city of Jaffa is filled with unexpected wonders
Even the most up-to-date guidebooks will tell you that the once
magnificent Jaffa seraya is an eyesore. It was bombed by the Lehi
underground movement in early 1948, soon after it became a base for
Arab terrorists. And although the rubble was eventually cleared away,
what remained was just a hollow shell.
So imagine our surprise when we stood in Jaffa's Clock Square with tour
guide Yona Wiseman and she pointed out an unfamiliar edifice on the
site of the devastated building. As part of an ongoing effort to return
Jaffa to an earlier beauty, the splendid seraya, which is the Turkish
term for a government palace, had finally been restored.
A delightful circular outing begins at the police station across from
Clock Square (Kikar Hasha'on), runs along a lovely promenade, leads to
a stunning church, through a renovated artists' colony, and to a
wonderful park featuring statutes and ancient ruins. If you decide to
come in the late afternoon, when a sea breeze cools off the hot air of
early fall, you won't be able to see much of the otherwise lively flea
market or the underground visitors' center, as both close fairly early.
But you will get to watch the sun set over the water.
Not surprisingly, Clock Square on Rehov Yefet is dominated by a tall,
elegant timepiece. The Jaffa police station is situated across the
street on one side, with the seraya on the other. All three landmarks
are located outside Jaffa's Old City, and were erected only after the
walls came tumbling down.
That happened in 1888, when living conditions inside the Old City were
unbearable: there was no sanitation, overcrowding was severe and
cholera ran rampant. It was time for the city to expand.
Jaffa governor Hassan Bek easily dismantled the walls, for they were in
terrible shape after being bombarded during Napoleon's conquest in 1799
and shattered by an earthquake four decades later. Then the governor
filled in the moat that had stood in front of the walls to create the
Rehov Yefet of today.
He also hired the Jewish architect who had just completed the synagogue
in the new settlement of Rishon Lezion to build a new seraya. The
result was a splendid peach and white building whose administrative
center vaguely resembled the Rishon synagogue, with Romanesque living
quarters that boasted large columns and a wide, impressive stairway
(only a third of that section has been restored).
The clock in the plaza is one of five elaborate creations constructed
in 1906 to honor the Turkish sultan, Abdul Hamid II, who by that time
had ruled the Ottoman Empire for 30 years. Although the clocks in Acre
and Safed are still standing, the clock at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem was
taken down by the British, who objected to having Ottoman
embellishments at the entrance to the Old City. Note the clock's
distinctive design, with two graceful bottom stories, an angular third
story and an exquisite clock on top.
Follow a portion of the defunct City Wall by starting at the police
station, originally only an arched doorway leading directly into a
lockup known as the kishle. The wall stretched south along Rehov Yefet
as far as Pasteur Lane, west to the sea, then followed the coastline
north and swerved back up to Rehov Yefet and the police station of
Walk south a few meters to reach the Gate of the Rulers - once an
opening in the back wall of the Mahmudiya Mosque where Hassan Bek
prayed five times a day. Built in 1897, the architecture is Mameluke
and includes layers of pink and white stones.
At Rehov Mifratz Shlomo turn right to reach an elaborate sabil, or
fountain, practically oozing expensive marble. Fountains for washing
hands, feet and face are found all over the Arab world at the entrance
to cities and villages. Muslims believe that offering hospitality to
people at their gates will pave their way to heaven. For this was,
indeed, just outside the entrance to Jaffa.
Directly across the street and inside a rather dirty alley you will
find one of the original city gates, which was designed to slow down
the enemy. Immediately upon entering the gate you had to make a sharp
turn, giving defenders in the towers above the chance to rain arrows
down; alternatively, they could pour burning oil on the approaching
enemies. On our tour, Yona pointed out remains of the gate and towers
that guarded it. See if you can find them, then go right, and right
again, to return to Mifratz Shlomo.
CROSS THE street to a plaza located next to the intricate wooden doors
of the Mahmudiya Mosque. The mosque was named for Muhammad, a former
slave who was appointed governor of Jaffa in 1804. Muhammad carried a
massive club that he used generously on any slacker he came across. The
club was called a nabut, and the cruel ruler who wielded it became
known as Abu Nabut. Universally loathed, Abu Nabut ended his days by
seeking asylum in Mecca.
Cobbled steps lead up to a promenade lined with real Turkish cannons,
and a spectacular view of the Tel Aviv coastline. As you continue your
walk, you will see a deserted building across the street. Get closer -
can you hear the bats inside? This was the original seraya, located
within the walled city. Eventually it became a soap factory: according
to our guide, at one time soap exports from Jaffa were as famous as
Back on the promenade, you will soon see the Sea or Sailors' Mosque and
an array of rocks named for the princess Andromeda. In one version of a
Greek legend, the king and queen of Jaffa bragged about their daughter
so loudly that the sea nymphs became offended. They complained to the
sea god Poseidon, who ordered a boycott of Jaffa.
In order to appease the sirens, the king and queen had Andromeda
chained naked to the rocks. She was rescued by the hero Perseus, flying
to her on winged sandals just as she was about to be attacked by the
Next on your route is the brightly colored Church of St. Peter, built
in the 19th century over ruins of a Crusader citadel. Before the church
was constructed, Franciscan fathers erected a hostel on the site. Many
believe that Napoleon lodged in the hostel during his Jaffa conquest.
On his way to the Holy Land, Napoleon liberated hundreds of thousands
of Jews from European ghettos and granted them equal rights. Some
Napoleon enthusiasts call him the real father of Zionism, as well, for
in 1799 he made plans for a proclamation that would declare Israel to
be the Jewish homeland. It was apparently meant for issue after a
successful conquest of Acre - a battle which, unfortunately, he lost.
St. Peter is one of the very few churches in which worshipers sit
facing west instead of east. That's because to the west lies the
traditional house of Simon the Tanner, site of a famous New Testament
Past the church is a large platform that covers a unique visitors'
center. Inside there are some amazing excavations, including a
Hasmonean (Maccabee) house left from the only period in ancient times
when Jews ruled the city.
Continue along the cobblestones, and turn right at the sign for the
Ilana Goor Museum. The building that stretches from the corner and past
the gallery/museum was constructed in the 18th century by a rabbi from
Libya. After landing in Jaffa prior to a Jerusalem pilgrimage, he
looked for a place to stay overnight and soon learned that Jews were
unwelcome lodgers. So he returned to Libya, gathered up donations for a
Jewish hostel, and erected the first Jewish building in 'modern' Jaffa.
Now you can stroll through charmingly renovated lanes filled with
galleries and shops. Follow Simta'ot Mazal Dagim, Mazal Taleh, and
Mazal Gedi. At Simtat Mazal Arieh enter Frank Meisler's gallery, where
you can open a sculpture of Picasso to find wine and women inside, view
Freud on a couch and gasp over a spectacular golden piece in which two
lions clasp a menora.
Eventually you enter a beautiful park, until several decades ago a
haunt for criminals of all kinds. As you begin to ascend its slopes,
you will discover excavations dating back to the Egyptian rule of Jaffa
(14th century BCE).
Failing to conquer Jaffa by force, the Egyptians used a trick that
preceded the Trojan horse by a couple of hundred years. They hid
soldiers inside 200 immense baskets that overflowed with gifts for the
prince of Jaffa and once they gained entrance to the city the soldiers
emerged - and the rest is history.
Follow the ramp to the top of the park for a panoramic view. From here
you can descend the park's eastern ramp and return to Clock Square, or
cross Yefet and enter the flea market on Rehov Olei Zion where there
might still be some action.
Suggestion: In the flea market, stroll as far as Rehov Rav Yohanan, to
taste glatt-kosher humous, if you like. Or walk up to Pua's Restaurant,
whose large collection of unmatched furniture came from the market. The
menu is as eclectic as the casual setting: among the inexpensive (and
delicious) dishes on the menu are chicken in orange vinaigrette with
basil and pumpkin seeds, lentils with tehina, spinach and fried onions,
curried rice with peanut butter and coconut milk, and caramelized
bananas topped with passion fruit whipped cream. Open seven days a week.Parking is available near the
police station. Bus 46 from the (New) Tel Aviv Bus Station takes you to
St. Peter's Church is open from 8:30-11:45; 3 p.m.-5 p.m.; the
Visitors' Center 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday through Thursday.