The big Joppa as it was known in biblical days, is a city that now goes by the name of Jaffa and is part of the twosome that makes up Tel-Aviv Yafo city. Stretching back to at least 7,500 BC, the city has made the highlights reel in the Hebrew Bible four times and is extremely prominent in the Christian Bible, through the stories of Saint Peter and Jonah (the whale guy rather than the All Black). Within spitting distance of the beaches of Tel Aviv, this is a place that requires multiple visits (as we did on three separate occasions), in order to even scratch the surface.
The Clock Tower
All visits to Jaffa seem to start at The Clock Tower. Construction on the limestone tower began in 1900 under Ottoman Empire rule, and in 1965 it went through an overhaul and lovely mosaic windows depicting the history of the city were added. Nowadays, its a great place to grab something to eat at the numerous eateries (most notably the nearby Abouelafia Bakery) before checking out the rest of what Jaffa has to offer.
Round the corner from The Clock Tower is another living relic from the Ottoman Empire, only built about 100 years earlier. The Maymudiyya Mosque has a particularly striking sebil, or fountain, situated outside the mosque which was used for drinking water and ablutions before prayer.
A short walk up the hill from Maymudiyya Mosque takes you to Abrasha Park, which has no fewer than four gardens. The first situated by the Jaffa Museum is HaPisga Garden and offers the best views back to the Tel Aviv coastline. Its also a nice, peaceful place to sit down with previously purchased pastries and enjoy a perfect picnic (wow - 7 p words in one sentence!).
The best way to exit Abrasha Park is via the Wishing Bridge/Zodiac Bridge. The bridge has 12 bronze plaques each representing a Zodiac symbol and if you touch your astrological sign while gazing out at the Mediterranean Sea and make a wish, legend has it that it’s guaranteed to come true.
The other side of the bridge takes you down to Kdumim Square where you have another chance to make dreams come true by throwing a coin into the fountain. I’m pretty sure my wish was answered at the first place, so declined throwing any of my shekels away.
St Peter’s Church
Turning right takes you to the entrance of St Peter’s Church. A church dedicated to Saint Peter has stood at this site since the middle of the 17th century but due to it having been destroyed twice, the current version only goes back as far as the late 19th century.
The largest building in Jaffa and sitting up on the hill, it is said to have been one of the first sights greeting pilgrims arriving from sea to the Holy Land. As previously mentioned, Jaffa is an extremely important city for Christians. It was here that Saint Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and experienced his Vision of the Animals in the Sheet, which, as I understand it, led to non-Jews being accepted as followers of God and effectively beginning the Christian religion as we now know it. Now, I’m no theologian and I’m bound to have got something wrong here in my interpretation, but regardless, Saint Peter is venerated as the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church, so being in a place where this all began was thought provoking.
The girls took the opportunity to visit the church for Sunday Mass (brownie points there Grandma!), while I visited outside prayer time to look in wonder at the inside of such a graceful church.
Also of interest, from slightly more modern times (late 18th century), is the fact that Napoleon is said to have resided in the church’s rooms while conducting the French campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria.
Dropping down the walkways to the sea front takes you past the largest mosque in Jaffa, which is also known as the Sea Mosque.
While Jaffa Port along the seafront is now more visited by tourists than actually used as a fully functioning port, it still is reputed to be one of the oldest in the world. It is also is the port from which Jonah set off in the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. Nowadays there’s plenty of people swearing that the best humus joint in Israel, Abu Hassan Humus, is here as well. We didn’t eat there, but it would have to be mighty fine in order to beat some of the humus we have eaten throughout our trip to Israel.
There are a couple of more interesting sites heading back up the hill through the old city away from the Port.
The Mysterious Room of Adina Plastelina
Located within a jeweller shop is a small room housing a range of ancient artefacts from the late-Bronze Age until today. These artefacts were found in 2006, when renovations were taking place at the gallery and the ruins of an ancient limestone structure were revealed. The mystery part is that no one knows what the buildings was used for. The small exhibit (it is a very small room after all) has been lovingly put together and is well worth visiting, especially to see the little figurines that illustrate which period each of the pieces has come from.
House of Simon the Tanner
Just past the Jaffa Lighthouse is the House of Simon the Tanner. This is where Saint Peter is said to have stayed during his missionary activities of the early Christian faith. For the non-faithful there isn’t really anything to see as you can’t enter through the door, which is any respects is nondescript.
Serpentine Streets of Old Jaffa
Heading further up the hill it is fun to walk through the labyrinth of old twisting and turning streets. These are filled mostly with artisan houses but also offer up their own lovely views.
The Smiling Whale
Somehow The Smiling Whale, which has some sort of connection to Jonah and the Whale, has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Having visited, my best advice would be to harpoon the bronze whale and throw it over the pier, so that no one has to waste their time visiting it again.
Suspended Orange Tree
Much better is the Suspended Orange Tree which the artist says represents the juxtaposition of man and nature. I was more impressed with the tree’s ability to continue to grow and produce fruit, almost magically while up in the air (the trick is the discreet irrigation system feeding the planter box which the tree resides in). This is a great place to end our Jaffa jaunt as we contemplated how both the tree and city are able to survive and prosper into the future.
This also ended our Israeli escapade. On our last night just 60 kilometers to the south of Tel Aviv, Hamas began firing rockets towards the Isreali towns of Sderot and Ashkelon in retaliation to earlier attacks by Israel, both of which have resulted in the loss of life. We were spared any worry by only finding out when arriving in Cyprus, which is no stranger itself to violence. So it is shalom to Israel and geia to Cyprus.