Journey back in time

A trip to the north turned out to be a voyage through history.

Travel up north (photo credit: Courtesy)
Travel up north
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you were going to embark on a time-travel journey, how would you set out? In your car? On a boat? By digging? By flying? On foot? Or would you just read a book? I recently went on a journey though time; my starting point was my car. I followed Highway 4 north toward its end.
When I got to Acre, the journey really began. The ancient city is on UNESCO’s world heritage site list – yes, the entire Old City is considered a world heritage site. And rightly so.
Everyone has a stake in the city, from the Jews to the Romans to the Crusaders to the Muslims to the Baha’i.
For an entrance fee, you can step back 300 years into a garden and citadel. Within that centuries-old building, which now houses a visitors’ center, an introductory film is screened in your choice of eight languages. Once you gain an overview of the city, you can lead yourself through using an audio guide (again, in one of eight languages) or by following a historical route as plotted out in a map guide.
There are seven different guide-yourself trails that trace the footsteps of an aspect of the city’s history.
Above the citadel is the Underground Prisoners Museum on the site where the British held Jewish fighters during the Mandate. It was also the scene of a famous prison break.
If you continue into the citadel, you leave the early 1900s and begin surrounded by Ottoman walls. But just nine steps down, you retreat 900 years and you’re in a Crusader fortress. Wander through the arches and vaulted ceilings that remain. When the Ottomans came into town, they attempted to destroy all traces of the Christians that preceded them.
They knocked down the top two floors of the citadel and filled in what remained with sand and rubble. They built their structures on top. However, excavations and infrastructure work by the Old Acre Development Company have enabled visitors to travel down into Crusader times, including a subterranean tunnel that the Templars used to reach the port without paying taxes to the Pisans. Look out for Hospitaller graffiti along the way, and make sure to duck in the low spots. Soon, a period-era restaurant will open in the Crusader dining hall, replete with costumes and an after dinner joust. Peruse the Crusader tombstones on display and try to spot the words “Jerusalem Post.”
The whole area is accessible to wheelchair-bound visitors, with the exception of an underground sewage tunnel.
Once you emerge from the sewage system, you exit into a gift shop (of course) and then walk out via a Turkish bazaar.
The second intifada shut down most of the stalls in the bazaar, but new artisan shops are expected to open there soon.
If you keep going through the Old City, pay a visit to the Turkish bathhouse. You can’t actually sit down for a steam, but there’s a very entertaining audio guide-film tour that explains the history and culture of al-Jazzar’s Hammam al Basha. Al-Jazzar was a Bosnian Christian who converted to Islam and gained the nickname of ”butcher” for his cruel disciplinary system. He reigned over Acre on behalf of the Ottomans and repelled Napoleon’s attacks on the city.
Other famous historical figures took their turns in Acre, too, including the once-controversial Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzato (the Ramhal). Time warp to the early 1700s and you can visit his synagogue in the Old City, which is where he ended up after traveling from Padua to Amsterdam to Jerusalem to Safed. The Ramhal is known for his book Mesilat Yesharim and for having reached kabbalistic levels usually reserved for men much older than he by the time he died at the age of 39. An unconventionally produced Torah scroll is on display, and the design of the synagogue is slightly unconventional as well. On your visit, ask where the women sat and where the bima was placed.
Entrance is free of charge.
Stroll along the picturesque harbor of the ancient city and keep an eye out for the remains of a palace that washed away with the rising sea level. Other places of interest are the Okashi Museum of modern art, an old khan (caravanserai) and Otzarot Bahoma, a Galilean museum of the past 150 years that’s literally nestled in the thick walls of the Old City of Acre where guards once sat.
Not far from Acre distance wise, but quite far chronologically is the Ghetto Fighters’ House, which is a memorial to Holocaust victims and a museum of their struggle. Go back just 62 years and you’ll encounter the founders of Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, which is where the museum is located.
The survivors of partisan units and the Polish Jewish underground chose to create a place where their story could be told. While the center of the Ghetto Fighters’ House is the resistance aspect of the Holocaust, it covers much more.
The museum is hi-tech, displaying stories, artifacts and archives. It also contains Yad Layeled, which is a Holocaust museum for children, about children. It’s designed to educate, but not to frighten. Audio guides are available, and the museum is very well done. In all, allow at least two hours to see the Ghetto Fighters’ House.
It’s depressing, but it’s worth the time.
As time travel can be exhausting, I spent the night nearby in Nes Ammim, which was founded by Dutch Christians in an effort to support the Jews following the Holocaust and the travesties perpetrated on their soil. The volunteers at Nes Ammim are all European Christians who come for stints of a year or so; while the accommodations are extremely simple, they’re clean and the kitchen is kosher; there’s a respectable breakfast spread. The unique history of the place, nestled among avocado groves and flowering gardens, is its main draw.
To wrap the journey up I traveled a few kilometers to the Lebanese border and a few thousand years back in time.
The cliff and grottos at Rosh Hanikra formed ages ago as a result of underground seismic activity. The bedrock cracked and rainwater seeped in, creating tunnels and caves. The intense force of the ocean waves slamming into them helped, too. You can descend in the world’s steepest cable car to watch an audio-visual presentation (in one of seven languages) about the site’s history and folklore. Then wander off on your own through the slippery grottos – make sure to hold the handrails. Take in the sounds and the sights and have your camera ready. Some parts are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, but because of the nature of nature, not all are. On weekends, bike and golf cart tours are available. A typical visit lasts around an hour or so.
The details:
8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday until 5 p.m.
Tickets are available in a variety of combinations.
A ticket for the Citadel, Okashi Museum and Templar Tunnel is NIS 27/adult; NIS 24/child. 1-700-708-020; (04) 995-6706
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. NIS 25/adult, or NIS 46 with a combination ticket to the Citadel, Okashi and Templar Tunnel.

10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. NIS 15/adult (04) 991-1004,
9 a.m. to 4 p.m., until 1 p.m. on Fridays NIS 25/adult for both museums (04) 995-8080,
(04) 995-0000, Call for prices.
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. NIS 43/adult, NIS 35/child 073-271-0100
Discounted combination tickets are available for Acre, Rosh Hanikra and the Ghetto Fighters’ House as well