New York, NY- August 23, 2006: Israelâ€™s third largest city, Haifa is majestically set on a broad natural Mediterranean bay and characterized by terraced landscaping, picture postcard panoramic views, great beaches and a bustling computerized port. Long known as one of the most tolerant cities in the Middle East, diverse ethnic communities live side-by-side in Haifa with enviable ease. Just a short time after the recent conflict on Israelâ€™s northern border, the city and its inhabitants bounced back to â€œbusiness as usual,â€ and the cityâ€™s numerous attractions are again buzzing with visitors. Chief among the sights not to be missed are the legendary Bahaâ€™i Gardens.
Considered the centerpiece attraction of Haifa, The Baha’i Gardens are one of the most impressive sites in northern Israel, attracting pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. The Gardens were reopened in 2001 after 14 years of massive redesign and reconstruction at a cost of over $250 million requiring the skills of some 2,500 construction workers. Splendid, immaculate, geometrically perfect, the Bahaâ€™i Gardens follow the slope of Mount Carmel, around which Haifaâ€™s 300,000 inhabitants work and play.
The Gardens begin virtually at sea level in Haifa’s elegantly restored 19th century German Colony. Here, black wrought iron gates swing open to reveal the sweep of eighteen monumental terraces that soar 750 feet high. Intricately planted with flowers, topiaries, sweeping lawns, manicured cypress trees, decorated with stone peacocks and eagles, the terraces are all connected by creamy stone staircases, gurgling water channels, and dotted with ornamental fountains. The steepness of the Carmel slopes dictated the design of highly sophisticated irrigation and lawn-planting systems developed both to conserve water, and to distribute it evenly.
Half-way up the Carmel slope the golden tiled dome of the Shrine of the BÃ¡b has long been Haifa’s most instantly recognizable landmark. The golden shrine, surrounded by older ornamental gardens along whose gravel paths visitors have been crunching since the 1950’s, houses the grave of the BÃ¡b, Siyyid Ali- Muhammad. He is considered the â€˜Martyr-Heraldâ€™ of the gentle Bahaâ€™i faith, the central tenet of which is the unity of all religions. Bahaâ€™i see all religious leaders â€“ Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad – all as messengers sent by God at different eras of history to reveal Godâ€™s will.
Haifaâ€™s Baha’i Gardens are located precisely 530 miles due west of Babylon, whose Hanging Gardens were one of the legendary seven wonders of the ancient world. Today in Haifa they provide a haven of tranquility and ecological balance in this vibrant metropolitan area.
The gardensâ€™ design is almost obsessive in its perfection and reflects the vision of Iranian-born Fariburz Sahba, planner of the Bahaâ€™i Lotus Temple in India that won international acclaim. His Haifa terraces, designed in nine concentric circles, appear to emanate from the golden domed shrine. “The Shrine of the BÃ¡b is envisaged as a precious gem, for which the terraces provide the setting – like a golden ring for a perfect diamond,” says Sahba.
New Center of Day and Nightlife
Haifaâ€™s German Colony – sometimes called the Templar Colony, characterized by about 85 red- roofed houses dating from the 1870’s, is now one of the cityâ€™s hottest neighborhoods. Members of Germanyâ€™s Templar Society settled in Haifa in 1868 determined to strengthen the Christian presence in Ottoman-ruled Palestine and remained until World War II. The restored main boulevard of the colony – now Ben-Gurion Avenue – descends from the entrance to the Bahaâ€™i Gardens to the seaport (Israelâ€™s largest), paved with limestone, decorated with wrought-iron lamps, flowers and elegant traffic circles. The Templarsâ€™ homes uniquely combine Alpine design with Mediterranean tiles and terracotta. Some still bear folksy German inscriptions carved in the stone. And it is in these houses, with their tranquil gardens, porches and porticoes, that dozens of restaurants, cafes, bars, boutiques and clubs now thrive…lively by day, thronged by night.
The Haifa Experience
When to go
Although the Shrine is only open in the morning, daily from 9am-noon, the gardens are open daily from 9am-5pm and many of the monuments are illuminated at night.
In addition to the Bahaâ€™i Shrine and Gardens and the German Colony, Haifa offers many other attractions such as the Technion (Israelâ€™s M.I.T.) set on a 300-acre campus, the National Maritime Museum, the ManÃ© Katz Museum, the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, the Museum of Clandestine Immigration, the Haifa Zoo, the Carmelite Monastery and Stella Maris Lighthouse, and Elijahâ€™s Cave, plus The Carmelite, Israelâ€™s version of the subway cable- car.
How to get there
Haifa is less than an hourâ€™s drive by expressway north from Tel Aviv, and 90 minutes from Ben-Gurion International Airport. Direct flights link Haifa with Eilat, Cyprus and Amman, Jordan. Haifa is a prime port of call for a dozen or more cruise ships. For many, Haifa is most easily reached from Tel Aviv by high-speed train in 50 minutes.
For further information on travel to Israel, please call the Israel Ministry of Tourism InfoCenter at 1-888-77-ISRAEL, or visit www.goisrael.com.