Recently I toured the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa. Frankly, I underestimated the experience I thought I’d get from this visit. As someone who grew up in Israel, you’d expect me to have been at least once at all its touristy sites. Thing is, I never really bothered to care about fancy gardens. I admit though, as a local, I have this annoying tendency to take some tourist attractions for granted. But after being in the gardens, I realized yet again how Israel never ceases to amaze for embodying a plethora of cultural landmarks other than its own. The Bahá’í Gardens represents the Bahá’í message of beauty, freedom, and balance through its aesthetics, design, and young history. Just like the first major monotheistic religions, Israel turned into the place of pilgrimage for the young Bahá’í faith as well.
The Bahá’í gardens are probably the most sought out tourist attraction in Haifa. So, getting there was pretty straightforward. My starting point was in Ashkelon in the south. There I took the train going to Tel Aviv where I switched trains to go to Haifa. I got off the station Haifa Center- HaShmona which is the closest to the gardens. From there you can take a cab or hop on the 112 bus to the Baha’i Gardens (ask the driver). Alternatively, you can also walk there for about 18 minutes and ask locals for direction or get help from Google maps.
I met up with my local Haifa friend to go to the Baha’i Gardens. You should probably know that there are three entrances to the gardens, but tours start at the main gate at its upper panoramic section. We signed up for a tour on the spot. While no reservation was necessary, participation is based in the order of people’s arrival. I was super happy to find out the tour was free of charge! Before we started the walk of the gardens, the tour guide handed us an information sheet about the gardens and the Baha’i faith which is conveniently available in different languages.
When I walked through the main gates, the stunning panoramic view of the city, ocean, and gardens struck me. The picturesque view of the Galilee Hills and the Mediterranean Sea was mesmerizing. I can tell you, I did not expect to see such a view. It was strikingly bright, colorful and just incredibly beautiful.
The Bahá’í gardens are located in the heart of Haifa that extends along the northern slope of Mount Carmel. They’re constructed of 19 terraces while in the middle terrace stands a golden-domed shrine. Each terrace was dedicated for each of the first 18 followers of the Bahá’í faith as their leader’s eternal rest place is placed in the middle, in the shrine. Our guide led us down the terraces as he explained the history of the Bahá’í community, how Mount Carmel had become its world center, and about the faith’s core values.
As we descended towards the shrine’s level, we experienced the beauty of the gardens of groomed flower beds, hedges and gravelled paths. The architecture and maintenance of the gardens all have a symbolic significance too. Everything we saw was perfectly orchestrated to fit, symbolically, the values of the Bahá’í faith.
The Panorama Tour descent took 50 minutes from the crest of Mount Carmel to the level of the Báhb’s shrine. While strolling down the terraces, the garden’s aesthetic expression gave a sense of harmony and calm. Its symmetrical design of plants, trees, flowers, grass and other greenery convey the Bahá’í values of health and equilibrium. The faith’s basic values include unity between all people, relinquishing prejudice and creating a balanced social structure. You’d be able to notice these values in the shrine’s architecture as well.
We learned that its design is an eclectic combination of western and eastern styles that sit under one common golden dome. This signifies the Baha’i’s aspiration for world peace when both western and eastern civilizations are able to peacefully unite.
Overall, my Bahá’í gardens experience was extremely educational. I got to meet people from around the world, learned new history, and realized yet again how lucky I am for living in Israel. I live in a beautiful country that encompasses an abundance of cultural diversity, which creates a beautiful mosaic of beliefs and practices. Something I learn to appreciate anew time and time again.
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