Offering breathtaking views as it climbs up Mount Carmel, Haifa reveals itself as a multi-faceted city with unique characteristics. Its port, which played a crucial part in establishing the State of Israel, plays host to cruise ships and some of the country’s most important sailing competitions. Surfers and sunbathers alike are drawn to its miles of sandy beaches.
With a significant Christian and Muslim Arab population, Haifa is also an outstanding symbol of religious co-existence and tolerance. The city is global headquarters of the World Baha’i Faith, whose exquisite terraced gardens, the most beautiful in Israel, are a highlight of any visit.
Of significant religious interest is the cave where the prophet Elijah is believed to have hidden from Ahab and Jezebel; Christian tradition also believes the Holy Family took shelter here on their return from Egypt. Another important Christian site is the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery and Church, built over part of the cave.
The site is close to the National Maritime Museum and neighbouring Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum, built around one of the many refugee ships which attempted to land Jews in Palestine after the War. Other museums on the slopes of Mount Carmel include the Haifa Art Museum, Chagall Artists’ House, the tiny building close to the Baha’i Gardens devoted to the evocative work of Israeli artist Mane Katz and the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art.
One of Haifa’s most beautiful streets is Ben Gurion Avenue, also known as The Germany Colony. Built in 1869 by a Christian sect anticipating the Second Coming of Christ, it is now a boulevard devoted to shopping and dining delights within beautifully restored buildings whose history is told on plaques. There is lively dining and shopping, too, in Carmel Centre, below which lies the old Christian Arab neighbourhood of Wadi Nisnas. Here, narrow winding lanes pedestrians must share with donkeys, are rich in the spicy scents and atmosphere of the old Middle East.