A story is told of a young man who wanted to clear a blockage in the sewage of an average Acre resident. Up to here all is well. As he was working the ground literally swallowed him whole. He dropped down 800 years and found himself at the entrance to the Templar Quarter of Acre of the Crusader Period.
Pascal, our excellent tour guide on behalf of the Old Acre Visitors’ Center, explains that the city was divided into different quarters, according to their residents’ town of origin (Venice, Genoa, Pizza, Amalfi) or the orders they belonged to (Templars, Hospitallers). The tunnel our protagonist fell into served as an underground passageway that connected the Templar Quarter to the port (for the record: the Templars were members of a military-monastic order of French origin. They are not connected in any way to the Protestant German Templers who came to Israel during the 19th Century).
Why Underground? Money. Above ground, between the port and the Templar Quarter dwelled the Pizza Town Quarter, and every passage through it required paying taxes. The Templars, as you understand, were no fools. In fact, they were considered the ‘Bankers’ of the era, while members of the order parallel to them, the Hospitallers, were considered the ‘Physicians’ or the ‘Hosts’. According to Pascal the Templars have in fact invented the first ‘Travelers’ Checks’:
Pilgrims who came from Europe, fell prey to many cases of robbery (those whose ships made it to shore, of course), therefore, they would deposit their money in a Templar monastery in Europe in exchange for a check or some official confirmation, and would receive its value here from the Templars’ of Acre – less the required commission. Everyone was happy.
Nowadays, the tunnel discovered accidentally is treated and maintained and is very inviting. Due to sea water penetration and a spring of fresh water, a convenient wooden bridge had been built, and along it visitors encounter explanatory short films screened on the walls (acoustics are excellent and the projector enables choosing a language), drawings depicting moments from the Crusaders’ life and illuminated frames with archeological findings excavated here.
Please note that there is one section of the tunnel that requires visitors walking through to bow their heads a bit. We could all benefit from a bow once in a while.