Hospitaller Fortress – Acre

The Hospitaller Fortress (also known as the Citadel of Acre) is a massive fortress built by Crusaders during the 12th century right into the defensive fortifications of Acre. The citadel is made up of multiple sections, most of which were built by the Hospitaller Order but later added onto by other Crusaders. We first entered the basement / gallows (3-5) which was built to hold prisoners using ball and chains. Coincidentally, the entire citadel was used by the British as a prison for Jewish Zionist activists. In the May of 1947 the Irgun (using explosives) led a large scale prison break from a nearby Turkish bath to rescue a number of incarcerated Irgun and Lehi prisoners. The prison break is considered an act of heroism by Israel (and terrorism at the time by the British) and is commemorated by a sculpture along the Acre Promenade (not pictured).

We continued to the courtyard (6, 10, 11, 13) which connects the rest of the chambers. Our tour guide explained that one mess hall (7) was built with many different rooms for different Crusader armies. The other was the Knight’s Halls (9), which would have been much more impressive but was under heavily restoration. At the end we noticed what we thought was a relief carved into the wall (8). When we moved closer we saw it was a print of some image, but no one could figure out what it was except possibly Han Solo’s cousin. Next our tour guide gleefully took us into a dark room (12) which he explained was a latrine. As we stood there awkwardly he added in that it was at the same time used as a brothel. We quickly left him in his medieval bathroom and ventured into the refectory (14-17) a huge, impressive hall that was once thought to be a crypt until the Fleur de Lis was found carved into the wall. By this time the tour guide caught up to us and led us through an escape tunnel underneath the compound. We ended up in an arched complex used as a hospital (18, 19) and made our way out.

The Hospitaller Fortress is the defining point of Acre. It is built like many castles in Europe but is so far removed and out of place. The halls are really massive and complex and are a reminder of the Western, and violent, influence, this region has felt for so long. But on the other hand, it is fitting that such a structure still stands near a large mosque in a city that is settled peacefully by both Jews and Arabs.

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~ by jonathanmtsai on January 15, 2011.

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