Within the walls of the Old City, the population is predominantly Israeli Arab, and the salty breeze off the sea is dominated by the call to prayer throughout the day. This influence is seen in the colorfully painted mosques, the presence of shellfish and hookah in the souk, and the lack of any functioning Jewish temples.
As you drive into the Old City, the roads narrow, and your car feels more and more out of place. Once you manage to park, the slivers of walkways before unaccessible become a webbed network of veins leading you in and out of every beautiful nook of the city.
Find the entrance to the Templar Tunnels, and you descend both physically into the depths of Akko, and deeper into its history. The water trickling through the cool tunnel echoes in its emptiness, yet the weight of antiquity palpably dampens the sound. Upon emerging from the short walk through the dim stoniness, the wall and sea seem to gleam with greater intensity.
The golden sea wall of Akko crumbles into the sea, hiding below it not only the remains of the Crusaders, but also evidence of humanity’s presence in this location dating as far back as 3000 BC. Though the Ottomans built it as you see it today, with marked Islamic influences, the history of Akko is a prime example of the fact that many cultures have dominated this region of the Middle East.
The Efendi Hotel, a gem in and of itself, perfectly encapsulates Akko’s ability to continue to build upon the history that has already rooted itself. Once two centuries-old houses, the hotel was restored under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority, and with the help of international artisans, and is now a shining example of the magic of restoration. It is luxurious and modern yet still feels grounded in the history of Akko.
The owner of the Efendi, Uri Jeremias, completes the transition of ancient to contemporary in the Old City with his restaurant, Uri Buri. Stark florescent lighting whites out the interior of an old stone building, creating an exterior weighted with the past while the light beams out into the darkness of dinnertime. The menu changes only with the addition or subtraction of a dish or two every couple of years, and rarely does anything have more than eight ingredients, all locally sourced. The cuisine again mirrors the dichotomy of Akko — the reliance on tradition while building something new upon its foundation. None of the flavors are unfamiliar: a plethora of locally caught seafood, classically Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors like turmeric, olive oil, and preserved lemon, and yet they challenge the palate with every bite. The first dish, a slice of meltingly ripe persimmon slathered with mascarpone and topped with chopped raw shrimp and caviar, was a beautiful marriage of Uri’s love of creating something delicious, while still honoring the provenance of his ingredients and culture.