Sunday, May 10, 2015

Port of Akko (Acre)

Medieval rendering of the 1291 Siege of Acre

Akko was the most important port city on the Palestinian coast and its capture was no doubt one of the priorities of the Franks after their occupation of Jerusalem (Plate 2.7). Following a failed attempt at taking the city by siege in March 1103, an agreement was reached with the Genoese in the spring of 1104. Aided by the Genoese fleet the Franks renewed their siege in early May and after twenty days the Muslims capitulated.

Map of Acre, 1291
Akko was a walled city when the Franks occupied it in 1104. Until the Third Crusade it had a single city wall, but at some time within the subsequent twenty-three years, probably in the early years of the thirteenth century, double walls were built around the city and its new northern suburb, Montmusard (Jacoby 1982: 213). Between 1251 and 1254 Louis IX of France rebuilt them; these are the walls depicted on fourteenth-century maps of Akko. The maps show the double line of fortifications enclosing the city on its eastern side and including the suburb of Montmusard. Almost nothing of these walls can be seen today, but recent excavations north of the Old City have uncovered part of a tower of the northern outer wall (Hartal 1993: 19–21). There are additional hints at the position of the walls, but these are vague enough to have generated considerable debate and little agreement. Traces of what may be the northernmost part of the outer wall have been discovered to the north of the Ottoman wall; these include the foundations of a round tower, now under water, some 750 m north of the Ottoman wall (Frankel 1987:256–61). Recently, a convincing case has been presented in support of the view that the walls to the east extended nearly as far as the ancient mound (Kedar 1997:15 7–80).

In the thirteenth century there were a number of gates giving access to Akko from the land. These included St Michael’s Gate, New Gate (Porta Nova), Our Lady’s Gate (Domine Nostre), St Antony’s Gate, Blood Gate (Sanguinis), St Nicholas’ Gate, Bridge Gate and Patriarch’s Gate. In the northern suburb of Montmusard there were two gates: the Evil Step Gate (Mallopasso) and St Lazarus’ Gate. The port The merchants and pilgrims who arrived at Akko by ship entered the city by its port. There are various interpretations of the appearance of this port in the Crusader period. William of Tyre described the port of Akko with the words ‘infra moenia et exterius’ (William of Tyre 1986:10.26). This is usually interpreted as meaning that there were an inner and an outer harbour. The fourteenth-century maps seem to support this view: a small, semi-circular bay is shown just north of the Venetian Quarter. However, recent studies claim that this is the perpetuation on later copies of an accidental ink blot that appeared on the original version of Pietro Vesconte’s map. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries however, the inner harbour was still to be seen, filled with sand according to M.E.G.Rey (Dichter 1973:65), and it is shown on maps drawn by Colonel Jaquotin of Napoleon’s army in 1799 and by Rey in 1871 (Dichter 1973: 44, 141). Trenches excavated in Khan al-Umdan, widely considered to have been the site of the inner basin, revealed that the Turkish khan was constructed on bedrock (Linder and Raban 1965:193). In fact the khan is situated just north of the site described in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the question of the existence of an inner harbour therefore remains open for the moment.

A merchant who entered the city from the port would pass through an iron gate (Porta Ferrae) into the Court of the Chain, which was the customs house and seat of the marine court. Along the Street of the Chain, which stretched to the north, were warehouses, palaces and dwellings. This area and the port were under the jurisdiction of the king. From the warehouses along the inner harbour sewage poured into the harbour, possibly giving rise to its medieval name Lordemer (Filthy Sea) (Jacoby 1993:88–91).

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