Off the track beaten by most Holy Land tourists lies one of the richest archaeological sites in a country full of them: the walled port of Acre, where the busy alleys of an Ottoman-era town cover a uniquely intact Crusader city now being rediscovered.
Preparing to open a new subterranean section to the public, workers cleaned stones this week in an arched passageway underground.
Etched in plaster on one wall was a coat of arms — graffiti left by a medieval traveler. Nearby was a main street of cobblestones and a row of shops that once sold clay figurines and ampules for holy water, popular souvenirs for pilgrims.
All were last used by residents in 1291, the year a Muslim army from Egypt defeated Acre’s Christian garrison and leveled its remains.
The existing city, built by the Ottoman Turks around 1750, effectively preserved this earlier town, which had been hidden for centuries under the rubble.
“It’s like Pompeii of Roman times — it’s a complete city,” said Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre. He called the town “one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology.”
The newly excavated area, part of a Crusader neighborhood, is set to open later this year.
Today, old Acre is a picturesque enclave jutting into the Mediterranean, home to 5,000 Arab citizens of Israel who live in dense warrens of homes that are themselves historic artifacts. Most residents are poor.