The Acco Citadel

This photograph is, to the best of my knowledge, rather unique. It shows the parade ground of the Acco citadel, which was built and added to by various rulers from around 1750 onwards. This photograph was taken sometime during the 1940's when the British mandate was still in force and shows the prisoners - mostly Jewish, during their exercise period.

The interesting thing is that during the 1980's that parade ground was excavated by the Ministry of Antiquities and nearly 30 feet of fill removed. Underneath was discovered the original courtyard of the Crusader establishment together with a broad stone staircase. During the late 17th Century, the Flemish artist, Cornelius de Bruyn, made a drawing of this courtyard in most of its detail.
Two other references to this are known - both from the 17th century: In 1640 a traveller writes "....South of the Church of St. John is the palace of the head of the Knights of Malta.......within the palace are large and magnificent halls, the stairs of which still exist in their entirety."
Similarly in 1652 another traveller writes ".....A short distance away, almost in the centre of the city, is the palace of the head of the Order, part of which is still complete. Walls still stand and wide halls remain. We went down by broad stone steps on which eight men could stand side by side." However, after the courtyard was filled entirely and the citadel built on top by the later rulers - el-'Amr, el-Jazzar and Sulieman Pasha, the 'history' of the courtyard was completely lost and forgotten. Modern investigators from the 20th Century, were at a loss to identify the location depicted in the sketch.

Only after the modern excavations were completed was it suddenly realised that here was the scene drawn by Cornelius de Bruyn! Other aspects of the Crusaders' installation on this site also received a clearer explanation and understanding. For instance, the massive plinths and columns found in what was previously and popularly believed to be the crypt, and the nearby, now excavated "Hall of the Columns", for which there seemed to be no adequate reason, were now seen to be essential for the large structure - previously unknown, that they had to support. An idea of the size of this building can be seen from the ruins of the building apparent on the drawing and the tall, 4-storey structure of the headquarters on the right and above the "knights' refectory". Today's visitor can enjoy an almost perfect explanation and description to what is considered to be the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller's of St. John of Jerusalem.
The view you have here is looking east across the parade ground (marked '4' in the plan below)

Here is a recent photograph I took while visiting with a group:-

Here is the plan of the complete complex as we now have it. Some areas still have to be excavated.

As an ex-Londoner - and an ex-London cab-driver as well - I cannot count the number of times I drove past St. John's Gate, in Clerkenwell, where the original Priory was and the present headquarters of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade is, without knowing the full extent of its significance and history! Here is quite a nice engraving of it from around the early 19th century!

......and here is a fairly modern picture of it as I remember it from my years in London.

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