Jaffa: the Arab port city of southern Tel Aviv

Jaffa is an ancient port city that belongs to the Tel Aviv-Yafo region and from where modern Tel Aviv has now grown. Inhabited by an Arab majority, this quiet, charming city contrasts with the skyscrapers and hectic lifestyle of Tel Aviv. With thousands of years of history that date back to the Old Testament, you can't miss a visit to Jaffa during your trip to Israel! 


Jaffa

 

The city of Jaffa is already mentioned in the Old Testament, where the tradition has it was founded by Japheth, Noah's son, after the Great Flood. After seeing the rise and fall of multiple civilisations, including the Egyptians and Israelites, the city was conquered by Islam in the 8th century.

 Jaffa remained a prominent Muslim city up until the British Mandate for Palestine. The city had an extraordinary importance as it was the main Mediterranean port towards the Middle East, as well as the major gateway for arriving immigrants. With the UN Partition Plan, Jaffa was given to the newly created Arab State as what would be an enclave surrounded by the Jewish State. After the 1948 War, Jaffa was conquered by Israel, who still controls the city up until today. 

If you're staying in Tel Aviv, Jaffa can be reached by foot in only a few minutes down the coast, and there are also multiple buses that will get you there. The best place to start exploring the city is the Yossi Carmel Square, also known as the Clock Square.

 

Clock Square

 

The clock tower that stands in the centre is one of the seven that were built in Palestine during the Ottoman occupation, and it marks the northern entrance to the city. Built of limestone, it has two clocks and a plaque in commemoration of the Israelis that died during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War fighting to recover the city. 

On one of the sides of the square is the New Saraya. The Saraya House was the residence of the Turkish governor and also served as the Turkish government building. It was inaugurated in 1897 as part of the new government complex constructed outside the walls of the ancient city of Jaffa. 

On January 4, 1948, the building was blown up by members of the Lehi, a Zionist paramilitary organisation. Only the governor’s residence and a small section of the government building survived the blast. The governor's residence underwent renovation and its façade was restored, including restoration of the government building’s pillars. 

 

New Saraya

 

My visit to Jaffa took place during Yom Hazikaron or Memorial Day. It is Israel's official remembrance day in honour of the fallen soldiers and all civilian victims of terrorism.

The day opens with a siren the preceding evening at 8pm, which is heard all over the country for one minute. During this time, Israelis stop everything they're doing to stand in silence.

Another alarm sounds at 11am the next day for two minutes, which coincided with my visit to Jaffa. It was incredibly impressive to see how everybody in the streets stopped walking, driving or anything they were doing to stand in silence and respect in commemoration of this tradition. 

 

Arab architecture

 

On the way to the Old City, I passed by the Mahmoudiya Mosque, the largest in Jaffa. 

The original mosque was built in 1730, with most of the current building belonging to the expansion made by the Ottoman governor of Gaza in 1812. Nowadays, most of the exterior walls are occupied by shops, but the façade still keeps a beautifully decorated fountain with Arab inscriptions.

 

Mahmoudiya Mosque

 

The promenade along the Mediterranean offers some of the best views of the of Tel Aviv. The skyline with big skyscrapers is a big contrast compared to the medieval city of Jaffa.

Also along the sea are Andromeda’s Rocks. According to Greek mythology, the king of Jaffa offered his daughter Andromeda as a sacrifice to assuage the anger of Poseidon, god of the sea, who threatened the city. The beautiful Andromeda was bound to rocks off Jaffa's coast to await her death. However, the hero Perseus killed the sea monster sent by Poseidon and married Andromeda. Andromeda's rocks have served for thousands of years as a natural dock, albeit a dangerous one, for commercial vessels and fishing boats.

 

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

 

The Old City of Jaffa is a fantastic example of the Ottoman era. Its lanes, riddled with churches, art galleries and restaurants, make Jaffa one of the most charming Mediterranean cities.

There's nothing better than wander and get lost along the streets to discover what this unique city has to offer!

 

Balconies in the Old City

Example of traditional architecture

Example of traditional architecture

Kedumim Square

Zodiac Fountain

Old City of Jaffa

 

One of the most significant sights of Jaffa is the House of Simon the Tanner.

Various Christian traditions tell the story of Simon the Tanner, who lived in Jaffa and hosted Peter the Apostle there. It was in this house that Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and saw his famous vision in which he was commanded to eat animals regarded as unclean in Jewish tradition. When he refused, he heard a voice saying: “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). Peter interpreted his vision as divine permission to forgo the Jewish commandments and to preach Christianity to Jews and pagans alike.

This was a historic turning point, in which Christianity evolved from what was considered an esoteric sect of Judaism to a worldwide religion. 

 

House of Simon the Tanner

 

On the way back to the newer part of the city I came across with the Egyptian Gate of Ramses II.

Dating back to 1400 BCE, archaeology excavations discovered the rests of an Egyptian fortress from the time of Ramses II, another example of the rich history of Jaffa. 

 

Egyptian Gate of Ramses II

 

My last stop in Jaffa was St. Peter's Church. Dedicated to St. Peter and built by the Franciscans over a medieval citadel, it's one of the most active churches in Jaffa, offering masses in multiple languages, mainly English, Spanish and Polish.

The church has a very important significance to Christianity, as it was in Jaffa that Saint Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Contrary to the common Christian tradition of facing all churches towards Jerusalem, St. Peter's Church in Jaffa is facing Rome, where St. Peter's Basilica is located. 

 

St. Peter's Church

 

For the rest of the day, I decided to relax in Tel Aviv beach and enjoy the incredible weather. Unfortunately, my time in Tel Aviv-Yafo was over, but my trip to Israel had just started. Next stop, the biblical city of Nazareth

 

Video: Jaffa

 
 



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