Jaffa - Off the promenade

The seaside city of Jaffa is filled with unexpected wonders.

The seasidecity of Jaffa is filled with unexpected wonders

Even the most up-to-date guidebooks will tell you that the oncemagnificent Jaffa seraya is an eyesore. It was bombed by the Lehiunderground movement in early 1948, soon after it became a base forArab 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 tourguide Yona Wiseman and she pointed out an unfamiliar edifice on thesite of the devastated building. As part of an ongoing effort to returnJaffa to an earlier beauty, the splendid seraya, which is the Turkishterm for a government palace, had finally been restored.

A delightful circular outing begins at the police station across fromClock Square (Kikar Hasha'on), runs along a lovely promenade, leads toa stunning church, through a renovated artists' colony, and to awonderful park featuring statutes and ancient ruins. If you decide tocome in the late afternoon, when a sea breeze cools off the hot air ofearly fall, you won't be able to see much of the otherwise lively fleamarket 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 thestreet on one side, with the seraya on the other. All three landmarksare located outside Jaffa's Old City, and were erected only after thewalls came tumbling down.

That happened in 1888, when living conditions inside the Old City wereunbearable: there was no sanitation, overcrowding was severe andcholera ran rampant. It was time for the city to expand.

Jaffa governor Hassan Bek easily dismantled the walls, for they were interrible shape after being bombarded during Napoleon's conquest in 1799and shattered by an earthquake four decades later. Then the governorfilled in the moat that had stood in front of the walls to create theRehov Yefet of today.

He also hired the Jewish architect who had just completed the synagoguein the new settlement of Rishon Lezion to build a new seraya. Theresult was a splendid peach and white building whose administrativecenter vaguely resembled the Rishon synagogue, with Romanesque livingquarters 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 constructedin 1906 to honor the Turkish sultan, Abdul Hamid II, who by that timehad ruled the Ottoman Empire for 30 years. Although the clocks in Acreand Safed are still standing, the clock at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem wastaken down by the British, who objected to having Ottomanembellishments at the entrance to the Old City. Note the clock'sdistinctive design, with two graceful bottom stories, an angular thirdstory and an exquisite clock on top.

Follow a portion of the defunct City Wall by starting at the policestation, originally only an arched doorway leading directly into alockup known as the kishle. The wall stretched south along Rehov Yefetas far as Pasteur Lane, west to the sea, then followed the coastlinenorth and swerved back up to Rehov Yefet and the police station oftoday.

Walk south a few meters to reach the Gate of the Rulers - once anopening in the back wall of the Mahmudiya Mosque where Hassan Bekprayed five times a day. Built in 1897, the architecture is Mamelukeand includes layers of pink and white stones.

At Rehov Mifratz Shlomo turn right to reach an elaborate sabil, orfountain, practically oozing expensive marble. Fountains for washinghands, feet and face are found all over the Arab world at the entranceto cities and villages. Muslims believe that offering hospitality topeople 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 willfind one of the original city gates, which was designed to slow downthe enemy. Immediately upon entering the gate you had to make a sharpturn, giving defenders in the towers above the chance to rain arrowsdown; alternatively, they could pour burning oil on the approachingenemies. On our tour, Yona pointed out remains of the gate and towersthat guarded it. See if you can find them, then go right, and rightagain, to return to Mifratz Shlomo.

CROSS THE street to a plaza located next to the intricate wooden doorsof the Mahmudiya Mosque. The mosque was named for Muhammad, a formerslave who was appointed governor of Jaffa in 1804. Muhammad carried amassive club that he used generously on any slacker he came across. Theclub was called a nabut, and the cruel ruler who wielded it becameknown as Abu Nabut. Universally loathed, Abu Nabut ended his days byseeking 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 yourwalk, you will see a deserted building across the street. Get closer -can you hear the bats inside? This was the original seraya, locatedwithin the walled city. Eventually it became a soap factory: accordingto our guide, at one time soap exports from Jaffa were as famous asJaffa oranges.

Back on the promenade, you will soon see the Sea or Sailors' Mosque andan array of rocks named for the princess Andromeda. In one version of aGreek legend, the king and queen of Jaffa bragged about their daughterso loudly that the sea nymphs became offended. They complained to thesea god Poseidon, who ordered a boycott of Jaffa.

In order to appease the sirens, the king and queen had Andromedachained naked to the rocks. She was rescued by the hero Perseus, flyingto her on winged sandals just as she was about to be attacked by thesea monster.

Next on your route is the brightly colored Church of St. Peter, builtin the 19th century over ruins of a Crusader citadel. Before the churchwas constructed, Franciscan fathers erected a hostel on the site. Manybelieve that Napoleon lodged in the hostel during his Jaffa conquest.

On his way to the Holy Land, Napoleon liberated hundreds of thousandsof Jews from European ghettos and granted them equal rights. SomeNapoleon enthusiasts call him the real father of Zionism, as well, forin 1799 he made plans for a proclamation that would declare Israel tobe the Jewish homeland. It was apparently meant for issue after asuccessful conquest of Acre - a battle which, unfortunately, he lost.

St. Peter is one of the very few churches in which worshipers sitfacing west instead of east. That's because to the west lies thetraditional house of Simon the Tanner, site of a famous New Testamentvision.

Past the church is a large platform that covers a unique visitors'center. Inside there are some amazing excavations, including aHasmonean (Maccabee) house left from the only period in ancient timeswhen Jews ruled the city.

Continue along the cobblestones, and turn right at the sign for theIlana Goor Museum. The building that stretches from the corner and pastthe gallery/museum was constructed in the 18th century by a rabbi fromLibya. After landing in Jaffa prior to a Jerusalem pilgrimage, helooked for a place to stay overnight and soon learned that Jews wereunwelcome lodgers. So he returned to Libya, gathered up donations for aJewish hostel, and erected the first Jewish building in 'modern' Jaffa.

Now you can stroll through charmingly renovated lanes filled withgalleries and shops. Follow Simta'ot Mazal Dagim, Mazal Taleh, andMazal Gedi. At Simtat Mazal Arieh enter Frank Meisler's gallery, whereyou can open a sculpture of Picasso to find wine and women inside, viewFreud on a couch and gasp over a spectacular golden piece in which twolions clasp a menora.

Eventually you enter a beautiful park, until several decades ago ahaunt 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 thatpreceded the Trojan horse by a couple of hundred years. They hidsoldiers inside 200 immense baskets that overflowed with gifts for theprince of Jaffa and once they gained entrance to the city the soldiersemerged - and the rest is history.

Follow the ramp to the top of the park for a panoramic view. From hereyou can descend the park's eastern ramp and return to Clock Square, orcross Yefet and enter the flea market on Rehov Olei Zion where theremight still be some action.
Suggestion: In the flea market, stroll as far as Rehov Rav Yohanan, totaste glatt-kosher humous, if you like. Or walk up to Pua's Restaurant,whose large collection of unmatched furniture came from the market. Themenu is as eclectic as the casual setting: among the inexpensive (anddelicious) dishes on the menu are chicken in orange vinaigrette withbasil and pumpkin seeds, lentils with tehina, spinach and fried onions,curried rice with peanut butter and coconut milk, and caramelizedbananas topped with passion fruit whipped cream. Open seven days a week.
Parking is available near thepolice station. Bus 46 from the (New) Tel Aviv Bus Station takes you toJaffa.
St. Peter's Church is open from 8:30-11:45; 3 p.m.-5 p.m.; theVisitors' Center 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday through Thursday.