Unearthing Acre's Ottoman roots
The Al-Omadan inn and ancient Turkish baths next to the port are being reconstructed.
Try to relive your last visit to Acre: hummus, perhaps a fish restaurant, a tour of the old city and port, and on the way you pass all those ruins and destruction. But things are about to change. In recent years, Acre has been undergoing a face-lift and the city now wishes to offer visitors more than just a whiff of ancient times - it will provide the experience of sleeping in an old Ottoman-period inn together with bathing in an ancient hamam (Turkish baths).
In order for this to be possible, it was necessary to decide on the preservation and renovation of the Al-Omadan inn, which lies alongside the port, and its full operation - a mere dream for many years that is about to come true.
Some NIS 120 million will be invested in the preservation project, which also includes the nearby Ashuna inn and the "little hamam" which lies between the two. Once the work is completed, thousands of visitors will be able to stay at the inn every year - just as they did in the 18th century.
Khan al-Omadan - "the inn of the columns" in Arabic - is the largest and most striking of the various inns scattered throughout Acre, and is considered one of the most beautiful Ottoman structures in the country.
Its name derives from a row of granite columns on the ground floor. It was built close to the port at the close of the 18th century by the ruler of the north of the country who settled in Acre, Ahmed Pasha el-Jazzar, and served as the central venue for international commerce in those days.
The merchants who arrived at the port would unload their wares in the inn's stores on the first floor, and find lodgings on the second floor.
In the year 1906, an impressive watch tower was built over the inn's main entrance to mark 25 years of the reign of the Turkish sultan, Abdul Hamid II.
But despite their beauty and historical and archaeological importance, the inn and surrounding buildings have stood empty and neglected for decades. The Old Acre Development Company carried out repairs at the site from time to time, but their main intention was merely to prevent the place from falling into ruin. The compound's beauty and splendor were lost between the spreading weeds and crumbling walls.
The company realized that this compound was a real treasure with tremendous potential for attracting tourism to the city, and in recent years began working on plans to instill new life into the empty old buildings.
Forget the Hilton
"It's possible to find luxurious hotels like Hiltons and Sheratons the world over, but it is not possible to find an authentic hotel from the Ottoman period, inside a historic city with a hamam operating alongside it, just as it was 200 years ago or more - and that is what the tourists and tour group guides from abroad are looking for," enthuses the company's director, Dudu Harari.
Harari says that the intention is to turn the compound once again into what it was historically, to bring it back to the days when it stood there in all its magnificence.
On the ground floor will be commercial enterprises that are connected with the sea, restaurants and shops, he says.
The second floor will house a hotel with furnished rooms that include a shower and kitchenette in every room. The Turkish baths will be totally refurbished and serve the hotel guests as well as outside visitors.
But the company was aware that dreams and good intentions were not sufficient to get the project off the ground: What was necessary for the ambitious project was funding.
Instead of waiting year after year for a public budget to be approved and the money to come from the municipality and tourism ministry, they took the unconventional step of turning to the private market in the hope of attracting entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurs will take on the cost of the renovations, and in return will have the right to operate the site for 50 years.
The Israel Lands Authority published a tender four months ago for the renovation of the buildings, and four groups from Israel and abroad submitted bids. Two British entrepreneurs won the tender, and it appeared that the project was finally on its way - but then the groups that lost the tender decided to appeal in court against the decision.
The court is due to hand down its ruling in the next few weeks, and then the company and municipality hope that work will begin.
It is expected that Acre will be able to inaugurate its new flagship project in five years' time.