Significant remains from the Crusader period were first uncovered in Akko during the 1950s and 1960s when portions of building complexes, below ground level but almost completely preserved, were cleared of debris. During the 1990s, within the framework of the development of Akko, excavations were undertaken both outside and inside the present-day Old City walls, bringing to light fascinating remains of Akkos illustrious medieval history, previously known mainly from pilgrims accounts.
The Hospitalers Compound
The most important of the subterranean remains of Akko of the Crusaders is located in the northern part of todays Old City. It is the structure that was the headquarters of the Order of the Hospitalers (the Knights of St. John). It is an extensive building complex (ca. 4,500 sq. m.) with halls and many rooms built around a broad, open central courtyard. The thick walls were built of well-trimmed kurkar (local sandstone), and the complex was fortified with corner towers. When the Ottoman ruler of Akko, Ahmed al-Jazzar decided to build a citadel and a palace on the site, he had the Hospitalers building filled in with earth.
In recent years, the 3-4 m. high earth fill blocking the central courtyard of the Hospitalers compound was removed, revealing the 1200 sq. m. courtyard.
There are broad openings in the walls of the courtyard leading to the halls and rooms surrounding it. To support the upper storey, pointed arches issuing from broad pilasters that project from the walls were built. A 4.5 m. wide staircase supported by arches provided access from the eastern side of the courtyard to the second storey. An extensive network of drainage channels carried rainwater from the courtyard to a main sewer. In the southwestern corner of the courtyard was a stone-built well that guaranteed the residents water supply.
South of the courtyard is a hall, which was misnamed the Crypt of St. John. This is a rectangular hall in Gothic style, 30 x 15 m. with a 10 m. high groin-vaulted ceiling supported by three round central piers, each 3 m. in diameter. Chimneys indicate that it served as a kitchen and refectory (dining hall). Fleurs-de-lis (symbol of the French royal family), are carved in stone in two corners of the hall.
South of the hall lies a building complex known as al-Bosta. It is composed of a large hall with several enormous piers supporting a groin-vaulted ceiling. This subterranean building is in fact the crypt of St. John, over which the church itself was built. Portions of the church and its decorations were uncovered in the excavation.
North of the central courtyard is a row of long, parallel underground vaulted halls, 10 m. high, known as the Knights Halls. On one side are gates opening onto the courtyard; on the other, windows and a gate facing one of the main streets of the Crusader city. These were the barracks of the members of the Order of Hospitalers.
To the east of the courtyard, the 45 x 30 m. Hall of the Pillars was exposed, which had served as a hospital. Its 8 m. high ceiling is supported by three rows of five square piers. Above this hall of columns probably stood the four-storey Crusader palace depicted in contemporary drawings.
Most of the buildings on the western side of the courtyard remain unexcavated. Several ornate capitals, illustrative of the elaborate architecture of this wing, were found. In its northern part was a public toilet with 30 toilet cubicles on each of its two floors. A network of channels drained the toilets into the central sewer of the city.
An advanced underground sewage system was found beneath the group of buildings of the Hospitalers. This network drained rainwater and wastewater into the citys central sewer. It was one meter in diameter and 1.8 m. high and runs from north to south.
Portions of Crusader period streets were uncovered: in the Genoese quarter in the center of the present old city of Akko, a 40 m.-long portion of a roofed street was exposed. It runs from east to west and is 5 m. wide. On both sides were buildings with courtyards and rooms facing the street serving as shops. In the Templar quarter in the southwestern part of the city, another portion of a main street leading to the harbor was uncovered. Some 200 m. of the street were exposed and along it, several Crusader buildings which had been buried beneath Ottoman structures.
The Crusader City Walls
The location of the Crusader city walls is well known from detailed contemporary maps that have survived, but few traces have been found in excavations. Parts of the walls lie beneath the Ottoman fortifications; others were damaged when modern neighborhoods were built.
Near the northeastern corner of the Ottoman fortifications, a 60 m. long segment of the northern Crusader wall was found; it is some 3 m. thick, and was built of local kurkar sandstone.
A short distance eastward, parts of the corner of a tower built of large kurkar stones were preserved to a height of 6 m. The tower was fronted by a deep moat, 13 m. wide, and protected on its other side by a counterscarp wall. This section of wall belongs to the outer, northern fortifications, which were constructed in the 13th century to protect the then new Montmusard quarter. It is probably the Venetian Tower depicted in Crusader period maps. On the seashore some 750 m. north of the Old City are remains of the foundation trenches of a circular tower with a wall extending eastward from it, today covered by seawater. In the view of researchers, this is the round corner tower that stood at the western end of the wall surrounding the Montmusard quarter.
The renewed excavations at Akko were conducted by A. Druks, M. Avissar, E. Stern, M. Hartal and D. Syon on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavations at the Hospitalerscompound were directed by E. Stern on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.