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Acre Ancient Port 

Exploring the Holy Land

It is probable that the Acre ancient port and was first located at the mouth of the Naaman River south of Tel Acre, where the urban settlement remained until the Hellenistic period. But changes in the river’s route and subsidence of alluvial soil make it difficult to find supporting findings. Josephus Flavius noted that vessels entered the creek to load sand used for the glass industry. Acre was mentioned as a port city in a certificate from the city of Ugarit in the 14th century BCE.

Some More About Ancient Acre Port

So the ancient Acre port in its current location is first mentioned in a Phoenician inscription from the Persian period. The inscription, which dates to the 6th century BCE or to the 5th century BCE, was found on the southern breakwater. Finds from excavations conducted at the site indicate that the foundations of the breakwater were built using Phoenician methods.

Zenon of Kaunos, a Ptolemaic official, noted in a papyrus from 259 BCE that wheat was exported from the port of Acre to Egypt. Many discoveries dating to and after the 3rd century BCE indicate that the importance of the port increased during the Hellenistic period, and Acre became the most important port city in the Land of Israel.

Remains of a floor from the Hellenistic period, located near the eastern sea wall, were discovered in early 2009. The floor is located about a meter below sea level and may provide information about the height of the Mediterranean Sea at the time of its construction. A large number of amphorae remains from this period, which originated in the cities of the Aegean Sea, were also discovered in the port areas.

During 2012, additional excavations were carried out at the foot of the southern sea wall and the continuation of the sea wharf as well as large tying stones that were used to tie up the ships moored in the port were exposed. The weight of the binding stones ranges from 250-300 kg. Many pottery vessels were found at the bottom of the port, including dozens of complete vessels and many pottery fragments. The pottery originated from the Aegean islands such as Rhodes, Kos, and more.

Ancient Acre Port in the Roman Period

The development of the port continued in the Roman period and to this period the remains of the southern breakwater date. Its eastern part is located below the modern breakwater, while the remains of its western part are in the “Pisan port”. Despite the importance of the Roman Port of Caesarea the port of Acre continued and was the main port used by the Roman army during the Great Revolt.

It appeared on a 2nd-century Roman coin that showed a structure with arches, extending along the southern breakwater. Another coin shows a lighthouse standing, apparently, on the fly tower. The number of amphorae discovered in the port from this period is three times greater than the finds from the Hellenistic period. There has been an increase in the variety of types and regions of origin of the amphorae, and the origin of the most dominant group is from North Africa.

Ancient Acre Port in the Middle Ages

In the Byzantine period, the condition of the port worsened and the southern breakwater was destroyed. Sultan Mu’awiya I established a shipyard on the site but it only operated for a short time. Egyptian Governor Ahmad Ibn Toulon rebuilt the port in the second half of the 9th century, and it was he who erected the eastern embankment that extended into the seawater further to the eastern mainland wall. This embankment, sunk below sea level, connected the fly tower to the northern shore of Acre Bay, greatly increasing the port area. It was probably established to protect the port from enemies, as the waves coming to the port from the east do not endanger the ships moored there.

The Crusaders conquered Acre in 1104 after a siege from the sea and land, and during their time the importance of the port of Acre reached an all-time high.

The maritime traffic between the Holy Land and Europe passed through it, and most of the commercial activity in the port focused on its western part, the docks that resided in the Pisan district and the Venetian district of the city. It is also known from descriptions of the people of the period that the port was protected with a chain. Despite its importance, the port of Acre did not meet the needs, and it was unable to cope with the volume of maritime traffic. For this reason, some of the ships that visited the port were forced to anchor outside it, and already during this period, there were ships that due to their size could not set anchor there.

The conquest of Acre by the Mamluks after the siege in 1291, led to the destruction of the city and the port. But the remains of a wooden pier dating to the 14th century indicate that the port continued to be used during this period as well.

Ancient Acre Port in the Moder Period

The port regained importance in the middle of the 18th century when Daher al-Omar fortified Acre and opened many construction projects in the city. But their prosperity since the Crusader rule reached a peak during the time of the city’s next ruler, Ahmad al-Jazar. In 1799 Napoleon laid siege to Acre, and al-Jazar defended the entrance to the port by sinking a ship across it.

In 1966, the remains of a shipwreck that was originally 34 meters long and five meters wide were discovered at the site. This may have been the shipwreck during the Napoleonic siege. However, the remains of eight other shipwrecks were discovered in and near the port of Acre – one from the Roman period, one from the 11th to the 13th century, three from the Ottoman period, and the rest from the beginning of the 20th century.

In the fourth decade of the 19th century, the port served the Egyptian navy of Muhammad Ali and Ibrahim Pasha. But it was destroyed in the bombing of Acre by the British navy in 1840. The port’s final sinking occurred in the 20th century when the British chose the port of Haifa and made it the main seaport of Israel. Since then, the port of Acre has been used mainly as a fishing port and as a holiday anchorage.

The current breakwater was built in 1965 on top of the remains of the southern breakwater from antiquity, and the port waters were deepened between 1993 and 1999. Beyond the ships discovered in and near the port, thousands of other finds were discovered at the site, including anchors, fishing objects, cargo of ships, coins, pottery, weapons, and ammunition.

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Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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