In April–May 2018, a trial excavation was conducted in the Old City of ‘Akko (Permit No. A-8269; map ref. 206783–819/758509–38; Fig. 1), prior to the creation of the Ramchal Synagogue Visitors’ Center. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Old Acre Development Company, was directed by E. Stern, E. J. Stern and F. Benente (University of Genoa), with the assistance of Y. Yaakobi and S. Atel (administration), M. Peleg (digital documentation), R. Mishayev and R. Liran (surveying and drafting), D. Syon (numismatics) and J. Gosker (metal finds). The field photographs were taken by the excavation directors.
The excavation was conducted within an Ottoman-period building known as Becky House (Building No. 12/184), adjacent to the Ramchal Synagogue and near the Zeituni Square in the center of the Old City of ‘Akko. Three previous excavation seasons carried out at the site uncovered building remains from the Crusader and Ottoman periods (Stern et al. 2011; Stern, Benente and Stern 2017, and see therein an overview of the history of research and further references).
Two excavation areas (A, B; Fig. 2) opened inside two vaulted chambers of the Ottoman-period building uncovered architectural remains from the Crusader and Ottoman periods. The Crusader-period remains included a segment of a fortified wall with remains of a gate and a watchtower that marked the boundary between the Genoese and the Hospitaller Quarters. Two Ottoman-period construction phases comprised limited remains dating from the seventeenth century CE and the habitation layers of the eighteenth-century Becky House building. The Crusader-period building remains were incorporated in the construction of the eighteenth-century CE building.
Crusader Period. Following a collapse in the northern part of the excavation area, high-quality kurkar ashlars, including several very long ones, were exposed (L252). The stones probably collapsed from the vault of the Crusader gate that was uncovered here in previous seasons, the long stones (0.3 × 0.4 × 1.4 m long) coming from the gate lintel. The external parts of the gate’s two piers (W400, W401; each c. 2 m wide) were also uncovered. The upper parts of the piers were removed in the Ottoman period, when the eighteenth-century CE building was constructed. In the northern part of the excavation area, were the remains of an east–west oriented underground chamber roofed with a barrel vault (L255; 2.0 × 4.5 m); the latter were probably constructed during the Crusader period.
Ottoman Period. Limited architectural remains were attributed to the earlier phase of the Ottoman period. In the southwestern part of the excavated area, a pit dug in the ground, lined with semi-dressed kurkar stones and paved with medium-sized fieldstones (L256; depth 0.9 m; Fig. 3) yielded a few Ottoman potsherds; it was probably a cesspit or a granary pit. A similar pit located to its east (L262) was only partially excavated. North of Pit 256 were the remains of various floors, including of a stone paved floor (Fig. 4), beyond which lay the stone-built opening of a vertical shaft (depth 1 m) that led down into Crusader-period Room 255 (Fig. 5). The room was full of rubble and groundwater to a height of c. 0.6 m. The room’s western wall was completely preserved, with a shallow drainage channel incorporated in its base, whilst the eastern part of the room had collapsed. This Crusader-period room was probably converted into a groundwater well in the earlier Ottoman phase, and the shaft leading to it was probably built at this time.
Two plaster floors, separated by a dark soil fill layer, were attributed to the building constructed in the later phase of the Ottoman period (eighteenth-century CE). The earlier of the two was a light-colored, thin plaster floor (L250), exposed c. 1 m below surface level; it was uncovered mainly in the northern part of the excavation area. The later floor of the eighteenth-century CE building was made of thick plaster. The soil fill layer between the two floors contained stones, dressed building stones, Crusader-period architectural elements and Crusader and Ottoman pottery.
Crusader Period. A packed-earth floor (L209; c. 1.5 m below surface level) was uncovered in the northern part of Area B. A square well mouth, built of outward-sloping carefully dressed ashlars, was found to its south (L208; 1.2 × 1.2 m; Fig. 6). The well was dug into the ground and lined with stones; niches were cut into its walls to enable access for maintenance purposes (Fig. 7). A large quantity of equid bones and two Mediterranean tortoise skeletons, in addition to two metal animal shoes—probably donkey shoes dating from the Crusader-period—were found in the well, overlain by ashlars and some Crusader pottery. The well was filled with yellow beach sand. A seam line could be discerned between a tamped-plaster floor surrounding the well mouth (L206) and Floor 209. It seems that this area was originally an open courtyard with a plaster floor, and that after the Crusader-period well was dug—cutting through the original floor—the floor was repaired at the same level as Floor 209. The animal bones and the metal shoes indicate that the well was intentionally put out of use during the Crusader period and was then covered with sand.
A fill of yellow beach sand containing many shells was found in the southern part of the area; this was probably a deliberate fill layer, similar to that discovered in the well. It contained building stones, Crusader-period architectural elements and potsherds dating mostly from the Crusader period, with a few dating from the Ottoman period.
Two Crusader-period ashlar arches in the southern wall (W212) of the eighteenth-century building were blocked with small fieldstones to provide supporting arches for the building’s foundations (Fig. 8). The stone fill was removed from both archs so as to identify the alignment of the previously excavated Crusader wall, leading to the discovery of the wall’s eastward continuation. This wall served as an outer wall of the Crusader-period covered street. In the southwestern corner of Area B, the corner of a Crusader-period watchtower, was incorporated in the western wall of the eighteenth-century CE building. The tower’s facade, founded on the fill of yellow beach sand, had two arrow slits, similar to those discovered in the earlier excavation seasons.
Ottoman Period. A white plaster floor exposed in the northern part of the room overlay a gray soil fill layer containing building stones, pottery and eighteenth-century CE tobacco-pipe fragments, and was overlain by layers of modern soil fill. The western wall of the eighteenth-century CE building was founded on the walls of the Crusader-period tower, incorporating them, and on the underlying beach-sand fill. By contrast, the building’s walls to the east of the tower were constructed to a greater depth and were founded on the surface of the Crusader-period open courtyard and on supporting arches.
The Genoese commune played an important role in the economy of the city and port of ‘Akko. Excavations conducted at the site so far have revealed a 16.5-m-long section of the fortified Crusader-period Genoese Quarter wall, which incorporated a tower and an arched gateway—probably the main entrance into the quarter. To the north of the wall extended an open public courtyard with a plastered floor in its western part, probably dating from the Crusader period as well.
At some stage in the Crusader period, a well was dug in the courtyard, but it was filled with beach sand and deliberately put out of use during this period. The well was probably deliberately filled in when the gate and the northern passageway in the covered street were blocked up (Stern et al. 2011
; Stern, Benente and Stern 2017)
. The blocking of the Genoese quarter may have taken place following the defeat of the Genoese in the War of Saint Sabas against the by the Venetians in the second half of the thirteenth century CE, after which the Genoese were expelled from the city (Madden 2020). An underground vaulted room dating from the Crusader period was also discovered.
These finds provide the first material evidence for the many contemporary historical accounts describing the plan of Crusader-period ‘Akko, which comprised a series of fortified closed autonomous quarters (Jacoby 1989). This evidence has survived due to the incorporation of the Crusader-period building remains in the Ottoman eighteenth century CE building.
Jacoby D. 1989. Crusader Acre in the Thirteenth Century: Urban Layout and Topography. In D. Jacoby ed. Studies on the Crusader States and on Venetian Expansion V. Northampton. Pp. 1–45.
Madden T.F. 2020. The War of Towers: Venice and Genoa at War in Crusader Syria, 1256–1258. In C. Hillenbrand ed. Syria in Crusader Times: Conflict and Co-Existence. Edinburgh. Pp. 211–224.
Stern E.J., Benente F. and Stern E. 2017. ‘Akko, the Old City, the Genoese Quarter. HA-ESI 129
Stern E.J., Benente F., Stern E. and Varaldo C. 2011. ‘Akko, the Genoese Quarter. HA-ESI 123