Jaffa: Where old meets new

Margosa Hotel Jaffa (photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)
Margosa Hotel Jaffa
(photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)
When tourists ask what the most important places for them to visit are, Jaffa always appears on the list. It is home to numerous cultural institutions and has a bustling nightlife, a riveting history and trendy modern shops and restaurants.
Jaffa has one of the oldest ports in Israel.
Some sources claim that Noah’s son Japheth founded Jaffa, and everyone concurs that the city has been conquered, destroyed and then rebuilt countless times.
One of the greatest builders the city has seen was Muhammad Abu Nabbut, who was its Ottoman governor in the early 19th century. Remains of structures he built can still be seen today, such as the gate at the entrance of the city, and the customs house. He also renovated the port, built a huge wall and public water fountains, the most famous of which can still be seen on Ben-Zvi Boulevard.
There are a number of ways you can tour Jaffa’s Old City: on foot, bicycle, or the newly popular Segway. On Segway tours, you can quickly and easily access all of the important sites. You can begin your tour next to the Muhammadiyah Mosque, which is named for Abu Nabbat’s son. Next to the mosque you’ll find the Sabil Abu Nabbut water fountain.
Next, ride toward the port along the walls which were built parallel to the coastline. If you pay close attention, you’ll see that there are stones that were dismantled and then rebuilt by Hassan Bek, the governor of the city at the beginning of the 20th century.
Not far from there, you’ll see the famous Andromeda’s Rock with an Israeli flag waving on top of it. In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of the Aethiopian King Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia boasts of her daughter’s beauty, Poseidon reacts by stripping and chaining Andromeda naked to the rock as a sacrifice to sate the sea monster Cetus. In the end, Andromeda is saved by Perseus, the son of Zeus, who has fallen in love with her.
Next, pass through the gate and enter the port area, which has recently undergone renovations and excavations. At the port, you’ll see important tourist sites such as the anchor sculpture created by seafarer and sculptor Emanuel Hatzofe, who lives in a caravan near the old customs building.
Nearby, you’ll find the F55 National Height Landmark, which was established by the British in 1920 as a sea-level marker. Today, you can see a truncated pyramid with the original disk still inside. Another interesting place to visit at the port is the map that was created in the floor between Hangar 1 and 2. On it you’ll see listed the distance to cities in all directions. From there, you can continue to the beautiful sloping gardens, which are the perfect place to stop for a short picnic or, if it’s evening, to watch the sunset over the sea.
Another option is to walk around the Greek and flea markets. These areas can get a little congested with people looking for interesting items or good deals, so best to get around there by foot.
I recommend starting at the clock tower.
Right next to the clock you’ll see the arched entrance to the Greek market, which many people mistakenly take as an extension of the flea market. The Greek market, which was built in the 19th century by a Greek Orthodox monk, is the first market that was built outside of the ancient city’s walls. Today, the area is full of art galleries and secondhand shops, and on Fridays it fills up with people who’ve come to buy or sell their wares.
You’ll find a variety of restaurants and cafes in the market, and along the walls you’ll see graffiti drawn by well-known artists such as the Hungarian Pesh and Dede.
From the Greek market you can continue to the flea market, where you’ll find lots of narrow alleyways with endless shops selling secondhand clothing, jewelry and antiques.
On Fridays, the restaurants are bursting to capacity with young people celebrating the end of the work week.
If you want to turn your outing to Jaffa into a real vacation, you can book a night at one of the local boutique hotels that have popped up in the neighborhood.
I recently stayed at the Margosa Hotel, which overlooks the flea market. A century ago, this land used to be an orange grove. Every one of the hotel’s 35 rooms has a view of Old Jaffa, a citrus tree on the patio, and paintings depicting Jaffa’s magnificent history on the walls.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.