Haifa (Hebrew: חֵיפָה Heifa , Hebrew pronunciation: [ħeˈfa], colloquial Hebrew pronunciation: [ˈχai̯fa]; Arabic: حيفا Ḥayfā ) is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third largest city in the country, with a population of over 272,181. Another 300,000 people live in towns directly adjacent to the city including Daliyat al-Karmel, the Krayot, Nesher, Tirat Carmel, and some Kibbuzim. Modern Haifa is a bustling port town, but unlike many industry-focused cities, its landscape of steep cliffs rolling down to the shore gives it a beautiful setting. This is enhanced by the enormous and thoroughly beautiful Baha’i Gardens which dominate the central city in a series of cascading terraces. This major highlight in any Haifa itinerary is also an example of the modern town’s overall harmonious approach to life. As well as being a centre for the Baha’i sect, Haifa’s mixed population of Jews and Arabs is much less segregated here than elsewhere.
The extraordinary Baha’i Gardens are Haifa’s number one tourist attraction, and the Baha’i Shrine, with its golden dome, is the city’s landmark monument. It contains the tomb of Iranian Mirza Al Mohammed, who declared himself ‘Bab’ (‘gateway’ to God) in 1844 and founded the Baha’i faith. Ali Mohammed was assassinated in Tabriz (Iran) in 1850, and his successor, Mirza Hussein Ali, who became known as Baha-u-Illah, fled to the Ottoman Empire where he proclaimed himself Imam in 1868.
He died in 1892, having been held in captivity at Acre for 24 years. His followers secretly brought the remains of his predecessor, Mirza Ali Mohammed, from Iran to Haifa and built his tomb here. Today, the terraced gardens and shrine are an incredibly tranquil and beautiful memorial as well as an immaculate example of garden landscaping. UNESCO has declared them a World Heritage Site for their cultural as well as natural beauty. For those of the Baha’i faith they are also an important place of pilgrimage. The Shrine of the Bab, towards the top of the terraces, contains the tomb of Mirza Al Mohammed.
The present Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery was built in 1836 and is noted for its lush frescoes portraying the St Elijah. The interior also contains paintings of scenes of the lives of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel and has a cedar figurine of the Virgin known as the Madonna of Mt. Carmel. The Carmelite order was founded on Mount Carmel in 1150 as a hermetic Catholic sect. When the order sided with Napoleon during his battle against the Ottoman Turks in 1799, the Carmelite monasteries were destroyed.
In front of the building is the tomb of the French soldiers who were killed during the battle. Afterwards, this monastery was rebuilt but was again razed in 1821 by the pasha of Akko (Acre). There is a small but interesting museum in a room adjoining the monastery entrance. From the monastery, a trail leads down to the grotto known as Elijah’s cave, believed to be either the one-time dwelling place or tomb of Elijah.