The Bahá’í Gardens are Haifa’s most famous tourist attraction, and they are one of the highlights of Israel. It’s impossible to ignore the 19 perfectly arranged terraces descending from Mount Carmel to the German Colony.
Visiting the Baha’i Gardens
The various parts of the Baha’i Gardens are accessible via different locations: the entrance to the viewing balcony at the top of the gardens is located at 61 Yefe Nof Street); the entrance to the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb is located at 80 Hatzionut Avenue; and the entrance to the plaza at the lowest level of the terraced gardens is next to the German Colony (at the end of Ben Gurion Street). Tourists are not allowed to walk up and down the terraces without a guided tour. For more information about the gardens, click here.
The view from the bottom of the Gardens.
The Bahá’í faith is a new religion. It was founded in Iran 170 years ago by Ali Muhammad Shirazi. At the age of 24, he proclaimed that he was the Bab (which means ‘gate’ in Arabic) and that the new messenger of God would come after him. He called for a new interpretation of the Islamic law of sharia, and reform within Persian society. He gained thousands of followers and the regime started to see him as a threat. His followers were persecuted and the Bab was arrested and executed by firing squad in 1850, at the age of 31. His body was hidden by his followers and brought to Haifa where it was buried in a modest site on the slopes of Mount Carmel. The beautiful Shrine of the Bab was completed in 1953.
One of the Bab’s followers, Mirza Husayn – Ali Nuri, was also imprisoned, and in jail he had a divine revelation. Later on he declared that he was the messenger of God that the Bab had preached about, and got the name Bahá’u’lláh, the Glory of God. He was sent into exile and eventually imprisoned in Acre, then a neglected small city in the Ottoman Empire. After some years he was released from prison and spent his last years in the Mansion of Bahá’í, next to Acre. There he wrote many of the main texts of the Bahá’í religion, including ‘The Most Holy Book’, the holiest book of the Bahá’í faith. He died in 1892, at the age of 74, and was buried in his mansion, which is the holiest site for the Bahá’í. The main principles of the faith are equality between all men, unity of all religions, harmony between religion and science, and harmony between man and nature. It is a monotheistic faith that views the prophets of many religions – Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Krishna, Buddha – as messengers of one God. The Bahá’í pray once a day in the direction of Acre. Today there are about 7 million Bahá’í believers, mostly in India and the United States. English is their official language.
Since 1963 the Bahá’í religion has elected nine members to lead it every five years. They serve at the Universal House of Justice, their supreme governing institution, which is located close to the Shrine of the Bab. At any one time there are around 800 Bahá’í living in Israel, but they only stay for a couple of years, as the Bahá’í see Israel as a holy land that they can serve in, but not a place where they can live their whole lives. If an Israeli wants to join the Bahá’í faith, he must do so outside Israel.
The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa were designed by Fariborz Sahba, a Bahá’í who was born in Iran and lives in North America. The cost of the project was around 250 million dollars, all donated by Bahá’í believers, as Bahá’í are not allowed to receive donations from people who are not Bahá’í. The terraces were opened to the public in 2011. The Shrine of the Bab stands in the middle of the gardens, with nine terraces above it and nine below it, in honor of the first 18 disciples of the Bab. Including the Shrine of the Bab, there are 19 terraces, a number that has a special meaning to the Bahá’í. Their calendar contains 19 months, each of which has 19 days. But because 19 times 19 is 361, they celebrate their New Year on March 21, the equinox, when day and night are of the same length, for four days that are not counted in the calendar.
The gardens are a combination of Western and Persian styles. Plants were brought from all over the world to symbolize the unity of God and humans. The animal sculptures have no meaning beyond decoration. There are 1,200 steps from the German Colony at the foot of the terraces to the lookout at the top. Tourists can go down part of the terraces but only Bahá’í pilgrims are allowed to go up the terraces.