Haifa's most impressive sightseeing attraction is the splendid Baha'i Shrine and Gardens, reached from Zionism (Ha-Zionut) Avenue. The immaculate, majestic Baha'i gardens -- with their stone peacocks and eagles and delicately manicured cypress trees -- are a restful, aesthetic memorial to the founders of the Baha'i faith. Haifa is the international headquarters for the gentle Baha'i faith, which began in Persia in the mid-19th century in a bloodbath of persecution.

Baha'is believe in the unity of all religions and see all religious leaders -- Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Moses -- as messengers of God sent at different times in history with doctrines varying to fit changing social needs but bringing substantially the same message. The most recent of these heavenly teachers, according to Baha'is, was Baha' Allah. He was exiled by the Turkish authorities to Acre, wrote his doctrines there, and died a peaceful death in Bahji House just north of Acre.

In the Haifa gardens, the huge domed shrine entombs the remains of the Bab, the Baha' Allah's herald. The tomb is a sight to see, with ornamental gold work and flowers in almost every nook and cranny. The Bab's remains, incidentally, were hidden for years after he died a martyr's death in front of a firing squad. Eventually, however, his followers secretly carried his remains to the Holy Land.


On a higher hilltop stands the Corinthian-style Baha'i International Archives building, modeled after the Parthenon, and the Universal House of Justice, with 58 marble columns and hanging gardens behind. These are business buildings, not open to tourists. They, and the shrine of the tomb of the Bab, all face toward Acre, the burial place of Baha' Allah.

The beautiful grounds were originally planned by Shoghi Effendi, the late Guardian of the Faith. The Baha'i gardens have recently undergone a massive redesign aimed at putting them on the world's horticultural map. They are now a geometric cascade of hanging gardens and terraces down to Ben-Gurion Boulevard -- a gift of visual pleasure to the city that gave the Baha'i religion its home and headquarters. In addition to tourists, you'll see pilgrims who have come from all parts of the world to pay homage to the first leaders of this universal faith. At the entrance to the shrine, where you must remove your shoes, you will be given a pamphlet providing further details on Baha'i history and doctrine.