The Bahai Gardens
by Simon Griver
Extending from the summit of Mount Carmel, this unique hillside garden will spread out along the northwestern slope of the mountain. In total there will be 19 terraces and more than 1,500 steps as the garden sweeps down towards Haifa port. The garden, particularly the upper terraces, offer a stirring view of the blue bay below.
The highest of the 19 terraces has been completed and was opened to the public in September 1998. The rest of the project is expected to be opened within two years.
The centerpiece of the hillside garden, midway down on terrace number ten, is the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab. Completed in 1953, the building contains the tomb of Siyyad Ali Muhammed – the Bab – a Muslim in Persia who proclaimed the coming of a "Promised One" in 1844. He was executed for heresy in 1850, and his disciples brought his remains to Haifa in 1909.
The man that the Bahais believe was the "Promised One" – Husayn-Ali, Bahau’llah – was exiled from Persia and settled in what was then Palestine under the Ottoman Turkish empire. He is buried near Akko where he died in 1892. Bahau’llahs son, Abbas Effendi, instructed believers to purchase large tracts of Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa Bay, which Bahau’llah had envisaged as the world headquarters of the Bahai faith – an event which later came to pass.
Haifa is Israels third largest city with a population of almost 300,000, has the countrys largest port, and much of the heavy industry is located here. High-tech industries have also flourished in Haifa, partly because the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology is located on Mount Carmel. The Carmel mountain range, stretching southwards from Haifa along the coast, lends the city great beauty, and here, on Mount Carmel, the Prophet Elijah proved the power of God to King Ahab and his priests.
The prophet Elijah, as all Old Testament prophets, is deeply revered by the Bahai. The religion is an independent world religion which emerged from Muslim society. The Bahau’llah transformed the religion into a universal one; he taught that he himself and the Bab were the latest of nine manifestations of God after Abraham, Moses, Christ, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha and Zoroaster. Some two million of the worlds estimated five million Bahais live in India; other concentrations are in Iran and the U.S.
Few Bahais live in Israel, but some 700 volunteers from abroad serve in the Bahai World Center, the spiritual and administrative center of Bahaism. The Bahai do not engage in any missionary activity in Israel.
In addition to the Shrine of the Bab and the Seat of the Universal House of Justice – the international governing body of the Bahai faith – two additional administrative buildings are currently being built.
The Shrine of the Bab and the Bahai gardens immediately surrounding it have always been open to the public; the completed portion of the new gardens is already open to the public as well. Haifas Mayor Amram Mitzna describes the new garden as the eighth wonder of the world. "We have been very lucky," he says, "not many cities get a park that is so incredibly beautiful – free of charge."
The hillside garden has a classically European ambiance. The terraces are lined with stone balustrades, fountains and stone eagles. Black iron gates give access to the trees, bushes, flower-beds and neatly manicured lawns. But the gardens crowning glory is its breathtaking panoramic view of Haifa Bay and the azure Mediterranean Sea stretching serenely to the horizon.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry