"Thus the whole of Syria and the coastal zones were purified of the Franks" - The Fall of St John d’Acre, last stronghold of the Crusaders, in 1291

18 May 1291, the last crusader stronghold of the Levant, St John d’Acre, present-day Acre in northern Israel, was captured by the Mamluks, ending the Age of Crusades in the Near East.

“With the conquests the whole of Palestine was now in Muslim hands, a result that no one would have dared to hope for or to desire. Thus the whole of Syria and the coastal zones were purified of the Franks, who had once been on the point of conquering Egypt and subduing Damascus and other cities. Praise be to God!” (Abu'l-Fida, “The Concise History of Humanity“ 1329) 

 A somewhat Romantic imagination of the 
Hospitalier Master Mathieu de Clermont defending the walls of Acre 
by Dominique Papety (circa 1840).

The disaster of St Louis’ seventh crusade that foundered in Egypt and ended in 1254 with the King of France having to leave the Levant almost bankrupt after the payment of a king’s ransom to the new Mamluk rulers rang in 
the last hours of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. King Louis XI spent even more money to strengthen the defences of the few remaining Frankish cities and castles in Syria but failed to establish an effective alliance with the Mongols pushing in from the North and left for France while the Franks in the Outremer waited for the end. The Mamluk Sultan Baibars defeated the Ilkhanate warlord Kitbuga at Ain Jalut in Galilee in 1260, the first time a Mongol army was decisively defeated in the West. Several victories over Frankish armies followed, Baibars captured Antioch in 1268 along with several other stongholds, among them the famous Krak des Chevaliers, and played a pivotal role in the conversion of the Ilkhanate to Islam. His successors continued his mopping-up actions against the Franks and when Tripoli fell in 1289, St John d’Acre was the last place in Christian hands.

The sea walls of St.-Jean d'Acre

The call for help towards Europe did not go completely unheeded. A few shiploads of mob from Tuscany and Lombardy came to Acre during the summer of 1290 and were a bit surprised to find thriving Muslim and Jewish communities in the place, a feature that had become quite common in all the lost cities of the Outremer, and, first things first, massacred them while the Frankish lords of the place along with the military orders watched open-mouthed. In the meanwhile, the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun had mustered a huge army in the region, allegedly over a hundred thousand men, and moved in for the kill but died in Cairo before he could take command, giving the Franks a last bit of breathing space and the possibility to evacuate at least some of the 40,000 surviving civilians of Acre to Cyprus. In April 1291 the siege began under the command of Qalawun’s son al-Ashraf Khalil.

An almost Expressionistic yet contemporary rendition of the Fall of Acre

It was a small comfort to the Frankish defenders of Acre that the Mamluks did not fight a religious war against them but basically tried to secure a firm frontier against the Mongols and Turks in Asia Minor and couldn’t afford the hostile Franks as a thorn in their side in the Levant. Not that they liked each other very much, but the Mamluks had no scruples whatsoever to establish firm trade relations with the West. However, after six weeks of siege, in the dawn of May 18th, al-Ashraf Khalil gave the signal for a full-scale attack on Acre. After a desperate defence, all of the town was in Mamluk hands by nightfall, except the headquarter of the Knights Templar that held out until May 28th. But the Age of Crusades ended on that day and the final Mamluk conquest of the Levant left the place a thinly populated semidesert until the 19th century.

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