The Templar Tunnel is an underground passage located in the city of Acre, in present-day Israel. The tunnel was built by the Knights Templar when the city was under the rule of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and was used as a strategic passage connecting the Templar palace with the port.
After Acre fell to the Mamluks in the 13th century, the Templar Tunnel was lost and forgotten. It was only in 1994 that the tunnel was rediscovered by a woman battling a clogged sewage pipe underneath her house.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1099 following the conquest of Jerusalem by the participants of the First Crusade.
About two decades later, the Poor Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (known simply as the Temple) was founded by the French knight Hugues de Payens.
This military command had its headquarters on the Temple Mount, and its primary mission was to protect the Christian pilgrims who were traveling to the Holy Land.
Acre Under Siege
Jerusalem was recaptured by the Muslims under Saladin in 1187 and the Templars lost their headquarters. Although much of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was overrun by the Muslims, the city of Tire, along with several isolated Crusader fortresses, continued to resist.
In 1189, Guy de Lusignan, king of Jerusalem, launched the first major counterattack against Saladin by marching to Acre. Despite the small size of his army, Guy was still able to bring the city under siege.
Saladin was unable to muster his forces in time to crush the besiegers, who were soon reinforced by Third Crusade participants from Europe.
The siege of Acre lasted until 1191 and resulted in the capture of the city by the Crusaders. The city became the new capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Knights Templar could establish their new headquarters there.
The area southwest of the city was assigned to the Knights and it was here that the knights built their main fortress.
A 13th-century Templar wrote that this fortress was the most powerful in the city and that its entrance was guarded by two towers with walls 8.5 meters (28 feet) thick. On each side of these towers are two smaller towers and on top of each tower is a gilded lion.
The Templar Fortress
Templar Fort marks the western end of the Templar Tunnel. The fort is defunct and the most notable monument in the area is the modern lighthouse. The western end of this tunnel is located near this lighthouse.
The Templar Tunnel is 150 meters (492 feet) long and crosses the city’s Pisan neighborhood. The tunnel is carved into natural rock as a semi-barreled arch and its ceiling is supported by a layer of hewn rock.
The tunnel’s eastern terminus is in the southeastern part of Acre, in what was once the internal anchorage of the city port. Today, it is the site of Khan al-Umdan (meaning ‘Caravanserai of the Pillars’), built in the 18th century when the city was under Ottoman rule.
In April 1291, Acre was besieged by the Mamluks of Egypt, and the city fell to the Muslims about a month later.
The Mamluk Sultan, Al-Ashraf Khalil, ordered the city’s walls, forts and other buildings to be razed to the ground so that the Christians could never use them again. Acre lost its status as an important port city and remained neglected until the late 18th century.
The Templar Tunnel has been rediscovered
As for the Templar Tunnel, its existence was unknown for many centuries after Acre’s fall to the Mamluks.
It was only in 1994 that the structure was rediscovered. That year, a woman who lived just above the tunnel had a problem with a clogged drain.
That’s when the matter was investigated, the Templar Tunnel was caught. Later, the tunnel was cleaned and a passageway, lights and entrance were added. In 1999, the Templar Tunnel was opened to the public.
From 1999 to 2007, the Acre Development Company continued to expose and rehabilitate the eastern section of the tunnel and in 2007, the entire length of the tunnel was made available to the public (the site is accessible).