Saturday 18 February 2012

Israel & Jordan - Day 9

We slept in a bit both as a result of getting back in late from the party and also in the hopes that the weather might improve a bit. The latter didn't quite happen, so we lounged about with a leisurely breakfast (oatmeal with apples & date syrup - yum!) and some blogging again in the hopes that the weather would improve. About 10am we decided that something mostly under cover would probably be a good plan for the day, which led Branson to suggest heading up the coast slightly to the ancient city of Acre, now called Akko* to wander around the Old Town.  

For 27 NIS we got a ticket to the Citadel/Knights' Halls, Okashi Musem, Templars' Tunnel and Treasures of the Wall Museum. We started at the Citadel, which was built over the Fortress of the Order of St. John (aka Knights Hospitaller aka Knights of Malta, though they were in Acre first). Some of the original stone work is still visible, but most of it dates from the 18th and 19th centuries when it was the headquarters of the Ottoman Pasha & British Mandate respectively. During the period of the Mandate, it was used as a prison where many members of the Jewish Resistance were held. 

Cool sculpture outside the Knights Hall

The entrance to the Knights Hall

The main hall (now underground)

In the tunnels where the jail cells were during the Mandate


Right around the corner was the Okashi Museum, focused on the works of Avshalom Okashi who spent much of his productive life in the city. The museum is housed in his old studio, which was a beautiful example of the local architecture in and of itself - vaulted ceilings, narrow rooms made out of the local stone. It also had a short exhibition of works from modern Israeli artists inspired by a children's book called "The Bats of Akko". Pretty cool. What impressed me the most about Okashi's work was how different it all was - he used a huge variety of mediums and styles to capture best the subject at hand. Most of the works in Akko's museum were dedicated to his portrayals of the city. Some reminded me very much of early Kadinsky works, others were dark, abstract pieces, still others were pen & ink sketches of the Arab quarters of Akko, including a lovely whimsical little portait of an old man selling spices in the souq. A real gem of a painter and one whose works I'll be keeping an eye out for in future.

No photographs inside, but the sign was cool!

From there we walked through the Souq, which wasn't quite as dynamic as it usually is due to it being Shabbat & raining cats and dogs. Still, we managed to find a great little hummus/falafal place for lunch (hummus with pine nuts, falafal, lebnah with zatar, "vegetable salad",  garlic paste, chili paste and chips with fresh pita bread) and then wandered back to a sweets stall to buy a huge chunk of nougat (Stephen got an extra piece for helping to translate on behalf of some German tourists). 

Going to market

Stephen and Branson also

Inside the souk

a shop sign



inside it's busy - and that was a very good sign

Then, it looked like the rain was going to let up so we decided to brave the city walls along the harbour, walking through the winding backstreets. This was both a fantastic and disastrous idea. The seas were very heavy from the storm, swirling and crashing against the rocks at the base with surprising force. It was one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen. . .and then one of the waves completely drenched Stephen, ruining his camera (brand new, a present for Valentines Day before we left) and leaving him freezing cold. Fortunately, we had an extra piece of nougat to restore some of his energy stores. Because the seas were so high, the lighthouse was closed, but I did get some really fantastic pictures of the ocean - always being very careful to stand well back. 

The sea!

at left, the ill fated wave that soaked poor Stephen

but it was mesmerising, watching the waves crash against the old city walls

standing well back

brave tourists


and a random chicken

At this point it also started raining again, so we ducked into the Templars' Tunnel, which while not very exciting in and of itself (except in so far as secret tunnels are always a little bit exciting), but it was out of the rain and included in our ticket. A fun thing to explore. By the time we got out of the tunnel the rain had stopped again, so we made our way towards the Treasures Museum, but along the way we stopped to see the Mosque al-Jazzar, built by one of the Ottoman governors of Akko in the 18th century. We even got a little private tour by one of the local guides who explained much of the symbols used inside the mosque.  A good site with a 360 degree image can be found here. The text in blue is a single sura from the Koran (and I can't now remember which one), the names in green on either side of the dais are the names of Mohammed & Allah, and in the four corners of the main worship space are the names of the four successors of Mohammed. This apparently is typical of Sunni mosques. The other unique feature (according to our guide) is that it is one of the earliest examples of mosques that uses a layout similar to a synagogue, where the men worship below and the women worship in galleries above. The outer courtyard was beautiful and contained the graves of Jazzar Pasha and his successor Sulyemon Pasha.

street sign for the mosque

the mosque's entrance

outside the mosque

inside the mosque

showing some of the detail, including the blue text

the old student quarters (pre-Mandate, the mosque had one of the most prestigious religious schools in the entire Middel East)

By the time we finished with the mosque, we were too late to see the Treasures Museum, unfortunately, since it closes early in the off season. But we got to have a brief wander around the land wall where Jazzar Pasha's forces resisted Napoleon's attempted siege in 1799.  

The land wall, where Napoleon was resisted

rather less exciting these days

As it was also now getting on towards sunset, we decided to head back to Haifa for the evening.  Current plans are to meet up with the same crew from last night's party at The Bear, one of their favourite local pubs, for dinner and more socialising. Should be great fun!

But this leaves us only one day left, and the weather forecast is not promising. I had hoped to visit the Bahai Gardens, but these are closed when it's raining and windy (like today and yesterday both), so it's possible instead we'll head into Tel Aviv for more museum-ing. Wait and see!

*Somebody remind me when we get back to London to count up the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites we've visited this trip, because I think it may be a record.

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