Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831

By Rafeq, Abdul-Karim | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831


Rafeq, Abdul-Karim, The Middle East Journal


SYRIA

Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831, by Thomas Philipp. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. 191 pages. Appends. to p. 231. Notes to p. 265. Trans. to p. 275. Bibl. to p. 282. Index to p. 299. $52 cloth; $17.50 paper.

Several studies have been written, in Arabic and other languages, about Acre, either on its own or as part of the history of Palestine in the 18`" century. Thomas Philipp's work stands out as the most comprehensive and scholarly study of the town to date. Using an array of sources in Arabic, Hebrew, and other languages, including the important French archives in Paris and Marseilles, Philipp is able to place the history of Acre within the context of the local, regional, Ottoman, and international settings.

The book is divided into five chapters under the following headings: Southwest Syria in the Eighteenth Century: Highways, Sea Lanes, and Populations; The Politics of Acre; Trade: Local rulers and the World Economy; Government: The Military and the Administration; and Society and its Structure in Acre. An introduction examines the factors that contributed to Acre's flourishing, and concluding observations underline the interplay of traditionalism and modernity in the rise and fall of Acre. Four appendices (providing useful information about Acre's population, trade, administrative positions and their occupants, and maps) are followed by notes, translations of French passages in the text, and an index.

The shift from mercantilism to capitalism in Europe had its impact on the flourishing trade of Acre and its environs. Guided by the expansionist commercial policy of Louis XIV's Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French promoted their commercial relations with southern Syria by exporting to it manufactured goods and importing from it cotton and an alkaline material from a burnt herb (shnan in colloquial Arabic; cendre and ash in the French and English dispatches of that time) for the soap and glass industries around Marseilles. A French consul in Sidon and a vice consul in Acre protected and facilitated French commercial interests. The English, facing a decline in their trade in Aleppo as a result of the growing weakness of the Levant Company, also maintained a vice consul in Acre. The governors of Acre, notably Zahir al`Umar al-Zaydani (1730-75) and his successor, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (1775-1804), exploited the flourishing trade of Acre to expand the city's structures in order to accommodate its growing population. …

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