Now an integrated component in the sprawling Tel Aviv–Jaffa complex, Jaffa has a long and colorful history, dating from biblical times. This is the port, the Bible tells us, where King Solomon’s ally, the Phoenician King Hiram of Tyre, landed cedars of Lebanon for the construction of Solomon’s Temple. From here Jonah embarked for his adventure with the whale. The Greeks were here too, and they fostered the legend that a poor maiden named Andromeda, chained to a rock and on the verge of being sacrificed to a sea monster, was rescued by Perseus on his winged white horse. Today, visitors are shown this rock, a tourist attraction since ancient times.
But that’s just the beginning of Jaffa’s history: The Crusaders also came this way. And Richard the Lion-Hearted built a citadel here that was promptly snatched away by Saladin’s brother, who slaughtered 20,000 Christians in the process. Napoleon passed through 600 years or so later; a few Jewish settlers came in the 1890s; and Allenby routed the Turks from the port in 1917.
One Jewish legend has it that all the sunken treasure in the world flows toward Jaffa, and that in King Solomon’s day the sea offered a rich bounty, accounting for the king’s wealth. Today, Jaffa still shows traces of its romantic and mysterious past. The city is built into a kind of amphitheater on the side of a hill. The old section of the city has become the starlit patio of Tel Aviv, providing an exceptional view, fine restaurants, and the most beautifully restored Old City in Israel. The flea market district, near the Clock Tower, is ramshackle but has real personality.
Tel Aviv’a Ha-Yarkon Street runs into Jaffa’s Yefet Street where the landmark stone Clock Tower and the large Turkish mosque, Mahmudiye (1812), remind you of the city’s continuing Arab community.
A Stroll Around Old Jaffa
The reclamation of Old Jaffa—only a short time ago it was a slumlike area of war ruins and crumbling Turkish palaces—has proven to be one of the most imaginative projects in Israel.
Yefet Street, near the landmark Clock Tower (built in 1896 to commemorate the reign of the Ottoman Turkish sultan) is the place to start exploring. On the west side of Yefet Street is the vast 19th century Mahmoudiye Mosque. Although closed to the public, you can peek past its impressive gates to see a glimpse of the courtyard and hear the calls to prayer that drift over the neighborhood five times a day. On the east side of Yefet Street (as you walk south), you’ll find the streetside counters of Abulafia’s bakery, famous throughout Israel for its freshly baked snacks. Just beyond Abulafia’s, are the streets leading eastward into Jaffa’s motley but always interesting Flea Market and Covered Bazaars, selling everything from old jeans and British Mandate Era detritus to old Persian tiles and reproductions of antique Hanukkah menorahs. To your right, as you walk south on Yefet Street, is an uphill road that leads to the beautifully gardened hill of Old Jaffa, with its stunning views of the Tel Aviv coastline. At the summit is the open space of Kikar Kedumim, the central plaza, and at one side of it, the Franciscan Monastery of Saint Peter, which was built above a medieval citadel. The church commemorates the visit of Saint Peter to Jaffa, and the raising from the dead of Tabitha. Opposite the church is an excavation area, surrounded by a fence, where you can inspect remnants of a 3rd-century-b.c. catacomb. Facing the catacomb is a hilltop garden, Gan Ha-Pisgah, atop which, surrounded by trees, is a white monument depicting scenes from the Bible: the conquest of Jericho, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Jacob’s dream.
Past the church gardens, on the sea side of the hill, you can wander through Old Jaffa for a superb all-encompassing views of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coastline. Incidentally, Andromeda’s Rock is traditionally the most prominent of those blackened stones jutting up from the floor of the bay. The view is brilliant in the morning sunlight and magical at sunset and into the dark of the evening.
Returning to Kikar Kedumim, you enter the restored maze of Old Jaffa’s picturesque, cobblestone market streets, filled with interesting Crusader-era architecture, eateries, artists’ studios, galleries, antiques, and souvenir shops. For those interested in art and interior design, the Ilana Goor Museum (www.ilanagoor.com; tel. 03/683-7676) is a delightful stop. It’s a beautifully renovated mansion/gallery of one of Israel’s most successful sculptors who also specializes in furniture and jewelry design. Over the centuries, this building has been put to many uses, including a long stint as a caravansary for 19th-century Jewish pilgrims. Now each room is like a page out of fancy architecture magazine, filled with Goor’s own works and her private collection of art. Before entering, ask if the rooftop cafe is open. It has good food and sweeping views. The admission fee is rather steep (NIS 35), but the building is interesting architecturally, and there are often temporary exhibits of Israeli artists. It’s open Sunday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and Saturday from 10am to 6pm.
A short (.5km/ 1/3-mile) stroll south of Old Jaffa brings you to the old port area of Jaffa Harbor, now being developed into a food market and promenade of dockside restaurants and small eateries.
Visitor’s Center/Museum of Antiquities of Tel Aviv Jaffa (Jaffa Museum):This beautiful building was actually a Turkish administrative and detention center during the 19th century. Displays include objects excavated from 30 sites within the city, covering a time span beginning in the 5th millennium b.c. and ending with the Arab period. 10 Mifratz Shlomo St. tel. 03/682-5375. Admission NIS 20; half-price for seniors, students, and children. Sun–Thurs 9am–1pm. To get here, at the top of the hill in Old Jaffa, walk from Kikar downhill on Mifratz Shlomo St. The visitor’s center/museum will be on your right.
Simon’s House-Christian tradition places the house of Simon the Tanner (venerated by Christian pilgrims for centuries) next to the lighthouse of the port, at the site of a small mosque. Acts 10 recalls St. Peter’s visit to Simon’s house in “Joppa.” 8 Shimon Ha-Burski St. tel. 03/683-6792. Free admission. Daily 8–11:45am and 2–4pm; until 6:30pm in summer. To get here, walk south through Kikar Kedumim, the main square of restored Old Jaffa. At the end of the square, turn right to the steps.
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