Haifa: The Baha’i Gardens
Extending from the summit of Mount Carmel, this unique hillside garden spreads out along the northwestern slope of the mountain. In total there are 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 was completed and was opened to the public in September 1998. The rest of the project opened during the subsequent 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 Baha’is believe was the "Promised One" – Husayn-Ali, Baha’u’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. Baha’u’llah’s son, Abbas Effendi, instructed believers to purchase large tracts of Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa Bay, which Baha’u’llah had envisaged as the world headquarters of the Baha’i faith – an event which later came to pass.
Haifa is Israel’s third largest city with a population of almost 300,000, has the country’s 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 Baha’u’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 world’s 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 Baha’i 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. Haifa’s 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 garden’s crowning glory is its breathtaking panoramic view of Haifa Bay and the azure Mediterranean Sea stretching serenely to the horizon.
In 2008, the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa and the Galilee were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
UNESCO World Heritage Designation
Criterion (iii): The Holy shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and the Holy shrine of the Báb, as the most holy places of the Bahá’í faith, and visited by thousands of pilgrims each year from around the world, provide an exceptional testimony to, and are powerful communicators of, the strong cultural tradition of Bahá’í pilgrimage.
Criterion (vi): The two holy Bahá’í shrines are tangible places of great meaning for one of the world’s religions.
The property demonstrates integrity linked to the history and spiritual home of the Bahá’í faith and it demonstrates authenticity as tangible expression of the body of doctrine and system of values and beliefs that form the Bahá’í faith.
The legal protection of the nominated areas and their buffer zones will be improved once the TAMA 35 provisions come into force for Haifa. Conservation approaches are appropriate and the management system for the property provides high quality management.
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry;