History clings to the stones in the Old City of Akko, which bear the marks of the many civilizations that have inhabited and built it. The city's history began 4,000 years ago, when Akko was first mentioned in Egyptian writings that refer to the mound northeast of its walls. The Old Testament describes in Judges 1 how after the death of Joshua, the tribe of Asher was unable to drive the Canaanites from Akko, so they lived among them.
With its well-protected harbor, fertile hinterland, and strategic position, Akko has always proved worth fighting for. Alexander the Great had such regard for Akko that he set up a mint here. Akko was Phoenician for long periods, but the Hellenistic King Ptolemy II gained control in the 2nd century BC and renamed it Ptolemais.
King Baldwin I led the Crusaders who conquered Akko in 1104, and the port city was the Crusaders' principal link to home. Commerce thrived, and the European maritime powers—Genoa, Pisa, Venice, and Marseilles—developed separate quarters here. After the disastrous defeat of the Crusader armies in 1187, Akko surrendered to Saladin, but Richard the Lionheart soon recaptured the European stronghold. In its Crusader heyday, Akko had about 40 churches and monasteries and a population of 50,000.
In the 13th century, after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims, Akko became the effective capital of a shrunken Latin kingdom; it fell to the Mamluks in 1291 and lay in ruins for centuries. In 1749 Dahr el-Omar, the Bedouin sheikh, moved his capital from Tiberias to Akko and rebuilt the walls of the city.
Napoléon's attempt to conquer the city in 1799 was repulsed, but the British captured it in 1918. With the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, many Arab inhabitants left Akko, though a good number remain. Akko's population now numbers about 46,000, with people living inside the Old City itself and in new developments pushing the city limits to the north.
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