Cartographical evidence of efforts to develop Acre during the last decades of Ottoman rule: did the Ottomans neglect the city?

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Using dozens of Ottoman maps from the Central Ottoman Archives in Istanbul, the article challenges the prevailing standpoint regarding the historical-geographic process that took place on both sides of the Bay of Acre/haifa during the last decades of the Ottoman period, and led to Haifa’s emergence as one of the most important port towns in the eastern Mediterranean, and concomitantly to Acre’s demise and negligence. To date, the few researchers who have dealt with this process, especially from the viewpoint of Haifa’s local history, have viewed the Ottoman regime as a passive force that did not act to preserve the status or economic strength of Acre, the regional headquarters, the province’s capital city and the region’s most important town for many years. We argue that the central Ottoman government in Istanbul did not perceive the process of Acre’s demise and Haifa’s rise as a deterministic process. Official Ottoman maps drawn at the request of the imperial centre as early as the 1880s show that plans existed to develop Acre and its region. These plans, even if only partially implemented, would have clearly contributed to preserving Acre’s status over Haifa. The Ottomans attempted to preserve the geo-strategic status of Acre and its importance and made plans to upgrade various infrastructures in the town’s vicinity, which might have changed processes related to physical conditions and powerful technological advances. This approach, which is based on the belief in the human ability to confront and deal with deterministic geographic and physical conditions, seems to have been the foundation of Ottoman planning in the case of Acre. The Ottomans’ capacity to implement these plans was very limited, however, and they eventually had to acknowledge this reality. Thus, Acre was reduced to its formal status as the capital of an Ottoman administrative district until the end of the Ottoman rule in Palestine. In a way, its fate was not very different from that of other traditional centres of Ottoman rule along the eastern Mediterranean coast, whose importance diminished at that time, while new centres that were more cosmopolitan and connected to developments overseas came to power.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)65-87
Number of pages23
JournalMediterranean Historical Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • Acre
  • Beirut
  • Damascus
  • Haifa
  • Hijazi train
  • Ottoman cartography
  • Ottoman modernization plans
  • Ottoman ports in the eastern Mediterranean
  • Ottoman railway system
  • Palestine
  • empires

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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