Many ports of call

The new Jaffa Tales – Old Jaffa Visitors’ Center features an experience unlike any other.

Jaffa 311 (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Jaffa 311
(photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Long, long ago, according to Greek mythology, the king and queen of Jaffa bragged about their daughter Andromeda so loudly that the sea nymphs became highly 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, who flew to her on winged sandals just as she was about to be attacked by the sea monster.
To enjoy an animated version of this ancient legend, and other stories as well, stop in at the city’s brand-new Jaffa Tales – Old Jaffa Visitors’ Center.
You can make it part of a fabulous day trip that includes historical sites, picturesque markets and lanes, unusual art galleries, archeological finds, a newly renovated beach promenade, the Wishing Bridge, eateries and a theater experience unlike any other.
Begin at the Tourist Information Center in Jaffa, at 2 Marzuk Ve’azar Street near the clock tower. The center opened in June, inside one of the first buildings to be constructed by the Turks after they dismantled the walls of Jaffa at the end of the 19th century.
Known as the seraya, it served both as the governor’s residence and his offices. The building was designed by Baruch Peppermeister, a Jewish architect who had just completed the synagogue in the new settlement of Rishon Lezion.
The British began using the seraya as an administration building in 1917. Thirty years later, it became both municipal and army headquarters for the Arabs of the city, a base from which Arab gangs preyed on Jews in neighborhoods nearby.
On January 9, 1948, knowing that they had only 80 seconds in which to escape, two young boys from the Stern Group underground parked a van full of citrus fruit (and explosives) next to the seraya and got away before the building blew up.
By the beginning of the 21st century the seraya was in terrible shape.
Fortunately, the magnificent edifice was partially restored in 2005 and transformed into a Turkish cultural center that provided information on travel in Turkey. Since the deterioration in our relations with Turkey, the building is now closed to outsiders.
Today the only way to view part of its striking interior is to visit the Tourist Information Center, which is housed in one wing of the former seraya.
Grab A map of Jaffa, exit the city center and turn right. Go right again on Gymnasia Ha’ivrit (Hebrew High School) Road. It was on this street, within two rooms of a modest apartment, that the first Hebrew high school in the world was founded in 1905.
Continue on Gymnasia Ha’ivrit through the flea market. Feel free to wander around on your own, but try to end up at the corner of Roslan and Yefet streets to continue on your route.
Look for the open-air Dr. Shakshuka Restaurant (across from green doors on your left). Weave your way through the tables of the restaurant, whose specialty is a Middle Eastern dish of eggs fried in a spicy tomato sauce. Near the far end of the restaurant you will see a huge mural of the great “doctor” holding pans full of shakshuka.
You will come out on Beit Eshel Street, next to a Lotto kiosk. Head left, then make an immediate right on Rabbi Pinhas Ben-Yair Street and start looking for bargains. (I never make it through here without buying something.) At the first tiny alleyway you reach, covered with a blue roof, turn left. Then explore the marketplace and end up on Oleh Zion Street.
Follow Oleh Zion right toward the sea, passing a wonderful Hungarian bakery. Take a peek: it is filled with delicacies we looked for – but were unable to find – in Budapest! Soon you will hear Greek music coming from the Yasu Saloniki restaurant, whose walls are covered with wonderful photos and decorations. When you reach Yefet Street turn right and you will pass the famous Abulafiya bakery, which does whopping business all year long but especially on Passover.
Take your first left (Roslan Street) and walk on the left side of the road.
Stop to look at the elaborate sabil, or fountain, on the other side of the street. 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 the way to heaven.
This fountain is just outside one of the gates into the original walled city of Jaffa.
Across from the fountain, on your side of the street, you will see a filthy alleyway. Look up to see what remains of Jerusalem Gate, another of the Turkish gates into the Old City.
Follow the alley to Hahalfan Street, named for the money changers that operated here and at almost every other exit and entrance to the city.
Continue on Hatzorfim (smiths) Street, where the sign reads in Hebrew: “On this street artists smithed gold and silver.”
You are now headed for Hapisga Park at the peak of the hill. Take a look inside Noa’s Bistro at 12 Hatzorfim for some great interior design. Then take the wide, paved ascent on your right. Soon you will reach excavations that include the remains of an Egyptian citadel, with a reconstructed gate, dating back to the 15th century BCE when Egypt ruled Jaffa.
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. Once they gained entrance to the city the soldiers emerged – and the rest is history.
Standing out here in the open air, it is hard to imagine that until the Arab revolt against the ruling British in 1936 this hill was crowded with houses.
When Arabs terrorized the British, the latter couldn’t follow them back into the city with their vehicles because of all the buildings in the way. Even worse, the Arabs made it difficult for the British to reach the port.
To solve their problem, the Brits came up with Operation Anchor.
Under the guise of improving the city’s infrastructure and hygiene, the British dropped leaflets by plane, telling people to evacuate their homes. They then blew up this part of Old Jaffa, destroying hundreds of houses and creating an anchorshaped boulevard for easy access.
Further up the hill, near the lovely Statue of Faith, stroll onto the Wishing Bridge. Make your dreams come true by grasping your astrological sign and making a wish.
Retrace your steps off the bridge and turn right. Following the sign leading to “Galleries and Shops,” enter the Artists’ Colony, whose picturesque lanes are all named for the signs of the Zodiac. One fun shop to visit is the Frank Meisler Gallery on Mazal Aryeh Street, where you can open a statue 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 menorah.
While descending Mazal Dagim you might let out a snicker at a sign hanging outside one of the shops. It reads “Archeology Center: licensed to sell Ancient History.” Continue a bit further to visit the Farkash Gallery at No.
5, with its vintage posters that will fill you with nostalgia or make you laugh.
The synagogue/ hostel at 2 Mazal Dagim Street was constructed in 1740 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 donations for a Jewish hostel and erected this historic edifice.
Now take the steps at your right into K e d u m i m Square, which is filled with eateries and boasts an unusual fountain. This is where you can get tickets for Jaffa Tales, the fantastic state-of-the-art production that brings the ancient city to life. Ask when you can join a tour in English; they run pretty much all the time.
While you are waiting for it to to begin, visit St. Peter’s Church next door. Two events of vast importance for Christianity took place in Jaffa. It was here, according to the New Testament, that the apostle Peter brought a woman named Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40). And on the roof of Simon the Tanner, who lived in a house by the sea, Peter had a very meaningful vision: while waiting for a meal, he fell into a trance. Something like a large sheet containing both “clean and unclean” (kosher and nonkosher) animals was let down to earth, and a voice called upon Peter to kill them and to eat. Being an observant Jew, Peter of course resisted.
But the voice insisted three times, declaring that nothing created by God could be unclean (Acts 10:9).
The brightly colored Church of St.
Peter was built in the 19th century over ruins of a Crusader citadel. Long before the church was constructed, Franciscan fathers erected a pilgrims’ hostel on the site. Many believe that Napoleon and some of his soldiers lodged in the hostel during the general’s campaign to conquer the Middle East in 1799. If you have time, enter to view the church’s splendid interior.
After you have seen Jaffa Tales, follow the steps next to the fountain down to the sea. The pier and promenade have been renovated and a large two-story warehouse to your left was recently restored. The now clean and airy building is slated to become a cultural center with galleries and exhibitions.
Across from the warehouse stands the unique Nalaga’at (Please Touch) Center, which employs nearly 70 people who are deaf, blind or both. Finish your tour with a light meal at the Center’s Café Kapish, a kosher dairy restaurant that combines great food with a very special twist: since all of the waiters are deaf, you can only communicate with a smile, sign language that the waiters are eager to help you learn, a slate and a Magic Marker!

The Tourist Information Center provides free information, maps and pamphlets about Israel in general and Tel Aviv-Jaffa in particular, and is open Sun.-Thurs. 9:30 to 5:30 and Friday from 9:30 to 2. Free tours of Tel Aviv and Jaffa – in English – operate from the Center four times a week. For information see: or call (03) 516-6188. Jaffa Tales is open in winter Sat.- Thurs. 9 to 5; Friday 9 to 3. Adults NIS 30; children NIS 20. Extended hours in summer. Entrance fee includes free audio tours of Jaffa.