Ahmed al Jezzar (“the Butcher”) Pasha was the Ottoman-Turkish governor of Akko during the late 1700s and notorious for his habit of mutilating both those in his government and those he governed. According to legend, on Al-Jezzar Pasha’s whim, faithful chamberlains and retainers were ordered to slay their own children as signs of loyalty to him, and the Pasha rewarded government officials and loyal subjects with amputations of hands, arms, eyes, and legs to test their willingness to submit to his desires. If this was how he treated his friends, you can imagine the fate of his enemies. When Napoleon invaded Egypt, the English joined the Ottomans in trying to drive him out. Al-Jezzar Pasha marshaled the defenses of Akko, and the city withstood Napoleon’s assault in 1799. Napoleon’s forces never recovered, and Napoleon’s dream of conquering Egypt died outside the walls of Akko. The Pasha died in Akko in 1804, to everyone’s relief.
Ahmed al Jezzar Pasha’s contributions to Akko included building fountains, a covered market, a Turkish bath, and the harmonious mosque complex that bears his name. Begun in 1781, it’s an excellent example of classic Ottoman-Turkish architecture and stands among the Pasha’s most ambitious projects. It also illustrates how the traditional mosque complex worked.
As you approach the mosque area, Al-Jezzar Street turns right off Weizmann Street. The mosque entrance is a few steps along Al-Jezzar Street on the left. Before you mount the stairs to the mosque courtyard, notice the ornate little building to the right of the stairs. It’s a sabil, or cold-drinks stand, from which pure, refreshing drinking water, sometimes mixed with fruit syrups, was distributed—a part of the mosque complex’s services. Note especially the fine tile fragments mounted above the little grilled windows just beneath the sabil’s dome. Tile-making was an Ottoman specialty.
Up the stairs, you enter the mosque courtyard. Your ticket will enable you to explore the complex of Crusader buildings, including a church (now flooded and used as cisterns) over which the mosque was built. Just inside the entry is a marble disc bearing the tughra, or monogram, of the Ottoman sultan. It spells out the sultan’s name, his father’s name, and the legend “ever-victorious.”
The arcaded courtyard around the mosque can be used for prayers during hot days of summer, as can the arcaded porch at the front of the mosque. The shadirvan, or ablutions fountain, opposite the mosque entry, is used for ritual cleansing five times a day before prayers. You must slip off your shoes before entering the mosque proper.
Inside you’ll notice the mihrab, or prayer niche, indicating the direction of Mecca, toward which worshipers must face when they pray. The galleries to the right and left of the entrance are reserved for women, the main area of the floor for men. The minbar, a sort of pulpit, is that separate structure with a curtained entry, stairs, and a little steeple. Around to the right are a mausoleum and a small graveyard that hold the tombs of Ahmed al Jezzar Pasha and his successor, Suleiman Pasha, and members of their families. The mosque is still used by Akko’s Muslim population, so when it’s in service for prayer, you must wait until the prayers are over to enter the mosque.
- Frommer's Staff