Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Holidays in Haifa

I love Christmas decorations and seeing the twinkling lights. The sight of a Christmas tree standing in a main square makes me very happy. But I live in an area that does not really acknowledge Christmas. A problem? Not when Haifa is only a relatively short drive away. It is the third largest city in Israel after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and is a place where Israeli Arabs, both Muslims and Christians, constitute anywhere between 11%  and 18% of the population (depending on whose statistics you accept). The city embraces its religious and cultural diversity and so I knew we would find some Christmas lights there. The kids were away on a youth club seminar and I asked Mister Handmade in Israel to take a day off work. We were going up to Haifa to see the lights!
I booked a room in the Port Inn, a hostel with very good reviews, overlooking the Port of Haifa. It was only a short walk away from the city's German Colony, where all the Christmas lights could be seen. The hostel was also very near to Wadi Nisnas (nisnas means "mongoose"), an Arab neighbourhood which holds the "Holiday of Holidays" festival in December around Christmas and Chanukah time. Though we were in Haifa midweek and the festival runs only on weekends, we were still able to see all the decorations in the houses and shop windows, without the accompanying crowds!
We arrived in Haifa late in the afternoon and headed to the port area, to Café Palmer, a trendy café on one of the most historical corners of the city. Café Palmer bears the name of the Port gate through which thousands of new immigrants made their way into Israel after World War II. Their coffee and croissants were delicious!  Later on we walked to the German Colony, a small area located at the foot of the Baha'i Gardens. It was founded in the late 1860s by German Templers and throughout the two world wars was inhabited on-and-off by the German Protestants who built the area up. 
The name of the movement itself – The Templers – already tells us something about them. The Templers viewed each individual as a small temple. This is why they didn’t have churches, but a community hall instead. They believed that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur only if they lived in the Holy Land according to the morals of Jesus and the biblical prophets. Because of their extreme ideas, they were excommunicated from the Protestant Church in 1858. Ten years later, in 1868, they fulfilled their dream and established their first colony in Haifa. Using modern techniques and machinery, they tried to farm the land. However, they were harassed and plundered from by the local Arab community and eventually abandoned agriculture. The Templers began working in tourism and handicrafts. They initiated regular carriage services between cities, offered clean hotels, and were the first to use engines in their workshops.
Over the years, they lost their messianic fervour and began seeing themselves less as an avant-garde force that would hasten the Second Coming of Jesus and more as Germans living outside of Germany. They returned to the fold of the Protestant Church and erected churches in some of their settlements. In the 1930s, some sympathised with the Nazi movement and enlisted in the German army. When World War II broke out, they suddenly found themselves as citizens of an enemy state living under British rule. Some were deported to Australia and some to Germany. Today there are two Templer communities, one in Melbourne and one in Stuttgart.
In Haifa the Templers are long gone, but their stone houses still stand. Today Ben Gurion Street, the heart of the German Colony, is packed with restaurants, and at the city’s main roundabout in the middle of Ben Gurion Street, stood a large hanukkiah, a Muslim crescent, and a fabulous Christmas tree, celebrating all three monotheistic religions in front of the holiest site for the Baha’i faith. In fact the whole street was covered in sparkly lights and each of the restaurants had really gone to town with their Christmas decorations.
Following the recommendation of our hostel, we ate at Fattoush, a Middle Eastern restaurant with character, charm and delicious food. We sat outside (in December!) in the beautiful courtyard filled with olive trees hung with coloured lights. It was rather lovely!
The following morning we set off to explore Wadi Nisnas. Whilst we did find a somewhat picturesque neighbourhood, with narrow streets, old stone houses and buildings which were built during different eras and in many different styles, the market, which I had read so much about, was pretty much deserted. It was too early for falafel (the Wadi has two famous falafel stands which some claim to be the best in the country) so we walked on to explore other areas. We passed the Beit Hagefen Jewish-Arab Culture Centre, a meeting place for Haifa's different national, ethnic and religious groups, below, and continued on to the lower section of the Bahai Gardens, before jumping into a taxi to join a guided tour higher up on Mount Carmel.
I have blogged about the Baha'i Gardens before and you can read all about my previous visit here. They are possibly the most distinct tourist attraction in all of Haifa, and very likely the most visited. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals alike travel to the Baha'i Gardens, the most holy site of the Baha'i faith, to enjoy the beautiful terraces. The Baha'i Gardens contain nine concentric circles each filled with flowers, small trees, sculptures, water fountains and pools. To the sides of the gardens are wooded areas designed to house wildlife and to cut down on urban noise. The 200,000 square metres of land were designed by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba and was funded by donations made only by Baha'i the world over. The guided tour is the best way to truly experience the gardens, also providing a magnificent backdrop of the Haifa Bay.
Our next stop was Haifa City Museum, a small museum created within an old Templer Community House, originally built in 1869 and recently restored in 2000. The current exhibitions, "To Collect Haifa" and "Everyday Souvenirs" display the private collection of an elderly Haifa resident, including photographs, postcards, documents, posters and other objects documenting the cultural history of Haifa. I particularly enjoyed the old posters but Mister Handmade in Israel is not a great museum lover and it was soon time to move on.
I had a vague memory of the Ursula Malbin Sculpture Garden from visits to my Great Aunt Rene, who we holidayed with in Haifa many times when I was young. The Sculpture Garden (in Hebrew Gan Hapsalim), is also known as the Mitzpor HaShalom (Vista of Peace) due to its stunning view of the Haifa Bay from its location in the hills above. The garden displays the work of the sculptress Ursula Malbin, who was born in Berlin in 1917. In 1939 she fled Germany and met the sculptor Henri Paquet in Geneva, marrying him in 1941. Malbin began sculpting in Switzerland, and bought a home in the Ein Hod Artist’s Village in 1966.
The 29 bronze sculptures in the garden are mostly figures of men, women, children and animals from all walks of life, enjoying simple everyday activities. They are touching and easy to appreciate, capturing small moments and lots of compassion, joy and reality.
Malbin's works adorn private and public gardens, schools and institutional buildings in Switzerland and North America.
I enjoyed a few moments reminiscing my previous childhood visits before we moved on to our final stop of the day, the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. The monastery is believed to be one of the oldest monasteries in the world, stretching back to 1291 AD. Its history is long and complex. The Carmelite Order was established in the late 12th century when Crusader-era pilgrims, inspired by the prophet Elijah, opted for a hermitic life on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Today the Order lives on around the world and in the Stella Maris (Latin for "Star of the Sea") monastery, whose current building was constructed in 1836.
Inside the church, the beautifully painted ceiling and dome, below, portray Elijah and the chariot of fire in which he is said to have ascended to heaven, King David with his harp, the Saints of the Order, the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and David and the Holy Family with the four evangelists below.
On the path leading to the church entrance, a pyramid with a wrought-iron cross on top serves as a memorial for 200 sick and wounded French troops, hospitalised here, who were slaughtered by the Ottomans after Napoleon returned to Paris in 1799.
The monastery was a spectacular way to end our visit to Haifa. It had started off as a trip to see the twinkling Christmas lights and ended up as so much more!

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25 comments:

restlessjo said...

What a lovely trip you had, Lisa! Thank you for sharing it and the history that goes with. If only we could all live side by side in spite of our religious differences what a world it could be.

lotusleaf said...

What a beautiful place! Mount Carmel schools arevery popular in India.They are run by Carmelite nuns.

Joyful said...

I enjoyed all your beautiful photos of Haifa. Maybe one day I will be blessed to get there too.

Tom said...

...wonderful post! Of course, the reason for Christmas took place in this part of the world, but Santa in the desert just seems a bit strange. Thanks so much for sharing today, I hope that you will come back again.

Photo Cache said...

Wow, you captured the place so beautifully. I love the first image.

Worth a Thousand Words

Miss Val's Creations said...

What an amazing trip. I am glad you still get to see Christmas lights! The history of the Templers there is quite interesting. It is always a treat to go to a sculpture park and see the unexpected. A perfect way to expose children to art too since museums can be boring for the little ones. Someday I would love to visit the Baha'i Gardens. It looks so enchanting!

Mother of 3 said...

I love all the Christmas decorations. There's just something about the lights at Christmas that always put a smile on my face.

A Colorful World said...

Wow! Fascinating history! Great photos of the city areas and of the lights you found!

betty-NZ said...

These are some fantastic images! I love the Christmas lights a lot!

Pea bea said...

So enjoyed reading your post about your trip and some of the history. Thanks also for sharing your photos. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. Whether Christmas decorations or not, there's just something so lovely about the lights even in the off season. :)

Peabea@Peabea Scribbles

D'Sapone Manhattan said...

Nice Post

Jan Robinson said...

Nice timing arriving at the Christmas Lights mid-week! It's an interesting part of the world that you live in for sure.

beatravelling said...

Hoping to visit Israel some day. Tel Aviv looks so vibrant, and maybe Haifa will be on the plan as well :) #farawayfiles

Clare Thomson said...

It's fascinating to read more about Haifa. I hadn't appreciated how culturally diverse it was. Thanks so much for sharing it with us on #FarawayFiles

MummyTravels said...

I love this rather different taste of Israel, and wonderful to see the examples of three different religions celebrating alongside each other too. Haifa isn't part of the country I know particularly but this is a great look at the city. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

Sharon said...

I love those holiday lights especially! Looks like you had a great holiday in Haifa!

Jibber JabberUK said...

What an amazing place with so much history and culture. What a joy to see some many people being able to live together.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the late reply! In the few days you were there you saw a lot! Didn't know anything about the Templars. But Henri Paguet us familiar to me.From your story Haifa is worth to spend a few days! Thanks so much for sharing your outing with All Seasons, Lisa!

handmade by amalia said...

I'm impressed, Lisa, you got so much done in such a short time. I'm glad you found enough Christmas lights :-)
Amalia
xo

NC Sue said...

We did not get up to the temple when we were in Haifa but saw it from below. We ate at a restaurant in the German quarter that had the best tabouleh I've ever tasted - I still dream of that tabouleh!
Thanks for sharing these photos - it brought back special memories.

https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2018/01/fun-with-textures-in-photoshop.html

Kelleyn Rothaermel said...

I really like Haifa, but didn't really get to spend enough time in the city. Need to go back. Have a great week!
http://travelingbugwiththreeboys-kelleyn.blogspot.de/2018/01/strasbourg.html

Uppal said...

Israel seems to be an interesting country. Thanks for the lively images and comprehensive info.

sara [at] journey of doing said...

I would love to visit Israel and have a diverse range of guides to talk about the history, religion, and present conflicts between groups. It's such a beautiful place, and I'm fascinated at how all these groups co-exist (with the obvious ebbs and flows that surround that) and understand each other. I would think that the holidays would be an especially interesting time to visit. Do you feel like Hafia has changed much since your visits as a kid?

Sarah Bence said...

What an informative post. I'm glad you found some Christmas lights :) I'm sure Christmas was a really fascinating time to visit this country.

Christine | The Journey of Christine said...

Those Christmas lights are so pretty! Looks better than some US decorations, that's for sure! I would love to visit Israel one day, such a beautiful and fascinating country!

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