Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
Within the framework of their studies, Intensive Arabic Semester students visited a very special project – and to date not very well known about – in the Old City of Acre whereby two enormous derelict buildings are being brought back to their former glory and intended to become a boutique hotel in the near future.
Bringing back to life much of the opulence of years long gone was the dream and brainchild of local restaurant owner Uri Yermias whose URI BURI restaurant by the Old Lighthouse and port of the city is almost a legend of its own.
In an atmosphere filled building constructed in Acre by master builders of the Ottoman Empire, the Uri Buri restaurant dishes up culinary delights with a large portion of exotic blast from the past.
With the light-house across the road and the sound of waves crashing over rocks and ancient sea wall just meters away, the fish restaurant on the edge of the Old City of Acre, offers a simplistic but attractive natural and truly authentic décor and one cannot but help ponder over who lived and possibly dined there hundreds of years before.
In the late 1980s Uri Yermias, a self-taught master chef, opened up a restaurant on the beach at Nahariya, eventually moving to the Acre port in 1997. A larger than life character with a flowing white beard, Uri Yermias is equally acquainted with history and archaeology as he is with producing mouth watering dishes that have earned him and his restaurant a solid reputation not only among Israelis but also folks from abroad.
Down the road, around the corner and through a narrow alleyway from the restraint is a true adventure down the backstreets of Acre history – what were the remains of the impressive buildings known as the Abdul Pasha Palace that Uri Yermias is bringing back to life.
A team of 10 Italian art restorers spent months of meticulous and back breaking restoration work on intricate, colorful and breathtakingly beautiful ceiling and cornice designs incorporating themes of nature and fine design. The ceilings of the high arched spacious rooms and halls, balconies and stairwells have ones eyes darting from place to place, and mouthing 'wow' every few seconds!A huge, incredibly detailed painting of Istanbul from 1878 has been remarkably restored by the Italian specialists from Venice who have successfully brought back to life the paintings and decorations of the sumptuous buildings.
Menachem Shani, the project manager for the restoration, told the Intensive Arabic Semester students that two layers of paint had had to be peeled away to reach the original painting of Istanbul."It was an incredibly difficult and intricate feat that these artisans carried out," Menachem explained. He also pointed out the decorative wrought iron balconies and window decorations that were the originals and those that had been meticulously copied by experts.
Tall arched windows, the iron work of both balconies and stairways, artistic stonework carving – all quite awesome and making one appreciate what had been created by men with the most basic of tools hundreds of years ago. Also being renovated is the Turkish bath and future guests will have the chance to 'chill out' in hot steam as did Turkish gentry living in the palace all those years ago.
Left: Larger than life Uri Yermias outside the URI BURI restaurant in Acre Port
Right: Students enjoy fresh cups of juice from a local on the streets of Acre