Looking back at our photos from Haifa, I miss it so much! Man, we were lucky to call this beautiful city home for a month! After a busy weekend in Jerusalem, my boys and I set off to discover areas a little closer to our home base, while doing laundry near the German Colony. For all Haifa visitors, there is a self-service laundromat next to the Port Inn. It is much cheaper to do laundry there than anywhere else I found in Haifa. The downside is, there are only 4 washers and two dryers. While our clothes were washing, we went for a walk to check out the historic buildings of the German Colony. The Templers, a German Protestant sect, settled the area in the mid-1800s, because they thought by moving to Palestine, they could help bring about the second coming of Christ. They also introduced urban planning to Palestine, with a main street, single family homes with gardens, and several modern industries. Today, the main street is still lined by European-looking brick buildings, homes that have been converted into restaurants, coffee shops, and offices. Along the main street, plaques tell the history of the colony, and point out notable buildings along the way. “Main street” just happens to line up perfectly with the gorgeous Baha’i gardens that cascade down Mt. Carmel in 19 terraces.
When our laundry was finally done, we drove up to the top of the Baha’i gardens to check them out. When researching things to do in Haifa, this attractions tops the list. I had heard of the Baha’i faith before, but did not really know what it was until looking into it in preparation for our visit. In Haifa, the gardens surround the Shrine of the Bab. Born in Iran in 1819, the Bab or Prophet-Herald proclaimed himself a prophet and messenger from God sent to prepare the way for another prophet. Considered an offshoot of Islam, the Bab’s main ideas were very noble- forbidding violence and jihad, treating women as equals, and emphasizing education, especially science. For these radical ideas, he was imprisoned, but not before he converted some disciples and sent them out to teach. Soon, he had hundreds of thousands of followers. He was executed in 1850 and his body was put on guard outside the city so his followers could not steal it. They managed to anyway and kept his body in hiding for 50 years, bringing it finally to the Holy Land where they buried it on Mt. Carmel. Eventually, followers built the shrine and elaborate gardens to surround the burial site.
Baha’u’llah, the second messenger of the Baha’i faith, was one of the Bab’s followers and a member of a royal family in Iran. Because he followed the teachings of the Bab, he was imprisoned, tortured, stripped of his possessions and exiled. He went from Baghdad to Turkey, and finally was imprisoned in Akko, just across the bay from Haifa. Eventually he won the trust of those in Akko and was allowed to move freely within the city. When he died, he was buried next to the mansion where he lived in Akko, and members of the Baha’i faith still pray toward his grave. The gardens in Haifa line up perfectly with the gardens in Akko, and these two gardens/grave sites are the most holy sites in Baha’i religion. I appreciate that it is a peaceful religion focused on loving and serving others. The gardens are immaculate, so much so that I felt bad letting my kids walk through the gardens in fear that they would mess them up!
I knew that the gardens were built on multiple terraces, and that it would be next to impossible to get Landon to hike up all of the terraces, so we started at the top. I erroneously thought that all of the garden spaces were open to visitors, but we found that only a few terraces around each entrance were open to visitors. I think that had we opted to go on the daily (except Wednesdays) organized English tour at 12:00 pm, we would have been able to see more of the gardens in between the top and the shrine, which sits in the middle. But, we were too early for the tour. All tours start at the highest point of the gardens, and signs clearly mark the separate entrance for tours. There are rules for entry- no food except water, dress modestly (shoulders covered and knees covered), and no photography inside of the Shrine. We were not to cross any barriers (and there were many!) We found the top to be a bit underwhelming as far as gardens went, but the view was definitely worth it to look out over the Mediterranean and Haifa port!
The gardens are very symmetrical, with water cascading down the mountain on either side. From the top view point, we saw the fountain from which the water originates. Landon was so impressed by the view he took pictures with his own camera! After enjoying the amazing view from the top, we drove to the middle (main) entrance to go see the actual shrine. The shrine is only open from 9am-12pm, so if you want to go inside, make sure to visit in the morning! It was almost 12:00, so we made sure to go there first before enjoying the rest of the gardens surrounding it. The shrine is very stately with its golden dome and sculptures. I was surprised at the simplicity of the indoor section of the shrine. There was a short line to go in, as there is a limit to how many people are allowed to enter at one time. Shoes are not allowed, and we walked on a series of rugs to get around to the side entrance of the shrine. Landon was much more interested in the gardens, so we did not stay in there very long.
It was so impressive how precise the gardens were landscaped. I wondered how in the world they kept it so nice, but did not have to wonder for long as a crew of several groundskeepers came through trimming hedges, mowing grass, and pruning bushes. All of the pathways were made from different colors of gravel. Some sections had more cacti and desert flora, while others had more trees, flowers and grass. It was a fun learning experience to take Landon to check it out, and I wore in the backpack because I was under the impression we would be hiking up and down the terraces, but on this main level, there were no stairs and only the main terrace was open. I was worried the whole time, however, that the boys would ruin the perfect landscaping. Landon was racing down the gravel paths and I was sure he was going to put a red rock in a white rock area, or vice versa, and then when I let Owen out of the carrier to stretch his legs he did just that- threw handfuls of red rocks in the white rocks. When everything is so perfect, those red rocks were very noticeable. Every time I picked all the red rocks out of the white rocks, Owen had reloaded with new handfuls of rocks and dumped more in. I finally had to put him back in the carrier BEFORE cleaning up his mess, because we were getting nowhere with him replenishing the red rocks every few seconds!
Everyone traveling to Haifa should visit the Baha’i gardens. Come for the view, to enjoy the gardens and learn about a different religion. The gardens may be closed in bad weather, and in hot weather they recommend bringing a hat and sunglasses. I opted for the baby backpack on this excursion, but I saw a girl with a stroller- I’m sure she could not take it into the shrine, though. Admission to the shrine is free, and all the staff were incredibly friendly. Parking on the hill can be tricky- by the main entrance there are limited street parking spots, at the top viewpoint there was more parking. Even with visiting two different entrances, our whole time there was only an hour, so it is doable to visit in a short time frame!