Haifa: Mount Carmel
Since the days of yore, Mount Carmel has been a symbol of beauty. It is a particularly suitable location for family hikes and recreation pastimes all year round.
Mount Carmel is not particularly high. Its peak only reaches 546 meters above sea level. Mount Carmel is sprawled between the Menashe Plateau in the south, the Haifa Bay in the north and the Jezreel Valley on the east. Its borders are very clear, and create an independent unit that reaches 32 square kilometers.
Its proximity to the sea gives the mountain large quantities of precipitation, which enable the growth of well developed Mediterranean groves. In spring, bloom is especially diverse and colorful: approximately 670 different species of plants grow on this mountain.
During the Carmel’s geological development, many types of rocks were formed. Most of them are marine sedimentary rocks, created as a result of the accumulation of remains of animals in the ancient sea. At that time, when the entire area was submerged in the sea, the Carmel region had several volcanic eruptions that brought Basalt rocks. Next to them, the Carmel also has rocks that were formed by skeletons of marine animals such as shellfish and corals.
The geological fractures that occurred in the area created steep escarpments, the most impressive of which is on the eastern part of the mountain, standing upright over the Jezreel Valley.
In the Carmel, a continuum of settlements lasting thousands of years has been found, starting with prehistoric man, whose traces have been found in the area as early as 200 thousand years ago. At a certain period, a distinct type of prehistoric human lived here, and was named after the mountain – “Carmelite Man”.
The human scenery is still interesting today. Residents of the Carmel are Jewish, Druze, Christian, Muslim,Baha'i and Ahmadi. The gold plated Baha’i temple, one of the symbols of the city of Haifa, and the different worship locations dedicated mostly to the prophet Elijah – man of the Carmel, add another characteristic to those that turn this into a remarkably fascinating land. Elijah’s story is also retained in the Muhraka, where the Carmelite monastery commemorates Elijah’s challenge to the Baal priests, as told by the Bible.
On the north-western slopes of the Carmel, the city of Haifa overlooks the Mediterranean and controls the bay, which also holds one of the largest ports in Israel.
Natural Groves and a Variety of Flowers
A large part of the Carmel is covered with natural forest and groves, which maintain their fresh color throughout the year. Due to the large amount of precipitation and the high humidity in the area, the flora quickly recovers from damage caused by fire and logging.
The groves have a variety of trees, which used to compose the natural forests in Israel. Some flower at springtime, and provide scents and vibrant colors. The trees are widely spaced, and between them colorful bushes flower in yellow, white, pink and purple.
Next to the Mediterranean groves, the Carmel holds natural pine woods. These integrate with the conifers planted by man. Despite the many forest fires over the years, many of the natural and cultivated pine trees survived and turned into especially large and impressive trees.
One of the Largest Nature Reserves in Israel
Over 80 dunam of the Carmel Mountain are a nature reserve. Paths were created, enabling tourists to reach parking lots and shaded corners. Next to the scenic routs there are birds eye lookouts and organized picnic spots. From these places, the views of the Jezreel Valley to the east, the Upper Galilee to the north and the Mediterranean beaches to the west are visible.
On other parts of the nature reserve, the “Hai-Bar” – a wildlife preserve – is where animals and birds that have previously become extinct from the Carmel have recently been returned to the area, receiving dedicated care from the Nature and National Parks Protection Authority.
Tourist Routes and Hikes
The Carmel region is full of tourist attractions and sites. You can travel on the “Nof Carmel” (Carmel view) 25 kilometer long path, suitable for all vehicles. You may visit the Druze inhabitants of the villages Daliyat el-Carmel and Isfya, and get to know their heritage. These villages have many authentic restaurants and unique marketplaces that attract many Israelis and tourists. Another site is the Carmel “Hai-Bar” – a zoological preserve maintained by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. In this nature reserve, wild sheep, wild goats, deer and fallow deer are grown for the purpose of releasing them back into the wild.
Nahal Mearot Nature Reserve on the west side of the mountain reveals prehistoric man’s lifestyle in the area. The place has an audio-visual show, and the tourist path passes through caves that were used for dwelling by prehistoric man. At the center of the mountain is Mahtsevot Kdumim, where in Byzantine times, stones were quarried for building.
On top of all these, hikes along unusual nature sites such as the Kelah River, also known as “Little Switzerland”, the Nesher River with the hanging bridge that crosses one of its channels, Mizpe Ofer an overlook with a view of the village of Fureidis, and “Havat Mishmar ha’Carmel”, a recently opened national park, where families may spend time, watch the views and camp through the night.
Haifa – City of the Carmel
The district city of Haifa is the third largest city in Israel. It sits on a slope facing the sea, at the top of which the Stella Maris monastery and the well-known Haifa University are located. The city hosts a variety of hotels of different grades, shopping centers, various museums, Elijah’s Cave where according to the different traditions the prophet hid from those pursuing him, the cable car from Bat-Galim to the top of the mountain, and a city that preserves the Templer period. The Templers were German settlers who built their beautiful stone houses during the 19th century. The city also holds the country’s northern main train station, and a railway museum, telling the history of trains from the Ottoman rein until today.
Still, the jewel in the crown of the city is the Baha’i temple. This serves as the Baha’i religion world center. The temple is surrounded by the largest green gardens in Israel, famous throughout the world for their beauty and uniqueness.