If you want to get out of the urban jungle and head out to a more local and indie vibe in Tel Aviv then find your way to Old Jaffa or Yafo as it’s known in Hebrew.
Rising from a cliff that faces the Mediterranean Sea, Old Jaffa is known to the Crusaders and pilgrims as the Bride of the Sea and the gateway to the Holy Land. Today, this most ancient city center and port in Tel Aviv is jampacked with tourists winding their way through the uphill and downhill maze of architectural delights.
I think that the best way to start exploring Old Jaffa is to join the Sandeman's free walking tour (tipping is encouraged) which will take you through the old cobbled streets. Once done with the tour and having your feel of the place, you can start exploring on your own. But before doing all of these, stop by the Tourist Information Center to grab a map of Old Jaffa and Jerusalem or download the Tel Aviv Map and Walks to guide you through the maze!!
So, slather on your sunscreen, wear sensible shoes and bring water as I show you some of the places in Old Jaffa that you must see for yourself:
1. Yaffo Clock Tower. The clock tower was built in 1901 in the center of Jaffa's town square. It is one of seven similar towers built in the Holy Land during the Ottoman occupation. The others are located in Tsfat, Akko, Nazareth, Haifa, Shechem and Jerusalem. The latter does not exist anymore.
According to the local tale, the tower was built at the initiative of Yossef Moial, a wealthy Jew of Jaffa, who erected the clock tower in order to save himself pestering by pedestrians who would come into his shop to ask the time on their way to the train station. Four clocks were installed in the tower – two of them showing the time in Europe, and two of them the time in Israel.
2. Saraya House. The facade is the remaining piece of the former residence of the Turkish Governor. It also served as the Turkish Government building.
|Saraya House Front|
|Saraya House Back|
3. St. Peter's Catholic Church. This Franciscan church that sits on top of the Jaffa mound was once a hospice as well. It was built in 1654 on top of the remains of a Crusaders' fortress and rubbles of a Byzantine church.
The fort was part of the city citadel during the reign of Louis IX, king of France. In the church, courtyard stands the statue of Louis IX, who was canonized in Christian tradition for his part in the crusades.
According to accepted history, the church also hosted the French general Napoleon when he stayed in Jaffa during his campaign in Israel in 1799.
It is one of the only two churches in the Holy Land that faces west towards the sea where Peter's famous dream took place. It also faces Rome where Peter was soon sent. Its Baroque style boasts of long nave, a high vaulted ceiling, colored windows, and marble walls are reminiscent of the cathedrals in Europe. The walls of the church are decorated with oil paintings depicting the Fourteen Stations of the Cross and St. George fighting the dragon. Over the altar is a depiction of Peter's visitation in a dream by the angel Michael. Its bell tower serving as a beacon to pilgrims.
This church was built in commemoration of the miracle of Petros (Simon bar Yonah) bringing Tabitha back from the dead. It’s significance to Christianity is mentioned in Acts 9:36-43 and Acts 10:1-4 wherein Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. This miracle greatly increased the number of regional adherents to the newly-founded Christianity. To this day, Tabitha is still considered a saint representing charity and aid to others.
4. Wishing Bridge in Old Jaffa. The bridge connects the Peak Park with Kdumim Square are bronze statues of the twelve astrological signs. Local myth says if you touch the relief of your zodiac sign and make a wish while facing the sea, your wish will come true.
5. Zodiac alleys. This is a network of restored alleys, full of art galleries and artisan shops, which lead to the Jaffa seaport.
7. Suspended Orange Tree. Installed in 1993 by Ran Morin in memory of one of Israel's most famous export, the Jaffa orange. This is a Shamouti, an orange bred to be easy to peel and practically seedless This is now the only orange tree left from the lost orange groves of Jaffa.
Eventually, though, Jaffa, the Orange’s Clockwork explains that the Jaffa orange became a politically-charged fruit: “While the orange become the symbol of the Zionist enterprise and the state of Israel, for Palestinians it symbolises the lost of their homeland and its destruction,” director Eyal Sivan says.
8. Home of Simon the Tanner. The home of Simon the Tanner is considered a site sacred to Christianity. According to tradition, Simon the Tanner (leatherworker) hosted Peter, Jesus' Apostle here while he was traveling in the Land of Israel.
During Peter's stay at this humble abode, he dreamt a dream seeing clean and unclean animals together. A heavenly voice told him to eat the animals, and when he refused to eat the unclean animals, the voice told him: “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
Peter interpreted the dream as divine sanction to spread Christianity not only among Jews but also among the pagan Romans, and he agreed to convert Cornelius, a Roman centurion in Caesarea. This marked a historical turning point in the process of transforming Christianity into a universal religion.
The house is owned by the Armenian Zakkarian family for a number of generations and is closed to visitors. On the roof of the house, the British mandate constructed a lighthouse serving the ships entering the Jaffa Harbor. Near it is a small mosque, Jama al Bodrus (Peter's Mosque), constructed in 1730, as well as a guardhouse nearby meant to defend the city against attacks from the sea.
It is interesting to note that a tanner is someone who tans animals hide. So this house was probably smelly when Simon was still living here.
9. Garden of Victor Politis. Victor Politis is a well-known Israeli photographer who took the iconic picture of Tel Aviv below. You can easily spot his house because his photographs are hung outside the walls of his home for everyone to appreciate.
He maintains a beautiful flower garden outside his home which is a living artwork itself. Flowers grown here vary from season to season!
And if you are lucky like me, you can even get the chance to exchange some niceties with him as he pops out of his door.
|Notice that talisman on the top of his door!|
10. Mahmudiyeh Mosque. This mosque is the largest and most significant mosque in Yaffo.It was built in 1812 over the foundations of an earlier mosque by Abu Nabbut, the governor of Yaffo.
It is a complex of buildings arranged around three inner courtyards. The mosque was decorated with ancient marble pillars brought to Jaffa from Caesarea and Ashkelon, and placed in the mosque upside down with their heads to the ground, which created an inner courtyard surrounded by a harborico of pillars with arches between them.
The large courtyard leads to the mosque structures including the hexagonal minaret and the large prayer hall. The main entrance to the mosque is from its southern side, above which is a plaque noting the year 1227 of the Hijra (1812). Other gates lead to the mosque compound – one leads to the old Sarayah house and the other to the Clock Square. This gate is known as the “Ruler’s Gate”, as it is the one through which the rulers of the city entered the mosque from the new Sarayah house across the road. This is the grandest gate, and it includes Byzantine elements incorporated in it and Ottoman decorative elements of the empire’s symbol – the star and the crescent.
11. Sabil Suleiman. Installed on the outside of the southern wall of the Mahmudiyeh Mosque is Sabil Suleiman (fountain). It is a large arc made of white marble stones and pink granite. It is named after Suleiman Pasha, governor of Acre and the commander of Abu Nabbut from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. It services the pilgrims coming to Yaffo.
12. Yaffo Hill . This is a center for archaeological finds, including the Ramesses II Gate, a reconstructed gateway from the time of the Egyptian ruler Ramses II (1400-1200 BC).
13. Yaffo Lighthouse. This is an inactive lighthouse located in the old port over “Simon the Tanner’s” house as mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 10:4-7)
14. St. Nicholas Armenian Monastery. Built in the 17th century, this monastery is located near the harbor and consists of a large multi-story complex that includes an Armenian church and living quarters. Nowadays, the abbey is used by the small Armenian community that still remains in Jaffa.
In 1663, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem expanded the church. In 1799, following Napoleon’s capture of Jaffa, the plague spread among his soldiers, and those afflicted were quarantined in the Armenian Courtyard, which became a hospital. According to the tale, Napoleon even came to visit his soldiers.
The monastery is under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem who rents out parts of the complex for residential and commercial purposes.
15. Al-Bahr Mosque, (The Sea Mosque). Built sometime in the 16th century during the Ottoman occupation of the Holy Land, this small mosque that is located on the northern side of the Slope Park, on the Sea Wall Promenade overlooks the harbor,
The mosque is built of eolianite, and at its southwest corner is a minaret with a veranda for the muezzin. A Dutch painting of 1675 depicts a mosque reminiscent of the Sea Mosque, but the exact construction date of the structure is unknown. Muslim sailors would pray in this mosque before departing. The mosque was renovated in 1997, and is not open to visitors.
16. HaPisga Garden, or Peak Garden. Reward yourself with a view of the whole of Tel Aviv’s coastline. From this vantage point, you can easily copy Victor Politis famous photo.
17. Sea Walls Promenade links the Charles Clore Park and the Jaffa Harbor along the Second Aliyah Pier and was built in 2001.The reconstruction and renovation process of Jaffa’s seawall began in an archeological excavation where the Ottoman wall that surrounded Old Jaffa was discovered. The wall is designed in the shape of the original wall facilitating continued fishing by fishermen equipped with poles, as has been practiced for many years. Stones of the original wall are marked, and spots were erected that explain the site's history, complete with maps.
People fishing, boating or kayaking is a uual sight along the coastline.
18. Andromeda’s Rock. Greek mythology tells of the King of Jaffa – Cepheus, and his daughter Andromeda, who was renowned for her great beauty.
The story starts with King Cepheus wife, queen Cassiopeia, boasting that she and her daughter were more beautiful than the mermaids, provoking the ire of the latter, and causing them to appeal to Poseidon, God of the Sea, to punish the haughty humans. Poseidon agreed and sent a deluge of water and a sea monster to destroy the lands of the Philistines and Jaffa.
King Cepheus, after consulting with the oracle and under pressure by Jaffa’s residents, decided to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to the monster, with the hope of appeasing Poseidon’s wrath. Beautiful Andromeda was tied to the rocks on the shore of Jaffa and left there.
Perseus, son of Zeus, chief of the Gods, was passing through, saw Andromeda and fell in love with her. The king and queen promised him their daughter as a wife should he be able to rescue her from the monster – which he did. Perseus chopped off the head of the monster, which fell into the water and became the famous sea rocks of Jaffa.
19. Jaffa Flea Market Yefet Street market is open all week from Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 6pm and on Fridays from 10am to 2pm. During the summer months (usually July – August) the market also holds the annual Pishpeshuk, with late-night shopping and street happenings into the wee hours.
You can find all sorts of kitschy stuff here from paintings to clothes and accessories which are either locally produced or sourced from abroad.
20. Dr. Shakshuka. Shakshuka is an egg and tomato dish that is often eaten for breakfast. Here's a recipe of shakshuka you can try at home.
Other points of interest which I didn't get to see on my half day in Jaffa are:
- Abouelafia and Sons. Located in the main street, at the bottom of the hill as you approach from central Tel Aviv, this famous bakery in Tel Aviv-Jaffa is open 24/7.
- Zodiac Fountain. The Zodiac Fountain is located in Kdumim Square where 12 chalkstone zodiac sculptures. The fountain combines effects of water, lighting, and stonework, and completes the representation of the twelve zodiacs in Old Jaffa. The zodiacs also appear in the street names of Old Jaffa and the Wishing Bridge connecting Jaffa Hill with Kdumim Square. As part of the digging work for the fountain, the Antiquities Authority conducted a salvage excavation at the site. The dig exposed architectural elements of the Ottoman period, including remnants of structures, walls and floors, and a tiled yard containing a water reservoir, and roofed aqueducts. The findings found under the fountain corroborate an old legend mentioning the existence of a magical wishing well located in this very place. Anyone who tosses a coin in it and makes a wish has his wish fulfilled on the spot.
- Soap Factory Compound (Assarayah al Atiqa) This large structure is comprised of a number of historical structures and was erected on the remnants of a structure from the crusader era. It was built in its current form in the 18th century and served as the seat of the Ottoman governor. The structure was called Assarayah al Atiqa, and served also as a post office and guard house until the construction of the new governor's house in the clock tower square. In 1733 part of the building was purchased by the Demiani family, an old and famous Christian family of Jaffa, and converted by them to be used as a soap factory that had great success. The structure was abandoned during the War of Independence, after which the Jaffa Museum of Antiquities was established in it. In another part of the structure the Arab-Hebrew Theater functions and its western section is closed and unused.
- Yaffo Museum of Antiquities is located in a 18th-century Ottoman building constructed on the remains of a Crusader fortress. Abu-Nabout, the local governor of Yaffo, turned the building in 1811 into the governmental house. Beside the governmental quarters, there was a big gate, a well, prison, post office, hamam (bath-house), mosque, open court, surrounded with a patio, halls for animals, goods & for lodgers.The museum contains archaeological findings from the Neolithic age to the Roman-Byzantine era
- The Gate of Faith. A large statue, made of Galilee stone, was sculpted by the sculptor Daniel Kafri of Jerusalem between the years 1973-1975. The statue stands at the top of the Peak Park in Old Jaffa. The statue of two 4 meter tall pillars upon which rests a stone, also 4 meters in length, resembles a gate. The sculpted gate is the gate of entry to the Land of Israel, and represents the promise of the land to the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On the two pillars appear the three Patriarchs – who received the promise – and the top stone signifies the beginning of that promise's realization via the capture of Jericho and the Land of Israel by Joshua. The first pillar recounts the tale of the binding of Isaac. This is an extraordinary portrayal of the binding – Abraham is seen kneeling on the ram, and holding up his son Isaac. Isaac lies with his face, resembling Abraham’s, turned upward. The second pillar depicts Jacob’s dream, where the land was promised to his offspring. Jacob rests on the land and the stone is under his head. Above him are two angels, one ascending and one descending, facing opposite directions, and the rhythm of the wings creates an association with a ladder. The top beam represents the realization and depicts the capture of Jericho. The priests surround the city of Jericho, holding horns and are seen carrying the Ark of the Covenant.
- Greek Orthodox Monastery of Archangel Michael (Patriarchate of Jerusalem) built in 1894. Usually open for services on Sundays.There is a beautiful view of the port from the church.
- Immanuel Church built 1904 is a Protestant church in the American – German Colony of Yaffo. In 1955, the Lutheran World Federation transferred control of the church to the Norwegian Church Ministry of Israel.The first construction works of a combined Evangelical church, community center and school started with the cornerstone having been laid in 1898, Jerusalem’s Association were a partner and financier of the church commissioned by Paul Ferdinand Groth the architect of Jerusalem’s Evangelical Church of the Redeemer
- Church of St. Petros and St. Tabitha (Moscovia) serves the Russian Orthodox Christian community, with services in Russian and Hebrew; underneath the chapel nearby there is a graveyard from the 2nd Temple era believed to be the tomb of St Tabitha. The church is a pilgrimage center for Russian pilgrims landing in Yaffo on the journey to Jerusalem
- Ilana Goor Museum. The building itself was constructed two hundred and fifty years ago to welcome Jewish pilgrims who disembarked at Jaffa Port on their journey to the holy city of Jerusalem. The best part of Ilana Goor Museum is the amazing view of the ocean from almost every single window. Hours: Sunday to Friday: 10 am to 4 pm; Saturdays and holidays: 10 am to 6 pm; Holiday eves: 10 am to 2 pm
- Jerusalem Gate (Abu Nabbut Gate) This gate is named after Abu Nabbut (“Father of the Club”, after the club he used to carry and strike his opponents with) who was the ruler of Jaffa in the beginning of the 19th century. Abu Nabbut reconstructed Jaffa from its ruined state and during his governorship, the city enjoyed strong and stable rule. He excelled especially in large-scale building projects like reconstructing and erecting many public buildings, city walls, the harbor, and the markets. Abu Nabbut erected a new main gate in the eastern wall and sealed the rest of the gates, and thus regulated into entry to the city and improved the safety of its residents. The new gate was noted for its magnificent shape – it had two separate arches with three small domes atop them. At the gate was a strong guard post equipped with cannons, and here all entrants to the fortified city were examined. The gate was also known as the Jerusalem Gate, as departing from it were the main roads leading to the Jerusalem. Outside the gate and around it were the city markets. The gate can be found at the southern edge of HaTsorfim Street.
- The Libyan Synagogue (Khan Zunana). Located at 2 Pisces Alley, the Libyan Synagogue was most likely the first Jewish synagogue constructed in Jaffa in the Modern Era. The synagogue is first mentioned at the end of the first half of the 18th century, and it is said it was purchased or constructed by Rabbi Yaakov Ben David Zunana, for "The Committee of Israeli Officials and Lords in Istanbul" to serve as a Khan (public hostel), with a synagogue and mikveh (ritual bath) for Jewish pilgrims who arrived in Israel via Jaffa harbor, and were primarily headed to Jerusalem and the other holy cities. At the end of the 18th century, as a result of the aggravating conditions for the Jews in Jaffa and a diminution in the number of pilgrims, the Arabs appropriated the hostel from its Jewish owners and allowed pilgrims to use it only three days during the year. During the waves of conquest and destruction that visited Jaffa during the 18th and 19th century, the Jewish community in Jaffa disappeared together with the traces of the Jewish Khan. In 1948, the first Libyan immigrants arrived to settle in Old Jaffa, which was abandoned by its Arab residents. They set this place to be their synagogue after receiving the key to it from a Franciscan Priest of the nearby St. Peter Abbey, who told them that the place many years ago served as the home of a Jewish synagogue. It was discovered that the building served for many years as a soap factory, but was known among the Arabs as "the Jewish House". This is another, indirect piece of evidence that this building is Khan Zunana.
- Slope Park. The Slope Park is the first park of Old Jaffa. The park was planned 40 years ago by Avraham Carvan Z"L, who was the manager of the Planting Department in the Tel-Aviv-JaffaMunicipality. The park is located entirely on the structures and foundations of destroyed houses. The park's area is about an acre and a half, and it occupies the area between the Shlomo Bay Promenade and the Second Aliyah Pier. The park offers a dazzling view of Tel-Aviv's shoreline, the promenade and hotels located along the beach, and the Second Aliyah Pier, where fishermen often stand until late at night. At the upper edge of the park sits St. Peter's Church (whose front faces Kdumim Square), that is home to the Vatican's Embassy. Cast iron shore batteries, which were discovered in excavations of the Jaffa Harbor, are placed at the upper entrance of the park, evidence of Jaffa's capture by Napoleon and his army in 1799.
But don't take my word for it! Explore the city's sights, sound and smell yourself! And do not forget to take some breaks to gaze at the beautiful ocean or better yet, ignore the no swimming sign like the locals and take a dip in the beach!
BTW, if you're wondering, I stayed at the Milk and Honey Hostel dorm at 22USD a night. The taxi driver was deathly afraid of the side street the hostel was located that I find the location perfect.
Old Jaffa (5-10 minutes) and the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station (15-20 minutes) where I took a bus to Jerusalem was just a few minutes walk for me.