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History clings to the stones in the Old City of Akko, with each twist and turn along its streets telling another tale. The city's history begins 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 that after the death of Joshua the tribe of Asher was unable to drive the Canaanites from Akko, so they lived among them.
Akko has always been worth fighting for. It had a well-protected harbor, fertile hinterland, and a strategic position that linked Egypt and Phoenicia. Alexander the Great had such regard for Akko that he set up a mint here. Akko was Phoenician for long periods, but when the Hellenistic king Ptolemy II gained control in the 2nd century BC, he 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 couldn't conquer the city in 1799, 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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