Half buried in Akko’s old city, the mediaeval Hospitallers complex is truly an architectural marvel.
Here, in the 13th century, fighting monks treated the sick and the needy, congregated in prayers, assembled for festive events and feasts, and trained as a military order. After 800 of been buried under the Ottoman-era citadel, today, their grand halls are re-exposed, offering a first-hand view of the Crusaders in their heydays.
The Hospitallers in Akko
Four years after being defeated and pushed out of the Holy Land, in 1191 CE the Crusaders managed to repossess Akko. But after failing to re-conquer Jerusalem, they established in Akko their new capital, and re-modelled the city. The port was expanded, and communities of Italian merchants settled in it. The Hospitallers settled in the city’s northern end and built an extensive complex.
The order of the Knights of Saint John were founded in the 11th century in Jerusalem. Originally they were a welfare organization supporting Christians visiting the Holy Land. During the Crusaders period they also formed a military order, alongside the Knights’ Templars, and the Teutonic order. Being so, they became more known as the ‘Knight’s Hospitallers’. In the 13th century the established their headquarter in Akko, which operated until the fall of Akko in 1291 CE. Later it operated in the islands of Rhodes and in Malta, and eventually it split to five separate charity institutions.
Re-Exposing the ‘Knights Halls’
In 1291 CE the Crusaders were pushed out of the Holy Land. The Hospitallers too were expelled, and later dispersed in Europe. Centuries later the Ottoman filled their abandoned compound with sand, to build a fort above it. Ironically, this protected the halls from further decay. Since the 1960s their buildings are been meticulously exposed and restored, reviving the fame of this fabled order.
Touring the ‘Knights Halls’
The ‘knights Halls’ halls are still not all fully exposed, yet the visible remains are fascinating. The grand assembly and dining hall could fit in a scene of a medieval movie. There are also extensive vaulted halls around a central courtyard, a prison, a public latrine, and even a secret escape tunnel.
The site is open every day of the week and has an entry fee. It site also has a visitor center with an audio-visual presentation and a model of the old city. The medieval prison was turned into a small museum, presenting the long and turbulent history of Akko.
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