Bahai Gardens of Haifa

5 Jun

Bahai Gardens in Haifa

Shrine of the Bàb on the central terrace of the Bahai Gardens in Haifa. Click image to see more photos of the Gardens.

I’d never heard of the Bahai Gardens before we moved to Israel but since arriving whenever I’ve heard the Gardens mentioned the speaker’s tone of voice is invariably one of profound reverence. B and I decided to visit the Gardens yesterday. They’re located in Haifa, just one hour north of us, a straight shot up Route 2.

The Gardens, the work of members of the Bahai Faith, consist of nineteen terraces that extend one kilometer down the north slope of Mount Carmel into the heart of Haifa. The central terrace is the largest and it is there that the Shrine of the Bàb is located. The Bàb is a central figure in the Bahai Faith, a monotheistic religion founded in mid-nineteenth century Persia. Their leader was executed by the Persians and his successor was driven into exile in Akko, just north of Haifa.

The design of the Gardens is intensely symbolic of principles of the Bahai Faith, some of which are unity of humankind, equality between men and women, world peace, elimination of all forms of prejudice. Bahais believe in one God who has sent various messengers throughout the ages: Abraham, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus and, of course, the Bàb.

The tour of the Gardens starts at the topmost terrace. We decided to park our car at the bottom at Colony Plaza and took a cab up to the top. Entrance to the Gardens is free but there is limited access unless you take one of the free tours. Even so, with the tour we only got to walk down half the terraces and arrived too late for entrance into the Shrine of the Bàb.

I now understand the reverence of those who have already seen the Gardens. They are immaculately tended, gorgeous to behold, a pure work of art. The colors of the blooms, the landscaping, the waters that run along either side of the path — all elements of the design were exquisitely devised. I would love to someday have time to wander the Gardens on my own; they seem to beg for solitary reflection. That is impossible, however, when one is a member of a group of some 65 tourists with another group just as large right on your heels. It occurred to me that the Gardens are the Bahai’s version of a cathedral and I absolutely love that concept. Read more about the Gardens, their design and symbolism here.

When the tour was over we exited from the Central Terrace and took some decidedly less scenic steps down to Colony Plaza. I’m told in all there are 1,700 steps from top to bottom. Granted, walking down steps is much less strenuous than walking up but today my calf muscles are screaming at me.

After our tour of the Gardens we strolled through the German Colony, an area originally colonized by the German Templers. Nowadays the Colony is dotted with cafes, restaurants and boutiques and has become the center of nightlife in Haifa. We had lunch in a pleasant middle eastern restaurant called Fattoush. By the time lunch was done we were both bushed. The hot sun and the long walk down the slope of Mt. Carmel had done us in.

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