Baha’is unveil renovated Shrine of the Bab in Haifa

Mount Carmel building restored, dome gets almost 12,000 new tiles.

April 13, 2011 02:25
3 minute read.
The Baha'i Shrine of the Bab

The Shrine of the Bab, Baha'i 311. (photo credit: The World Baha’i Center)

The golden glint was returned to Haifa’s most famous hillside on Tuesday, when the Baha’i community unveiled its Shrine of the Bab, restored with a fortified structure and adorned with a newly gilded roof.

Located in the center of meticulously gardened terraces leading up the northern slope of Mount Carmel, the shrine is the second holiest place for members of the Baha’i faith and marks the site where the remains of the Baha’i founding prophet, the Bab, were reinterred in 1909.

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In 1954, the construction of the building’s superstructure and golden dome was completed. But the weather conditions on the Haifa mountaintop – which include a concoction of strong sun, wind and salty moisture from the sea – took their toll on the golden tiles, which over the years lost their luster. The need to protect the shrine from earthquakes also helped to galvanize the leadership of the religious community, with international membership estimated at over 5 million, to undertake a thorough renovation of their holy site.

It might have been the three years of careful planning and consultations led by Saeid Samadi, the Iranian- born Californian project architect and manager, that resulted in the actual work taking two-and-a-half years, significantly less than the five to six years that had been projected, and costing $6 million.

An international team of restoration staff and volunteers set the 11,790 new tiles on the dome, reinforced the building’s structure and went over every centimeter of the old building, fixing and restoring whatever was needed.

“The new golden tiles are five to six times more resilient to the local conditions than the old ones were,” Samadi said of the Portuguese-manufactured porcelain pieces of varying sizes, covered with a gold-glazed solution. “They should last another 200 to 300 years.”

To Samadi, no less important than the actual work on the shrine were the “spirit of unity and friendships among the peoples of different races, nations, religions” who were involved in the renovation.

“This project doesn’t just represent a building, it is much more than that,” he said.

The Haifa shrine, which along with the Shrine of Baha’u’llah near Acre has been inscribed as a site of “outstanding universal value” on the UNESCO World Heritage list, drew some 760,000 tourists in 2010, according to Baha’i information.

It was in 1863 that the Baha’u’llah declared himself the religious leader who would bring peace and prosperity, as per the Persian Bab’s prophecy from 1844.

The Baha’u’llah sentiment was counter to the Islamic tenet that Muhammad was the last prophet. Unlike the Bab, who was executed by the Persian regime in 1850 for his religious beliefs, the Baha’u’llah was spared death due to his family’s prominence, but forced out of his native Persia, and in 1868 he and his family reached the Turkish penal colony of Acre, where he died and was buried, making the city the faith’s holiest site.

While the monotheistic religion’s spiritual and administrative centers are located in Haifa and Acre, there is no Israeli Baha’i community, following a clear directive issued by the Baha’u’llah. Last month, local dignitaries were part of the hundreds of well-wishers at the festive reception in Jerusalem marking the Baha’i new year. The “Naw Rúz,” as it is called in Persian, is celebrated on March 21, the first day of spring.

In his address, Dr. Albert Lincoln, secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community, expressed the hope that the current ferment in North Africa and the Middle East would result in more freedom for the Baha’i community, as well as for the general public, in those countries.

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