Tom Hall, Lonely Planet travel editor. You can read a selection of articles by Tom at the Lonely Planet website www.lonelyplanet.com