Monday, February 13, 2012

If the Dead Could Speak

Photo by: AP
 This article isn't new, but I found it recently and the musecrack just sparkles in it. It's about an archaeological site in the walled port of Acre, where the alleys of an Ottoman-era town is being rediscovered after it was found uniquely intact underground.

"Etched in plaster on one wall was a coat of arms — graffiti left by a medieval traveler. Nearby was a main street of cobblestones and a row of shops that once sold clay figurines and ampules for holy water, popular souvenirs for pilgrims."

Used by residents in 1291, (the year a Muslim army from Egypt defeated Acre's Christian garrison) these items and more were preserved in this town, under an existing city built by the Ottoman Turks around 1750.

Under Christian rule, the city became an unruly trading hub to combative orders of soldier-monks, European factions that distrusted each other, and competing merchants, all sharing an enclosed area that was barely the size of two football fields. In 1216, a french bishop went to the town and wrote about the murders that took place constantly, the prostitutes and all the residents he believed to be outlaws who'd fled their own lands.

He described Acre “like a monster or a beast having nine heads, each fighting the other.”

In the 1990s, Israeli excavations got under way. They found the Hospitaller knights, with its pillared dining hall and storerooms, an orderly latrine and a dungeon with stone walls that still had holes for shackles. Also found was a passage constructed by the knights of the rival Templar order, leading from their own fortress to the port. Underwater digs in Acre's harbor revealed sunken fortifications and more than 20 lost ships, some armed with cannons and special weapons to shred enemy sails that dated to Napoleon Bonaparte's failed siege of the city in 1799. 

It’s like Pompeii of Roman times — it’s a complete city,” said Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre.
Can you just imagine the stories that must have come out of a place like this? What was life like to be there? We have some idea from the french bishop, but what about when the city fell?

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