The Bahai Gardens is possibly the most distinct tourist attraction in all of Haifa, and is very likely the most visited. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals alike travel to the Bahai Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, the most holy site of the Bahai faith. Last year alone, 750,000 people enjoyed the beautiful terraces of the Bahai Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bahai Gardens – Shrine of the Bab
The Bahai faith is a relatively new one, started under 200 years ago by a Persian of the name Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi who revealed himself as the prophet Bab (meaning “gate” in Arabic) who sought out to spread his beliefs. He was shunned by the Shia clergy despite the fact that he gained tens of thousands of followers and was eventually executed, only six years after he began his movement. His efforts were continued by Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri who chose the name Baha’u’llah. Also hounded by the clergy and was expelled to the Ottoman Empire. He continued his missionary work, even writing letters to historical leaders such as Pope Pious IX, Napoleon III and Queen Victoria. In 1868, Baha’u’llah was banished to one of the Ottoman Empire’s most infamous prisons located in Akko (Acre). He was eventually allowed to purchase a house and live out the rest of his days in relative peace. Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdul-Baha, furthered his father’s work and the three of them became canonised as the three most important figures in the Bahai faith. Today, some 7 million people now comprise the world’s fourth and latest monotheistic religion, Bahai; self-choosing it as their religious path in life. Each Bahai follower is required to make at least one pilgrimage to the two most holy sites Haifa and Akko, both located in Israel. Remarkably, Bahais pray and are buried facing Israel’s Western Galilee but there are no houses of worship in Israel itself. The Bahai World Centre in Haifa, part of the Bahai Gardens but off-limits to tourists, is where the faith’s international collective body makes its decisions, in the hands of nine elected leaders. Many of the gardeners in the Bahai Gardens are actually Bahais on a unique worker’s visa, serving their faith working the land.
Bahai Gardens – Bahai Archives Library
The Bahai Gardens can be divided up into three sections: The lower section – opening up to the German Colony; the middle section – the gardens around the gold- capped Shrine of the Bab where the remains of the Bab are kept; the upper section – just off the Louis Promenade and the main gate where the tours start. The Bahai Gardens reach close to a kilometre in length from the lowest gate at the German Colony to the main gate way up top, comprised of 19 terraces of flowers, waterworks and small sculptures. The daily tour in English is at 12:00 noon, requires no prior reservation and is free of charge. Other tours are offered throughout the day in both Hebrew and Russian. The guided tour is the best way to truly experience the gardens – from within – also providing a magnificent backdrop of the Haifa Bay. Starting at the main gate and winding down, the tour ends just before the Shrine of the Bab. The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes and contains 600 steps so be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. After the tour an optional 20 minute video about the Bahais is shown.
The Bahai Gardens contains nine concentric circles each filled with flowers, small trees, small sculptures, water fountains and pools. To the sides of the gardens are wooded areas designed to house wildlife and to cut down on urban noise. The 200,000 square metres of land were designed by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba funded by donations made only by Bahais, the world over.
Getting to the Bahai Gardens:
The 23 bus can be taken from the German Colony, winding around the Bahai Gardens and passing the main gate at the upper section of the gardens. Be sure to ask the bus driver when to get off as the gardens cannot be seen from the bus when driving above the gardens. The desired stop is located on Rechov HaNassi and a small street by the name of Dafna takes one down to the main gate. A large number of tour buses will indicate that you have arrived at the Bahai Gardens but be sure to walk 100 meters to the left of the main gate if you’d like to join the guided tour. At the end of the tour, leaving the gardens at Rechov HaTzionut, the guards and guides are more than happy to point you in the direction you need.
For a current timetable of the guided tours please click here.
The Bahai Gardens is included in some tours including the three times a week tour from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv which makes a brief stop at the site. Full tours are only available direct from the gardens.
By: Shem Tov Sasson. A Contributing Journalist for Tourist Israel, Shem Tov lives in the small Israeli city of Ma’alot. His personal blog about his experiences and adventures in the Holy Land can be found at Israel’s Good Name.